The race for Nassau County comptroller is heating up in the final weeks before Election Day as the candidates spar through social media and advertisements.
Steve Labriola (R-Massapequa) and Jack Schnirman (D-Long Beach) will face off at the polls Nov. 7 to be the watchdog for the county’s finances.
Labriola, a former Town of Oyster Bay clerk, Nassau County chief deputy comptroller, county chief compliance officer and state assemblyman, said his campaign pledges come from his experience in the local, county and state governments.
Schnirman, the City of Long Beach city manager and former Town of Brookhaven chief deputy supervisor, said he believes he can turn around Nassau County’s financial woes like he did those in Long Beach since 2012.
In an ad by the Schnirman campaign, three allegations are made about Labriola’s time with Nassau County and his family: Labriola was “responsible for the corrupt contracts of Ed Mangano,” his wife and daughter have benefited more than $1 million from patronage positions and his brother received a $10 million contract under Labriola’s watch.
Labriola, however, sees these allegations as a smear campaign.
“I’ve never run against someone like this before, where he’s thrown the rule book out, and I can’t play by the rules,” Labriola said in the midst of his 10th campaign.
Labriola said his position as chief compliance officer was not the same as procurement officer and therefore he had no say in county contracts; the county executive and county Legislature approve contracts.
As for the alleged nepotism, Labriola said his wife, who worked in the Department of Motor Vehicles a decade before Labriola took a county position, and his daughter, who works for the Nassau County Police Department, are both “more than qualified for the positions.”
Labriola also said his brother’s $10 million contract to fix West Shore Road before Superstorm Sandy washed it out was awarded before Labriola took office. He also said he disclosed with the county that he had no financial stake in his brother’s complex infrastructure construction company and would recuse himself from any connected matters.
Labriola has focused on Schnirman’s time as Long Beach city manager, including his censure by the International City Managers Association and eventual ban from the organization.
Schnirman said as he was considering running for a county position late last year, he learned that no member of the association could run for office. Before he announced his campaign for comptroller in January, he resigned from the association in December. A report by the Long Island Herald from June, shortly after a press release from the association censuring Schnirman for running for comptroller was released, lays out the same timeline.
On the surface, the candidates have similar plans: Both want more open audits across county departments and both want to restore public trust with reforms.
Labriola lays out in his four-point plan a whistle-blower hotline for people to make anonymous comments about potential county contractors and an anti-fraud unit to prevent “shady companies” from doing business with the county, Labriola said.
Schnirman’s plans focus on making the county’s finances more transparent and reforming the contract process.
“Everyone agrees that Nassau County is crying out for reform,” Schnirman said. “The question is, who’s actually going to bring about that reform?”
On the topic of the county’s property assessment system, the candidates agree that the system is broken. Schnirman said the county should do everything in its power to correct the system, while Labriola said the county has failed for too long and should hand the responsibility to the towns.
“Every other county in the state does it this way with the towns because they’re a smaller jurisdiction and they’re more accurate because they know their properties,” Labriola said in an interview with Blank Slate Media. “Nassau County is tremendous. To be assessing every single year is a huge burden and would create a huge bureaucracy that we don’t have the headcount to cover.”
The Nassau Interim Finance Authority, in place since 2000 to oversee the county’s finances, has made it clear that bond proceeds should not be used to balance the county budget.
Schnirman said the discussion should not be focused on how to define a surplus versus a deficit but should revolve around how to improve the county’s financial status and remove the need for NIFA.
“Nassau County has not earned itself, unfortunately, the ability to stand on its own two feet financially, so NIFA is attempting to force Nassau County to deal with its finances in a more mature and balanced way,” Schnirman said in an interview with Blank Slate Media. “The only way we’re going to get rid of NIFA is to bring the county’s finances under control and achieve the thresholds that state law sets out in order to end the control period.”