Editorial 4: Nicolello still a clear but imperfect choice

Editorial 4: Nicolello still a clear but imperfect choice
Photo provided by the League of Women Voters

Two years ago, we described Nassau County Legislator Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) as a clear but imperfect choice in his race for election in District 9, which covers parts of New Hyde Park, Garden City Park, Mineola, the Willistons and Albertson, and parts of Roslyn and Manhasset.

That has not changed.

In the race two years ago, Nicolello was opposed by Mal Nathan, the chief bay constable for the Town of North Hempstead, for the third straight time.

Nathan failed to respond to a League of Women Voters questionnaire and was a no-show at an important civic candidates night.

But Nathan has been outdone by this year’s opponent, Salju Thomas. He is said to be a police officer who was told he was not permitted to campaign for office but could remain on the ballot.

We have not been able to confirm this as he has not responded to any emails or phone calls.

The weakness of Nicolello’s opponents could be explained by Nicolello’s popularity.

He was picked by the Republican majority two years ago as presiding officer, the top position in the Legislature, based on service that goes back to 1996, a deep knowledge of Nassau and a strong ability to work with officials on both sides of the aisle.

Or it could be the fact that Nicolello helped pick the voters in his district when Republicans gerrymandered Nassau’s legislative districts in 2014.

This helps explain District 9’s shape, which curls like a boomerang from its beginning in New Hyde Park through the Willistons into parts of Roslyn and Manhasset – and why stronger potential candidates may have avoided a challenge.

Democratic legislators have called for nonpartisan redistricting in the upcoming terms but Nicolello says nonpartisan efforts have generally failed to come up with fairer district lines. We strongly disagree.

Another theory is that Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs, a political moderate who was a strong backer of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, likes Nicolello.

Whatever the reason, we would prefer to have a choice in this race.

Notwithstanding a genial demeanor, Nicolello has led a highly partisan Republican response to Nassau County Executive Laura Curran – after being part of a caucus that sat on its hands during the administration of Edward Mangano, a Republican county executive later convicted of political corruption. Nicolello said county Republicans are merely providing checks and balances against Curran.

Nicolello also touts his opposition to Curran’s reassessment plan, which he said resulted in tax increases for two-thirds of Nassau residents.

This is true, but Nicolello fails to acknowledge that the reason two-thirds of Nassau residents faced tax increases is that these residents were underpaying their taxes because no reassessment had been done in eight years under Mangano and assessed values bore no relation to reality.

An analysis by Newsday found that under the Mangano administration those who challenged their assessments benefited from a shift in the tax burden that reached $2.7 billion vs. those who didn’t.

Nicolello also doesn’t mention the one-third of Nassau residents who overpaid their taxes these past years to make up for the underpayment of the others.

But he argues that the number of residents complaining shows that the current assessments are no better than the numbers under Mangano. He also calls for scrapping the current system and starting over under an elected county assessor.

Recently, Nicolello and his fellow Republicans proposed a cut of $100 million in county fees after the Curran administration submitted a balanced budget that included a cut in property taxes.

The Republicans had a point. The fees on things like mortgages were a bad idea when county Republicans approved them rather than raising taxes in 2012 to balance Nassau’s budget.

Nicollelo said Curran’s sale tax projections are too low and future collections will be more than enough to cover $350 million in property tax cuts planned by Curran over the next four years and the $100 million a year in cuts in fees proposed by county legislators.

Sounds good. But in a county that has been under state supervision since it required a state bailout in 2000 and has often relied on financial gimmicks to balance the budget we’d prefer not to rely on sunny sales tax projections to balance the budget.

We’d prefer a better alternative to Nicolello – or at least a more constructive approach from him.

But in its absence, we again endorse Richard Nicollelo for Nassau County Legislature.

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