Election Day is still weeks away, but it seems at times as if Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano’s third term has already begun.
Which is kind of amazing since Mangano, the Republican incumbent, is not even running.
The cause of this déjà vu nightmare is agreements reached by the county in recent months that serve as a reminder of the culture of corruption that has plagued Nassau County for many years and raise the question of whether Nassau’s future will be more of the same.
The first act of the next term began in July when the county signed an agreement shifting 38 positions for which the county executive had discretion — patronage jobs — into the county’s major civil service union.
This meant that 26 community service representatives and 12 assistant county attorneys appointed by Mangano will serve in the next administration — no matter who wins the race between Nassau County Legislator Laura Curran, a Democrat, and former state Sen. Jack Martins, a Republican.
Then in September, the county signed memorandums of agreement with county unions that would restore annual “longevity” payments to union workers that have remained the same since 2011, when the Nassau Interim Finance Authority imposed a wage freeze. NIFA, if you recall, has overseen Nassau’s finances since 2000 when the county — one of the wealthiest in the state — required a bailout from the state.
The agreements with the union also pledged no layoffs through most of 2018, when a new county executive will be trying to balance the budget. In exchange, the unions agreed to defer half of the restored longevity pay.
In both cases, the agreements were negotiated by Nassau Civil Service Association President Jerry Laricchuita and Deputy County Executive Rob Walker.
This is the same Rob Walker who testified during the political corruption trial of former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos that he was under investigation for allegedly awarding county contracts to campaign contributors.
Investigators’ curiosity was apparently piqued when Walker’s Hicksville Republican Committee ran a fundraiser in which 87 percent of the $58,350 raised was provided by county vendors. This included $2,925 contributed by VIP Splash Waterways Recovery Group, which received a $12 million deal from the county for Superstorm Sandy cleanup work.
Walker’s testimony, which came under a grant of immunity, focused on a county contract award to AbTech Industries, a company that employed Dean Skelos’ son, Adam. Both Skeloses were later convicted of political corruption. Their convictions have since been overturned based on improper jury instructions, but federal prosecutors have said both will be retried on the charges.
Some might wonder how Walker is still allowed to negotiate contracts for the county.
But perhaps they have forgotten that his boss along with his wife are facing federal corruption charges stemming from county contracts given to a restaurateur. Mangano is schedule to go to trial in January.
Walker was willing to comment last year after repaying the Mangano campaign $228 for a visit to Shotgun Willie’s, a bar and grill known in the Denver area for its adult entertainment.
He said the club was recommended by local people and there were no strippers in the restaurant when he dined there with his wife and others.
But Walker declined to comment on the agreement.
To the surprise of many, County Attorney Carnell Foskey, another Mangano appointee, did. And to the further surprise of those many, he was critical.
Foskey said the agreements with the unions “exceed the ordinary terms and usual substance” of such deals. This can be translated to “he did what?”
He also said the agreements would need approval from the county Legislature and NIFA and noted that the pacts were not “in a proper form” to submit for approval, and that one clause was “factually incorrect.”
The timing of Foskey’s comments was not good for Martins, the Republican candidate for county executive, coming the same day that the Civil Service Employees Association endorsed him.
Jerry Laricchiuta, president of CSEA Local 830, said the union backed Martins because he had better experience and a “solid plan to end the control period imposed in 2011 by NIFA,” according to a release from Martins’ campaign.
“Jack’s plan won’t balance the budget on the back of the county workforce,” Laricchiuta was quoted as saying. “ We’re not sure about Laura.”
Given the state of the county’s finances those are not exactly comforting words. One certainly wonders what made Laricchiuta so confident about Martins’ intentions.
Martins, who has campaigned on “honest government,” said he was unaware of Walker’s agreements with the unions and had made no promises to labor unions about restoring benefits lost during the wage freeze.
“I’ve said I will be fair with them as county executive,” Martins was quoted as saying in a Newsday report.
How “fair” Martins or Curran are with the unions could very well determine if the Mangano administration continues for another four years.