Corruption has been a problem for decades in Nassau County, and county Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton said fighting it as a member of the Democratic minority has not been easy.
“Corruption has been a major thing, I felt it as soon as I came on board,” the third-term legislator said during a sit-down interview at the offices of Blank Slate Media. “The corruption alone represents a 4 percent tax increase.”
It is one of the issues that she has sparred over with her opponent, Republican Zefy Christopoulos, as she tries to win re-election in November. Her district includes Port Washington and Glen Cove and a section of Roslyn.
To crack down on corruption, DeRiggi-Whitton supports an independent inspector general. She said this would make it easier to crack down on corrupt contracts that have plagued the county for decades. She said the current system approved by the Republicans, the contract procurement system, is too susceptible to corruption because the officials who review county contracts are selected by County Executive Edward Mangano.
“It’s polluted in my mind,” she said.
She also expressed frustration with cuts to the county attorney’s office, because, she said, that money was used to outsource the work to Rivkin Radler, Mangano’s old law firm.
“We spend more money now on legal fees, even though the county attorney’s office has been cut to bare bones,” she said. “What we’re spending on now is outside counsel.”
She said the contracts were hard to understand, even for her – she previously worked at a law firm – and often came in late.
Another big issue for candidates is the assessment system, which many agree is broken. DeRiggi-Whitton said she supported doing an annual assessment, as New York City does. She also agrees with county Legislator Laura Curran, the Democratic nominee for county executive, that the county has to do the assessment, not the towns as some Republicans like Jack Martins, the party’s candidate for county executive, have proposed.
“The towns don’t want to do it. It’s a huge expense for them and I think we’d have mayhem,” she said. “Once you get to the town level, people know there’s more of those connections, and do you want that person to be deciding your assessment for your home? It’s got to be a little bit removed.”
DeRiggi-Whitton also said she would not count borrowed money toward balancing the budget.
“That’s like credit card money,” she said. “I thought that was embarrassing. I come from the private sector and that’s not how you do it.”
When it comes to immigration policy, she said she supports the sanctuary city policy under which local police should not contact ICE if there is no felony charge.
“If you’re in a dangerous situation, you should feel comfortable calling the police,” she said.
She said she would support an independent council for redistricting of Nassau County to fix gerrymandering, although Democrats would have the most to benefit from a change.
DeRiggi-Whitton mentioned several times that she is fiscally conservative and said that the county needs to be doing more to attract business. One thing hindering economic growth, she said, is that rents are too high.
“I think the real problem is affordability,” she said.
Her fiscal conservatism may stem from the fact that she was raised in a Republican family. Her father, Donald DeRiggi, served as mayor of Glen Cove for several years. DeRiggi-Whitton said she “had to rebel” and that is why she became a Democrat, although she married a Republican.
“It makes for interesting dinner conversation,” she said with a laugh.