(photo:Legislator Steve Rhoads and Democratic challenger Claudia Borecky) DOUGLAS FINLAY
The first Candidates’ Night meeting featured several contentious moments when one attendee asked why Legislator Gonsalves of the 13th Legislative District, who did not attend the meeting, would attend another meeting when she was originally scheduled for the candidates’ night; Legislator Steve Rhoads of the 19th LD did not apologize to challenger Claudia Borecky’s demand he do so for spending the public’s money on mailings that are untruthful; and Borecky had to answer why she supported Dave Denenberg, who was convicted recently for mail fraud, while she was calling for an end to corruption in the Legislature.
Meanwhile, Town of Hempstead candidates for the Fifth Councilmanic District appeared to set the bar for civil discussion on topics such as term limits, the rise of heroin in the town and how to grow the town.
Sponsored by the League of Women Voters of East Nassau, Meet the Candidates’ Night was challenged by Rhoads’ arriving late from a county budget meeting, and Norma Gonsalves not showing up at all to debate Democratic challenger Eileen Napolitano, because she was attending a meeting on cancer, according to a LWV official who spoke to Your NewsMag.
The mood was good, however, as attendees welcomed whoever was seated to answer questions, in this case Democratic challengers Borecky and Napolitano for the county portion of the meeting.
Richard Rollando, a Bellmore republican leader, opened questioning quickly, asking Borecky why she supported former Legislator Dave Denenberg, who was convicted of mail fraud, while calling to an end to legislative corruption. “We worked together many years,” remarked Borecky, seemingly surprised by the question – though resolute, “and I’m proud of what we accomplished.”
She said at first she believed him when he told her he had nothing to do with it, and said she continued that support until he was actually convicted in a court of law.
Neal Yeoman of Merrick asked about the rationale of going private, and turning down a 1% tax increase. Napolitano said she couldn’t speculate on the mindset, but she wouldn’t have voted for a 1% tax increase either, and that residents will pay for the privatization of sewers.
“They appear to be creating several review panels to discuss the issue,” she added, making it difficult to understand what they are doing.
Borecky remarked that one critical factor that spurred her to run for the legislature is the one-shot characteristic of the sewage deal. “It will create more back-door borrowing, and money saved won’t be put back into the sewers,” she said. In fact, she stated, ‘our taxes will still go up with a new private sewer deal,” she said, “to pay for the consultants who brokered the deal.”
Jeff Smith of Wantagh asked to know what the priorities would be of any new legislators. Napolitano explained that she would “implement better lines of communications” to eliminate the need for partisan postcard mailings. She would also seek an independent committee to study and oversee all contracts.
Borecky agreed, saying contract reform was way overdue. “A $12 million contract was awarded to the sister of a county department head to remove trees,” she noted, and the county formed a Taxi and Limousine Commission to find jobs for county employees who didn’t want to work at United Water, the private concern the county tapped to manage its sewer infrastructure.
Kevin Rollando of Wantagh asked what the Democratic candidates would do to bring back business into the county. Borecky quickly responded by saying more mixed use zoning would help, in which both residential and commercial interests co-exist together. She pointed to the now-shelved “smart growth” initiative first created by former County Executive Tom Suozzi that could revitalize downtowns by implementing mixed zoning to keep young job seekers on Long Island. “It would lower taxes while it increases commercial activity in the neighborhoods,” she remarked.
Mike from Wantagh wished to know how new legislators would handle the heroin usage plaguing the area. Napolitano said she lives across from a middle school, where she had found needles and has seen blatant open-air transactions. “Clearly, we need more police presence, we need more ‘dogs barking’ in the community as a deterrent,” she said. She would advocate for a new police task force that could drive the dealers far from the open spaces of schools.
Borecky said that as a civic activist she has been combatting this precise issue for years, inviting police to her monthly civic meetings to tell them where the trouble spots are to investigate. “But,” she said, “POP officers have been decimated from a 5-to-1 ratio, leaving less of a presence in the neighborhoods. “We need to reinstate the POP officers.”
She also urged more rehabilitation centers be developed to help those with the addiction to be cured of it.
When Rhoads appeared at the Candidates Night, after attending the county budget meeting, he responded to an earlier question concerning a hot-button topic energizing the local races: contracts. In the middle of explaining that the current contract system was put in place in 2000, he was sharply cut off by Merrick resident Audry Ciuffo, who seemed irritated that Rhoads would bring up the Suozzi Administration, as though to blame it for the present contract woes.
“Excuse me, excuse me, stick to the present contract challenges and don’t bring up Suozzi,” Ciuffo demanded. She was then cut short by another attendee who told her to ‘let Rhoads speak!”
Rhoads continued, saying there were only three or four contracts out of thousands that might be flagged, glossing over the biggest one, which lead to the indictment of New York State Senator Dean Skelos and his son Adam, an indictment Borecky said was proof the county was playing the ‘pay-to-play’ game with cronies of the county.
Rhoads said that County Executive Mangano had created a panel to make recommendations on how to handle contracts that would be among the most stringent in New York State.
Regarding the sewage takeover, he countered Borecky’s claim that the sewer deal was a “done deal,” saying instead that a consultant had been hired to determine if the county should move forward with sewer privatization or have it remain in county hands. “We’re looking to determine if private sources can do a better job with less cost,” he said.
He did note that so far United Water had saved taxpayers $11 million while repairs had been made to the system.
Rhoads defended the equally contentious issue of postcard mailings to constituents about work he has accomplished amid criticism that much information is false, saying the postcards are necessary to inform his electorate of the work he is doing for them because local daily papers and other publications do not always have the space to provide for such news.
Borecky contends Rhoads is taking credit for budget items he was not a part of in the legislative process, and that in fact taxes had gone up, according to several local reports.
Rhoads then read a list of accomplishments the legislature could take credit it for, such as reducing costs by $330 million while reducing the workforce, and that those were fair accomplishments in reducing waste to send out postcards to inform his constituents on.
REID vs. KING SWEENEY
Regarding the apparent spiraling use of heroin in the town, Town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney and Democratic challenger Mike Reid were asked about what more could be done to stem the use of heroin in the town.
Reid said that as a paramedic he is in the front lines in fighing the war against drug abuse, he has seen and used the antidote NARCAN to bring users out of overdosed conditions, he teaches classes as a founding member of the Bellmore-Merrick EMS Heroin Task Force about the ravages of heroin, and that he would ban playgrounds as places were adults could hang around in.
King Sweeney remarked that she is endorsed by several law enforcement agencies, would continue to work closely with the District Attorney and in fact had spoken with kids in schools about the dangers of drug abuse.
Nina Lanci, Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District and North Bellmore School District school board member from Bellmore, asked the candidates what visions they had to keep the children in the town. Reid said the “key is affordable housing. Young adults need good starter houses to begin their lives.” He added that downtowns need to be further developed with mixed-use zoning so that kids of today would have a central location in which shops, transportation, and recreation all thrive, and housing is affordable.
King Sweeney also said economic conditions have to be improved, which include passing no-tax-increase provisions and developing more downtowns areas, such as the one project she is presently involved in to revitalize the corner of Merrick Road and Grand Avenue in Baldwin in tandem with a county legislator from the district.
When asked about public acquisition of American Water, King Sweeney said it is a complicated issue, and not necessarily a political one. “There is no easy answer,” even after a completed study had suggested that rates could still go up for ratepayers under a public takeover of American Water.
Reid was adamant that water should not be a for-profit industry, and that the government has an obligation to its citizenry to provide it at the lowest possible costs.
Tonight’s Meet the Candidates Night begins at 7 p.m. at 2550 Clubhouse Road in Merrick, at the Merrick Golf Course.