Thursday, October 23, 2008

Patronage an Issue in Nassau Budget

Five years ago, Suozzi communications director Bruce Nyman said "Peter Schmitt talking about patronage is like Enron giving us a lecture about corporate ethics.''
In the recent run-up to the County budget debates, Minority Leader Peter Schmitt brought up patronage jobs as a way to cut spending. I've been against patronage jobsfor a long time. Schmitt is very selective about what patronage he opposes. John Riley at Newsday Spin Cycle reports "Political wives took center stage at a meeting of the Nassau County Legislature this week.They were drafted into a rambling, rancorous, protracted debate on political patronage Monday evening after Republicans said County Executive Thomas Suozzi should cut patronage hires from his budget before raising property taxes.
Legis. David Mejias (D-Farmingdale) argued that Republicans who control two of the three towns in Nassau also play the patronage game. He pointed out that the wife of a former U.S. Senator (Katuria, left, married to Republican Alfonse D’Amato) was on the zoning board of the Town of Hempstead.
“...And from what I know she knows nothing about real estate or development,” Mejias said.
Republican Legislators Peter Schmitt of Massapequa and John Ciotti of North Franklin of North Valley Stream said Mejias and Democrats should focus on Nassau County, not the towns. And they pointed out that the wife of a certain New York City Congressman [that would be U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), right] was on the county payroll."

Mejias was being kind that he didn't bring up Peter Schmitt's wife Lois who got a patronage job with the Town of Oyster Bay Zoning Board. Heck, Schmitt spent his entire adult life working patronage jobs until he got elected.
But if Ciotti and Schmitt want to stick to the County jobs, let's talk about PART-TIME republican spokesman Ed Ward who makes $80,000. Ward was a Nassau legislator defeated back in 1999. Not only does Ward get $80,000 for part-time work, he works full-time as
VP-Legal Affairs at Nassau Community College. Then lets talk abut GOP Boss Mondello's son-in-law hired by Schmitt for more money than the person that held that job previously.
Schmitt is not being honest on the patronage issue and he has a history with that. Back in 1999 when fortunes of nassau republicans were slipping, Schmitt was at odds with CE Gulotta. To make it look like the republican legislators cared, Schmitt went after patronage jobs - low level jobs that were controlled by Gulotta. The New York Times explained "
After a week's worth of politically innocuous cuts in expenses for calendars, cellular telephones and beepers, Presiding Officer Bruce A. Blakeman and his deputy, Peter Schmitt, took aim today for the first time directly at patronage, the currency with which the party has sustained itself for decades.

Only $2.4 million would be saved by eliminating a total of 33 patronage jobs, the two legislators said. And only 26 people will actually be affected, because the other seven have already signed up for early retirement or been transferred, they said.

Those 26 include a former Republican mayor of Glen Cove, Alan Parente, who earns $84,000 a year as a special assistant in the Civil Service Department. But for the most part, they are secretaries and other low-level appointees. Nineteen are women.

In keeping with the deepening animosity between Republican lawmakers and their party's titular leader, County Executive Thomas S. Gulotta, Mr. Blakeman and Mr. Schmitt saved much of the scant pain in today's round of cuts for people who were appointed by Mr. Gulotta and are seen as more loyal to him than to the party.

For example, they eliminated the job of Caroline Smith, who works as Mr. Gulotta's spokeswoman but is listed as a $55,000-a-year research aide for the Commissioner of Accounts, even as the job of press secretary is listed as vacant.

Mr. Blakeman and Mr. Schmitt also cut the $97,854-a-year position now held by Howard Taylor, who functions as Mr. Gulotta's legal counsel. They noted that he is actually paid by the County Attorney's office, which defends the county against lawsuits and which has been so understaffed that it has turned over much of its caseload to expensive outside law firms."

After the Democrats took control of the Legislature, Schmitt tried to block the replacement of republican patronage job holders "After their election upset, the Democrats became the legislature's majority on Jan. 1. But most agencies remain under the firm control of County Executive Thomas S. Gulotta, a Republican. The betting agency is an exception because its three-member board is chosen by the county legislature.

The Republicans are not relinquishing power without a struggle, trying to block the Democrats from appointing new directors. The Republicans contend that one Democratic legislator has a conflict of interests because he works for the New York City O.T.B. and should be barred from voting. Without him, the legislature would be deadlocked, 9 to 9. Thus the Republican directors would remain in office.

"This is going to end up in court," promised the Republican minority leader, Peter J. Schmitt, who wants a ruling by the county's ethics board.

The Democrats contend that there is no conflict because the Nassau agency is separate from the city's, and they intend to forge ahead with their appointments, which are on the legislature's calendar for tomorrow.

In another Republican move to thwart a Democratic takeover, the agency's president and chairman, Gregory P. Peterson, notes that he has nearly two years left in his contract. His job is highly coveted because the salary is far higher than for any other county official: $165,000. If he retired, he could qualify for a pension of $90,000 to $100,000."

And yes, sadly for his few short years on the OTB Board, Peterson has a $100,000 county pension.

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