John Venditto leaves a mixed legacy as a public servant
He was a civic-minded man who coached youth sports, belonged to a long list of organizations and helped countless constituents during his 36 years as a public servant. In his view and that of others, he helped to make Oyster Bay “a great place to live, play and work.”
He also faced federal and state indictments on corruption charges, and pleaded guilty last July to a state felony charge that resulted in staying out of prison, but also led to the loss of his lawyer’s license.
The lifelong resident of North Massapequa died on March 17 of cancer at Good Shepherd Hospice Center in Rockville Centre, according to reports. Venditto, who served a full 19 years as Town of Oyster Bay supervisor, was 70. He had stepped down as supervisor on Jan. 4, 2017 to prepare his defense against federal corruption charges.
Venditto and his wife, Christine, were married 42 years and had three children, Michael, Nicholas and Joanna, and two grandchildren, Andrew and Lindsay.
A viewing had originally been scheduled for March 19 at the Massapequa Funeral Home. But in light of the coronavirus epidemic, the family opted for a private service. A celebration of life service will be held at a later date.
The Political Life
After gaining his law degree from St. John’s University in 1975—where he also earned a bachelor’s—Venditto returned to his hometown and landed a job with a politically-connected law firm.
Venditto won election to the town board in 1980 and served as a councilman until 1991, when he was appointed town attorney. In 1997, he won his first race for supervisor and began his tenure on Jan. 1, 1998.
When he had the electorate on his side, Venditto earned mandates that other politicians can only envy,
Beginning with his first win for the town’s top post, in 1997, the Republican won 10 straight elections. Three times, he garnered 70 percent or more of the votes cast, reaching a peak of 72.9 in 2009. In 2011 and 2013 he also topped 70 percent.
And yet in his final election, in 2015, he barely beat his Democratic challenger, political neophyte John Mangelli, squeaking by with 99 votes. The stunning loss of support reflected the perceived widespread fiscal woes in the town, whose bond ratings had slipped. Deficits and tax hikes were financial realities in Venditto’s final years.
Under Venditto, the town spent hundreds of millions on things like roads, parks, beaches, the golf course and buying and preserving open land.
The public supported, by a wide margin, two bond issues that financed much of this, but there was a price to pay, as the town debt ballooned to close to $800 million. Yearly interest on this borrowed money became another burden to the town.
In his final budget, passed on Nov. 15, 2016, Venditto and the town board opted to pierce the state’s tax cap and hike the tax levy (amount to be raised by property taxes) by 11.5 percent.
“The town is in difficult financial strains and I said repeatedly to anyone who listens that I take full responsibility for that problem, and it does need to be addressed,” Venditto said at the Nov. 15 meeting.
He went on to note that the town’s share of a property tax bill usually made up 10 percent. Broken down by the month, he emphasized, it was often less than a cable bill or cell phone family plan. In return, he said in another interview, the residents got a wide array of services and a quality of life that was the envy of other municipalities.
In October 2016, Venditto and then County Executive Ed Mangano, a fellow Republican, were charged by the Unites States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York with allegedly conspiring to back Oyster Bay concessionaire Harendra Singh, who held long term contracts to run concessions at the town’s golf course and beaches.
The federal government alleged that the two provided the businessman with up to $20 million in loans backed by the Town of Oyster Bay, in contravention of the law. In return, prosecutors alleged, the two pols received various gifts and perks from Singh.
On May 24, 2018, at the federal courthouse in Central Islip, jurors acquitted Venditto on charges of conspiracy, bribery, fraud, making false statements and obstructing justice.
In 2017, Venditto was one a number of Oyster Bay officials and employees charged by Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas after a months-long probe.
Singas said that, “the indictments allege a shocking and interrelated web of political corruption at the highest levels of Town of Oyster Bay government. These actions victimized the taxpayers and betrayed the public trust.”
On July 26, 2019, the former supervisor pleaded guilty in Nassau County Court to a felony charge of corrupt use of position or authority, as well as a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct. He avoided prison time, but lost his law license.
Anton Media Group reached out to several political figures to weigh in on Venditto’s life.
Congressman Peter King, the outgoing Republican whose district covers Massapequa: “I have always been proud to call John Venditto and his family my friends. John was dedicated to his family and his community. He was a hardworking public official who went through tough times without losing his class or stature. In all the years I knew him, John was a man of compassion without a hint of malice. He was a good man. R.I.P.”
Democratic Congressman Thomas Suozzi of the Third Congressional District: “I have known John Venditto for a very long time and offer my deepest condolences to his wife, Christine, and his entire family. Despite John’s sad fall from grace, and our political differences, I will never forget that he came to my brother’s wake, always treated me with courtesy and tried to help people when they needed help.”
Former Oyster Bay Councilman Anthony Macagnone: “My thoughts and prayers go out to the Venditto family. I hope that history will remember all the good Supervisor Venditto did for the Town of Oyster Bay, such as the park improvements and the wonderful services.”
Even his political opponents had good things to say about the late supervisor.
Among those was Robert Ripp of Massapequa, who often tangled with Venditto at town board meetings, and lodged ethics complaints against the town’s leader.
In a Facebook posting he wrote, “I learned earlier today of John Venditto’s untimely passing. While we didn’t see eye to eye on many things, we always interacted with a certain amount of respect for each other. Love him or hate him, he was a very smart man. My sincere condolences to his family.”