Oyster Bay Democrats Seek To Clean House

The press conference took place in the gazebo across the street from the Oyster Bay Town Hall.

Party introduces 2017 slate in front of Town Hall

Someone will eventually own the slogan, “There’s a new day in Oyster Bay.”

It will be either Supervisor Joseph Saladino—or those seeking to oust him.

The saying has been the mantra of Saladino, who took over after former Supervisor John Venditto stepped down Jan. 4 to prepare his defense against a federal corruption indictment. Saladino has initiated policies that he boasts have introduced openness and transparency and “the highest levels of ethical standards” in the town.

The saying is also the campaign cry of the town’s Democrats, who on April 19 unveiled their slate of candidates for this upcoming November’s election. The Oyster Bay Town Hall provided the backdrop as town Democratic leader Dave Gugerty promised “a new day” and that a “cool breeze of change will be blowing through the building behind us. The residents of this town deserve a government and elected officials that they can trust—and a government that’s transparent, ethical and honest.

“Non-politicians, that’s the kind of slate we’re bringing in,” added Gugerty.

The Town of Oyster Bay Democratic Committee introduced its slate of candidates for the November 2017 election cycle on April 19. Pictured from left, with the Town Hall in the background, are New York State Senator John Brooks, Nassau County Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Jacobs, council candidate Bob Freier, supervisor candidate Marc Herman, and council candidates Eva Pearson and James Versocki. (Photos by Frank Rizzo)

Gugerty quoted U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Wexler, who sentenced former Town of Oyster Bay Planning and Development Commissioner Frederick Ippolito in a tax evasion case last fall: “There is something rotten in the Town of Oyster Bay, and now it stinks.”

“Well, that stench is about to be lifted from this place by these candidates,” observed Gugerty.

Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs made no secret of the theme of the upcoming campaign.

“The number one issue is going to be corruption and mismanagement,” he pronounced. “Things like patronage, taking care of your family and your friends…It’s about pay to play, where the friends who help your campaign get the best contracts and the best deals, and everybody’s got their claws in the pockets of the taxpayers. It’s got to stop

“The Republican machine has held [power] in this town for decades, and look at the results—it’s a mess,” he added.

Jacobs called upon voters of every political stripe to support his candidates.

Jacobs and Gugerty introduced the slate: Woodbury dentist Dr. Marc Herman for supervisor, Bob Freier (Woodbury), Joseph Versocki (Sea Cliff) and Eva Pearson (Farmingdale) for town council, and Dr. Dean Hart, a Hicksville optometrist, for town clerk. Hart was not present at the announcement.

Herman made note of the town’s $900 million debt and the 11.5 percent increase in the tax levy passed last fall.

Herman called himself “disenchanted,” “disheartened” and “embarrassed” by the goings-on in the town.

“I have been on the sidelines for a number of years, and I just can’t take it any longer,” Herman said. “I know I can clean up the financial mess and the corruption mess. I truly believe that a person with passion and vision can change the world…and take back the Town of Oyster Bay.”

The three running for council, he asserted, “will bring honor, integrity and dignity back.”

Freier is a familiar figure at town board meetings, taking part in public comment and constantly quizzing councilmembers.

“The illegality that’s going on is not just from John Venditto,” he charged. “Blame this board too, because they voted to enable this corruption to begin. The question that needs to be asked is, ‘What did they know when they voted?’ Either they were complicit or they were incompetent.”

Freier also took aim at Saladino, calling him “an unelected supervisor…who comes from the same farm system as the entire Republican machine in Nassau County. Just like his predecessor, he’s putting his name on signs all over the town. That’s just blatant election advertising that we’re all paying for.”

In interviews with Anton Media, both Jacobs and Gugerty dismissed the GOP’s registration advantage in the town. As of April 1, according to the county’s Board of Elections, it held a 66,056 to 51,192 edge over the Democrats.

“I think we can overcome [party loyalty],” said Jacobs. “We’ve seen that before, in 1999. That was a benchmark year when the Republicans lost almost everything [in Oyster Bay] and we had far less resources than we have at the table right now. We had worse registration [numbers] then and we did not have anywhere near as bad a political climate for the Republicans. When the voters get fed up, they get fed up.”

“When you add in the unaffiliated voters, it becomes anybody’s game,” said Gugerty, pointing to 2015, when political neophyte John Mangelli lost to Venditto by only 99 votes. “People are sick of political corruption.”

Gugerty dismissed Saladino’s introduction of a new and independent Board of Ethics.

“They’re trotting out what I perceive to be standard ethics legislation,” he said. “It’s not real change at all. I think the only time you will get change is when you get people from a different mindset —and that’s what we have here.”

Also on hand were state Senator John Brooks of the Eighth District and Nassau County Legislator Arnold Drucker, who won a special election to replace the late Judy Jacobs. Last November, Brooks ousted incumbent Michael Venditto, son of the indicted former supervisor.

“The election of John Brooks marked the beginning of the end for the Republican machine here in Oyster Bay,” asserted Jacobs. “I think the formula’s there for some good things to happen for this ticket in November.”

Saladino Responds

Saladino, a former state assemblyman, told Anton Media Group, “I have been in Albany for 14 years, separate from anything going on in the [town]. Anybody who makes the claim that I’m part of some old boy network is being disingenuous. It took me four tries to become supervisor. I’m not a rubber stamp, I’m an outsider.”

As for the signs, “This is the practice throughout New York State. It has nothing to do with one party or another. You have to know who your elected officials are.”

There is no overtime or extra expenditures associated with removing Venditto’s name and replacing it with his own, Saladino added.

“The opponents of our town are running against the past,” Saladino charged. “I’m here bringing this town into the future, cleaning it up,” and brought up the recent “open and transparent” process by the which the town chose new concessionaires for its beaches and golf course.

“They began their campaign by lying and destroying their credibility,” Saladino asserted.

“It’s very easy for folks to come to town hall with a bagful of rocks,” he said. “We’re making changes, not promises. They cannot win by telling the truth.”

“We’re not on the brink of bankruptcy. We’re cutting back, reducing the cost of government, hiring less outside consultants,” said Saladino, adding that independent auditors have given indication that sometime this year the town will experience a $10 million surplus in the 2017 budget. In addition, he’s planning to introduce a 2018 budget with a zero percent tax levy increase.

Contrary to what his opponents claimed, Saladino said the town’s bond rating outlook has improved (“we’re no longer in junk bond status,” he said) and in his 78 days in office (as of April 21) the debt has been reduced by $62 million. He promised to back up the figures.

As for charges of corruption, Saladino pushed back, noting, “They are the party of [former Assembly Speaker] Sheldon Silver, [former North Hempstead Democratic Party Chair] Gerard Terry and [former Assemblyman] Vito Lopez. The list goes on and on.”

He also rejected the charge of nepotism, stating that the town has “strict hiring policies that have to adhere to civil service and [union] rules.”

Saladino questioned the challengers’ governing bona fides, stating, “When you have the experience of understanding the workings of government and the workings of municipal finance, you can put together a more realistic plan that works. You know the way to solve the town’s problems.”

He added, “We have the experience to put in place the changes that the public wants. And we’ve already instituted those changes.”

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Frank Rizzo
Frank Rizzo is a journalist at Anton Media Group. With decades of experience in the industry, he is exceptionally equipped to cover local politics, business and other topics that matter to readers.

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