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County Cleanup: Steve Bellone Inheriting Big Mess in Suffolk

Honeymoon or Heartbreak?

Despite Suffolk Republican Chairman John Jay LaValle’s predictions to the contrary, the legislature remains firmly in the Democratic Party’s control, with 12 Democrats and six Republicans. While Presiding Officer Lindsay is looking forward to working harmoniously in Hauppauge with the new county leader, already there are some sounds of discord that could soon drown out any “Kumbayah” sing-along.

When the legislature meets in 2012, Legis. Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon) will reportedly become the deputy presiding officer, and Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) will replace term-limited Legis. Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor) as majority leader.


To Central Islip’s Montano, “it is a Babylon power grab!” He notes that Democratic Chairman Schaffer is about to replace Bellone as Babylon Town supervisor and that “Bellone is his guy in the county executive seat. I’m not going to sit idly by and let the county be run out of Babylon Town Hall,” says Montano. “I’m going to watch this very closely. There are some built-in conflicts there… [and] that’s a recipe for corruption. You need to have a balance.”

Legis.-elect Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), the soon-to-be-former spokeswoman for Presiding Officer Lindsay, countered that “it will only be a concern if it plays out in a way that looks like there’s favoritism toward Babylon interests.” Hahn noted that Lindsay is from the Town of Islip and Kennedy, the minority leader, is from the Town of Smithtown, assuming both men hold their titles when the new legislature convenes in January.

Recently Montano announced that he plans to challenge state Sen. Owen Johnson (R-Babylon), who’s held his seat for almost 40 years as the senate Republicans cling to a slim two-vote edge in Albany, which could make the Island a political battleground next fall. In the meantime, as a Suffolk legislator, Montano promises to work with Bellone, although he says he may not be the automatic 12th Democratic vote whenever the legislature needs a super majority to approve any bonding proposed by the new county executive.

“If I think it’s a good bill, I will support it,” Montano says. “If I think it sets good public policy, I will support it. That’s my position.”

Speaking with the Press, Bellone took Montano’s complaint in stride.

“People should judge me on my actions, not on any other criteria,” he says. “I intend to be a county executive for all the county, and frankly, for all the region as well, because the problems we face are regional, they’re not just at the county level.”

On the other side of the proverbial aisle, some doubts have been raised about the six members of the Republican minority caucus in the legislature and the hold that their leader, Kennedy, may have over them. “I don’t know if they’re solid, quite honestly,” said a Democratic legislator who asked not to be identified. “I don’t know how tight his caucus is.”

Kennedy admits that there was “some acrimony” in his caucus that “four of us supported the tax increase.” But he explains, “We’ve got to govern. Quite frankly our police department has been decimated.”

Republican LaValle wants the six Republicans on the legislature “to play the role of fiscal spoiler to Steve Bellone when he tries to raise taxes or fees.”

Cooper says that LaValle “wants to make Bellone’s life as hard as possible because he wants to make sure Bellone only serves one term”—a charge that LaValle would not find fault with. But Cooper worries about what’s going to happen with the legislature’s ability to work together for the good of the county.

Right now, Cooper says, LaValle’s “putting a lot of pressure on Republican legislators to bend to his will and stop cooperating with the Democrats, and next year stop cooperating with Bellone. Only time will tell if the legislature will remain the bipartisan body it’s been.”

LaValle says that he doesn’t think Bellone “has a whole lot of flexibility, but he is going to try to please some of his constituency, and as a result he’s going to be putting himself and the county in great danger.… The reality is that he should look at additional cuts in county government, whether it’s non-essential services or actually privatization as well.”

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, a Republican, has been pushing for privatization, such as selling or leasing the sewage system as well as the operation of the buses, to solve his county’s budget problems, whose severity compelled the Nassau Interim Finance Authority to take over earlier this year. Cooper says that the Nassau legislature has been bitterly divided along party lines, and he hopes the Suffolk legislature doesn’t imitate them.

“We’re willing to set aside partisan differences and work together,” says Cooper.

How long that spirit will last in Suffolk government remains to be seen.

“A couple more years of kicking the can down the road, and we will be where Nassau County is today,” says Bellone. “And we’re bad enough where we are right now.”

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