Ironically, one answer to solving Suffolk’s fiscal problem that couldn’t get done under Levy’s reign is back in play, and it’s a credit to the legislature’s cooperative spirit. Legis. John M. Kennedy (R-Nesconset), the minority leader, says a national, not-for-profit organization that he didn’t want to name until the deal is signed has “a strong interest” in taking over the management of the Foley nursing home. Their representatives have visited the Yaphank facility twice and are slated to come back again June 26.
Kennedy’s hoping the third time’s a charm. “They are the real deal,” he says.
Bellone says he’s hoping for the best outcome as long as it “makes sense” for taxpayers.
“If there’s a way to do that, I’m open to it,” he says. “My priority is to make sure patients are protected and taxpayers are protected—and that we do everything we can to assist the workers in the transition.”
If the Foley facility is able to survive under a new public-private partnership, then Suffolk lawmakers can move beyond a contentious battle between the legislature and the executive branch that seemed to epitomize the Levy administration’s relationship.
Some may prefer a conciliatory approach, but Levy thinks Bellone would be setting himself up for failure if he doesn’t take his lead in handling the county legislature.
“I know Steve came in thinking he could work with these guys,” Levy says. “It’s not going to happen. These guys are basically about protecting their turf, placating the unions and couldn’t give a darn about, you know, balance sheets… That’s why he’s got to be strong as an executive, and he’s got to use [his] budget to make the cuts. Then let the legislature follow because the legislature will not take the lead in making the tough decisions.”
For now, Bellone is striking a softer tone.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve agreed on every single issue—we haven’t,” he says. “That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. But people want to know that when there are problems and issues, you’re going to do your best to find common ground and move the county forward. I think we’ve been pretty successful in doing that.”
One measure of that success, says Deputy Presiding Officer Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon), is that despite the county’s financial crisis, it recently sold $60 million worth of bonds, getting a rate of 2.95 percent when “last October we got a rate of 3.29 percent,” he observed.
“The financial community is saying, ‘We believe that Suffolk County has a plan. Suffolk County is going to get out of this.’ Otherwise,” Horsley explains, “they wouldn’t have sold those bonds at the lower rate. It makes sense.
We’re growing. And that’s where I think the county executive is going with the legislature.”
So far, Kennedy likes this direction.
“While Nassau has some great elected officials in there, and I’m pretty close to it, we don’t want to emulate Nassau!” he says. “We’re happy to be Suffolk.”
And Bellone is still happy being Suffolk County executive. He admits he has his hands full juggling a new baby and a financial crisis, but he credits his wife “who helps me stay grounded,” and adds that he makes sure he spends “a little time every day” with his family.
“I have three young kids here, and I’m focused on their future just like every family in Suffolk,” Bellone says, “and I’m going to do everything I can to get us back on track in Suffolk County.”