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, 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 ethics” in the town.
The saying is also the campaign cry of the town’s Democrats, who on April 18 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 , “The residents of this town deserve a government and elected officials that they can trust—and a government that’s transparent, ethical and honest.”
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. The Republican machine has held [power] in this town for decades, and look at the results—it’s a mess.” He 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.
“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.”
“The illegality that’s going on is not just from John Venditto,” Freier, a familiar figure at town board meetings, 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.”
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 disingenous. It took me four tries to become supervisor. I’m not a rubber stamp, I’m an outsider.”
In interviews with the Oyster Bay Enterprise-Pilot, 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.
“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 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.”
“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.
“It’s very easy for folks to come to town hall with a bagful of rocks,” he said. “We’re making changes, not promises.”
Saladino said that independent auditors have given indication that sometime this year the town will experience a $10 million surplus in the 2017 budget. In addition, its bond rating outlook has improved (“we’re no longer in junk bond status,” he said) and since taking over, the debt has been reduced by $62 million. He promised to back up the figures.
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.”