The Town of Oyster Bay has been a hotbed of controversy in recent years, with accusations of nepotism, cronyism, patronage and, most often, corruption.
The Town Board, a Republican stronghold for as long as anyone can remember, had two resignations after former Supervisor John Venditto stepped down, facing federal corruption charges, of which he said he is innocent. Councilmen Joseph Pinto and Christopher Coschignano stepped down.
Two Republicans, Louis Imbroto and Tom Hand, were appointed to fill the seats. They are up for election, and Councilwoman Michele Johnson is hoping to be re-elected. Three Democratic candidates, Bob Freier, Eva Pearson, and James Versocki are vying to replace them. We asked them a few questions to assist voters when they go to the polls on Nov. 7.
Herald Gazette: Are there any issues on which you disagree with the supervisor? If so, which issues?
Bob Freier: I disagree with the way Joseph Saladino has run our town since being appointed. He has surrounded himself with Ed Mangano’s top aides. These are clearly patronage hires that are costing us millions. I also strongly disagree with the taxpayer-funded mailers that Saladino has sent out to promote himself. He is very reactive instead of proactive, lacks vision and stifles respectful discourse.
Eva Pearson: I disagree with appointed Supervisor Saladino on most things. Most recently, he wasted over 300,000 tax dollars on self-promoting political mailings. These mailings, in addition to the superfluous and ubiquitous signage, are indicative of Saladino’s trend to engage in self-promotion instead of governance. Additionally, he also recently hired one of Ed Mangano’s top aides at a $163,000 salary. He has surrounded himself with patronage hires, disregarding the input of the Town Board, the residents and his own ethics board.
James Versocki: I am diametrically opposed to the current unelected supervisor’s positions on most issues and his leadership style. Instead of focusing on, and admitting, the severe financial crisis facing the town and the 33 percent tax increases his party has caused, he has continued to place his name on every political mailer and sign in Oyster Bay. He has not brought true reform to Oyster Bay. He has instead brought indicted Ed Mangano’s top aides to work in Oyster Bay at exorbitant salaries. His actions belie true reform.
HG: What do you think are the most important issues that need addressing?
Freier: The taxes are too high! Our town taxes went up 11.5 percent this year, and 33 percent the past five years. This is because of the “Corruption” tax. Another important issue is the outrageous water bill increases that customers of American Water face. This is the result of privatizing a utility that should never be privatized. When elected, the Town of Oyster Bay Dems pledge to fight to lower our town taxes and water bill.
Pearson: Affordability is the biggest concern for all of Long Island’s residents. The Town of Oyster Bay recently raised taxes 11.5 percent in order to generate income to pay for the consequences of their corrupt administration. Another important issue affecting North Shore residents is the outrageous water bill increases many experienced by New York American Water. Efforts to ameliorate the concerns of the residents affected by these increases are ongoing and will continue.
Versocki: The town must address water quality issues and overdevelopment concerns. Many of us face the extortionate water rates charged by American Water. The town has no master plan for development, and that impacts our environment and quality of life. We must have a town that works to protect our waterfront areas from pollution and overdevelopment, and also protects our drinking water supplies.
HG: Are you qualified to tackle those issues and if so, how?
Freier: Yes. I continually ask difficult questions and challenge the board during meetings in an effort to keep taxpayers informed. I am a former school board trustee that has balanced a budget, enhanced services, all while staying under the tax cap. I own a small business that helps recruit and put together tech startups. Many of these companies have become some of the most successful technology companies in the world.
Pearson: Yes. I have over 10 years’ experience in program administration. A key component of these grant-funded programs was the careful use and documentation of financial resources. Additionally, many of these positions mandated submitting quarterly and annual reports to state agencies.
Versocki: I believe I am uniquely qualified for the position. I am a former New York state prosecutor who investigated and prosecuted contractors who stole from taxpayers across New York. I am actively involved in my community, and will use my prosecutorial experience to ensure we bring back integrity and a fiscally sound government to our town.
HG: Do you believe it would benefit the town to have a bipartisan town board? Why or why not?
Freier: Yes. The Town Board has been controlled by one party for two decades. There’s a saying: “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We are seeing the results of that. Eight public officials have been indicted this year because of single-party control. If my team wins on Nov. 7, there will still be three people on the board from the other party, and I look forward to working with them bipartisan.
Pearson: Yes. The Town of Oyster Bay has been mired in corruption for decades due in large part to one-party rule. It is essential for all levels of government, including the town, to have elected (and not appointed) representatives from different parties so as to ensure that no one party gets too powerful. Additionally, a bipartisan board would encourage dialogue and collaboration on behalf of all the citizens of the town.
Versocki: We need a change in Oyster Bay. Decades of one-party rule has led to endemic corruption in our town, which has led to a wasteful patronage hiring system and nearly $1 billion in debt. We need multiple sets of eyes watching and protecting taxpayers, and our team will work with the remaining Town Board members to bring good government to this town.