By Eden Laikin
Nassau County Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams and the Democrat Legislative Caucus allegedly committed “coercion,” “official misconduct” and “obstructing government administration” by stating, in writing, that they would only vote to approve a legislative item if they received something in return – according to a complaint referred by the County Attorney for criminal investigation.
In a Dec 15, 2011 letter to Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano, which was cc’d to Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt, Democratic legislators said that they would not vote to approve bonding to pay back years-old tax refunds due taxpayers unless they get the controversial redistricting plan they’re seeking.
“Nevertheless please be advised that we cannot in good conscience consider any borrowing requests for any purpose until we arrive at a satisfactory resolution to Legislative redistricting,” the letter stated. “Until there is fair, non-partisan redistricting there will be no bonding.”
Nassau County Commissioner of Investigations and County Attorney John Ciampoli said that he showed the letter to former prosecutors in his office, and to a retired appellate court judge – all of whom expressed shock that an elected official would put in writing a “threat to hold a vote hostage.” Ciampoli said he then referred the letter to the New York State Inspector General’s Office.
“No one has once seen something like this where someone issues a written demand in return for a political payback,” Ciampoli said.
In a press conference at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building this morning, Ciampoli said that the matter has since been referred to the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office and he’s been in touch with officials there. Ciampoli called upon District Attorney Kathleen Rice to investigate the “apparent criminal misconduct” of Minority leader Abrahams and the other members of the Democratic caucus.
“They refused to perform the functions for which they were elected,” Ciampoli said before the press event. “As an elected official, you are supposed to vote and decide issues on their merits, not on unrelated matters that you want, to enrich yourselves, increase your political power and enhance your own districts and political chances. It’s an improper or illegal quid pro quo.”
The Dec 15 letter, signed by each member of the minority, and hand-delivered - began by stating their reservations about borrowing yet said they wanted to work with the Mangano administration and “come together for progress and the common good.”
The letter went on to remind County Executive Mangano and Legislator Schmitt that a supermajority –or 3 votes from their side of the aisle – was required to approve any bonding.
“Accordingly we, all of the members of the Democratic caucus, while committed to working with you where appropriate, we cannot and will not consider any bonding proposal in the County of Nassau today, tomorrow or during our term, until a binding agreement is reached on independent, non-partisan redistricting that can be approved by a supermajority of the Legislature. Once we have that agreement and commence with an appropriate but expeditious process, we assure you that we will begin a fair assessment of responsible bonding requests.”
Dozens of taxpayers have been waiting years for millions of dollars in tax refunds owed to them on incorrect property assessments, county officials have said. The Democratic minority has repeatedly blocked legislative approvals for the bonding to pay those settlements. Mangano has said structural reforms he’s put in place will end the county’s long-held system of borrowing to pay tax refunds, but can’t begin to take effect until next year. Assessment errors that happened during the previous administration, however, needed to be fixed and made right. Mangano was not at the press conference.
In an April 2, 2012 letter from Ciampoli to the state IG, he said the minority caucus “is demanding that New York State law governing redistricting be amended, subverted or conditioned upon their obtaining preferential treatment to which they are not currently entitled and if their demands are not met, they will persist in their unlawful refusal to perform their duty.”