Nelson Rockefeller’s nomination for Governor in 1958 was partly an upstate revolt against the continued domination of party affairs by the Nassau Republican organization. Rockefeller was a man who always had bigger fish to fry, and throughout his almost 15 years as governor, he often went out of his way not to step on the toes of the touchy Nassau GOP. That’s why Nassau is the only large New York county without a state office building. Respect the turf.
Just before taking office, Rockefeller announced that State Senator William Hults would be Commissioner of Motor Vehicles, but not until the end of the 1959 legislative session, so that Glen Cove, North Hempstead, Oyster Bay and a sliver of Hempstead wouldn’t lose their Senate representation until 1960.
In early 1946, a brouhaha erupted between the AFL and the CIO, the state’s rival federations of labor groups. Republican leaders in the state legislature endorsed the upstate-oriented AFL’s proposal that New York license and regulate barbers and cosmetologists. The downstate-oriented CIO, which had members who couldn’t document the required formal education, launched opposition so fierce and threatened political retaliation so severe that the legislation was considered dead. And then, as the 1946 session was drawing to a close and the CIO was concentrating on other things, the “barber and hairdresser bills” started moving through both houses, with almost total Republican support and Democratic opposition. Member of Assembly Genesta Strong, first-termer from Nassau County, dependable, safe and already expected to step aside, was asked to be the official sponsor of the cosmetologist licensing bill.
Governor Dewey’s signing of the bill cemented support for his re-election from the powerful AFL, which had been the whole point. To those in political inner circles, Mrs. Strong had proved herself a reliable team player whose dignity was useful in deflecting potential attack.
For 59 years after the creation of Nassau County in 1899, no woman had ever served on the Board of Supervisors. Suddenly, in late 1958, two of the six members of the board were women, both recent widows appointed to temporarily replace their husbands.
The year before, the Oyster Bay Town Board had appointed Marjorie R. Post of Massapequa, another widow and a grandmother, to fill a vacancy, making her the county’s first-ever female Town Board member and only the second ever on Long Island. Post was the only one of these three pioneering women to actually run for a term in her own right, and she was returned to the board by comfortable margins in 1957 and 1961.
Near the end of January, a Newsday column described Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray as “the first woman supervisor in the 369-year history of Hempstead.” This is not the first time this error has appeared in print. Murray is the first woman to be elected in a general election to that position, but fair is fair, and Edna McConnell served nearly eight months as a Hempstead supervisor starting in October 1958.
John McConnell of North Bellmore was one of Hempstead’s two representatives on the old Board of Supervisors (the county’s six-member legislature prior to 1996). After serving for 25 years on the Town Board, he died of cancer in the middle of a heated campaign season. Republican leaders asked his widow to step in and serve until a thoughtful replacement could be arranged. Mrs. McConnell had never been directly involved in partisan politics. She was sworn in and quietly served until the 1959 nominations were settled. She took her place at all county and town board meetings, toured facilities and educated herself admirably about the responsibilities of her position. Today, she is perhaps best remembered as the mother of Harold McConnell, who was elected County Clerk eight times before resigning in late 1992.
“While the majority may elect the officer, they are not entitled to insist upon the retention in office of one who fails to do his duty.” These are the words of Gov. Charles Evans Hughes, twice appointed to the Supreme Court and once nominated for President, when he removed Manhattan Borough President John Ahearn from office in 1907.
We don’t hear about it very often anymore, but the governor can fire many local elected officials, after formal charges are presented and the official is given the chance to answer them, usually in the form of a public hearing. The governor’s power to sack local officials comes from a mix of the State Constitution, the Public Officer’s Law and the scores of individual governing charters granted to cities and counties over the last 175 years.
Only a few weeks ago, a top naval intelligence officer told a Naval Institute conference in San Diego that China was preparing for an imminent “short, sharp war” with Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea. Suddenly, we’re only a few big mistakes away from World War III along the Black Sea. The potential flashpoints that might put horrible events into unstoppable motion move around fast in this new world.
Americans are taught early that there is little need to pay attention to what is happening in the world around them, so our public is again playing catch-up. As always, we are presented with no historical context, grossly one-sided information and a drumbeat. Americans are instructed how they are expected to feel about major events; theirs not to make reply, theirs not to reason why. That phrase was written in 1854 about 600 soldiers from the West who galloped straight into Russian cannonade just outside Sevastopol, the principal base by treaty of the Russian Black Sea fleet.
Giving up is not “reform.” County Executive Ed Mangano’s proposal to transfer property assessment from the county to the towns might possibly speed up assessment decisions by replacing one large and overwhelmed bureaucracy with several somewhat smaller ones. It will likely recreate problems that were major motivations in creating our highly centralized county government 75 years ago.
The 1938 county charter merged the town Boards of Assessors and the County Board of Equalization, ending three decades of complaints, lawsuits and hard feelings about the lack of specific, uniform levels of property assessments between the towns. In a tax system screaming out for simplification, clarification and a sense of certainty, spinning off assessments to the towns will reintroduce “equalization” as an annual issue. Tens of thousands of residents are still trying to figure out why their assessment went down but their tax bill still went up. The division of taxes heading up the tax food chain in an equitable manner is the most complex subject in local government, and it’s all going to make people very sad, particularly in villages and school districts that are split between townships.
The potholes, the potholes, the horror, the horror. Reactive maintenance isn’t going to cut it anymore. Like so many other standard operating procedures that are breaking down under changing conditions, we need a new way of approaching the pothole problem.
If local governments pretend that it’s some blip and that revenues and temperature variations will soon be back to normal, the situation will only grow worse and more expensive. We need new ways to discover, report and track the holes, and to monitor and measure success.
Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio didn’t sneak into Town Hall on Jan. 1. He spoke the words of an oath in front of a judge on the steps of Town Hall in front of people. There are pictures. There’s video and audio. Though it was a staged “inauguration” for political consumption, it should probably count for something. But no, as of this writing he is former Supervisor Vecchio, Town Clerk Puleo having declared his office and that of another member of the Town Board to be vacant because they did not file the required written oath within 30 days of the start of their terms.
What a stupid law.
The state has finally released its annual report on income taxes by county for 2010. It takes a few years for the dust to settle, I guess. It’s an eye-opener. And remember, officially, the “recession” ended in June 2009. Some people did recover.
As of the end of 2010, just a smidgen under 23 percent of Nassau County tax filers earned $100,000 or more, but statewide the figure is just over 13 percent. The average adjusted gross income for filers in Nassau was $86,178, just over a third larger than the state average, and exceeded only in Manhattan and Westchester. Counting only returns on which taxes were owed, the average adjusted gross income for Nassau was $119,920, 22 percent higher than the statewide average.
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Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org