New York Times Endorses Howard Weitzman For Nassau County Comptroller;
Kathleen Rice Gets Nod For Nassau District Attorney
Donald Clavin, the Republican receiver of taxes in Hempstead, wants the job that Howard Weitzman, a Democrat, holds and has done well. Mr. Clavin is right to assert that a comptroller should be an independent watchdog accountable only to citizens, but he is wrong about which candidate in this race better fits that description.
Yes, Mr. Weitzman is an ally of Thomas Suozzi, the county executive. Yes, he put out one publicly financed mailing on the state of county finances just before the primary (they're healthy, in case you were worried). But the charge that this petty electoral maneuver betrays a fatally compromised allegiance to the Suozzi administration is not convincing.
Mr. Weitzman has proved himself willing to pursue investigations that embarrass Mr. Suozzi and embolden his enemies, as he did when he exposed overtime abuses at the Nassau County jail. Republicans cried foul over Mr. Weitzman's audits of obscure sanitary districts in Hempstead, which found rampant waste and sloppiness, but no one else had ever looked into them, and we are glad he did. He has helped the county in other ways, like helping to develop the NassauRx discount prescription card program, an innovation that owed much to Mr. Weitzman's experience in the health industry.
Ordinarily, we would love to see a sharp set of eyes from the opposing party keeping close tabs on the Suozzi administration. But Mr. Weitzman is doing a decent job already, and we count on him to keep it up. Mr. Clavin, a man of obvious talent and ambition, is clearly eager to test the springs of the political platform once stood upon by Receiver of Taxes Alfonse D'Amato. We wish him well. But we endorse Howard Weitzman.
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Nassau District Attorney
Denis Dillon has served as Nassau County's district attorney for 30 years without becoming a partisan hack, an achievement worth noting in these parts. He has not succumbed to corruption or lost his appetite for the job. Scandal and decay attach to veteran politicians like barnacles to a whale, but Mr. Dillon's hide is smooth. His essential integrity and political independence are not in dispute, and his peculiarities and preoccupations are well known and accounted for by voters, who keep electing him.
With this district attorney, what you see is what you get.
Unfortunately, in Mr. Dillon's case, what you get can be less than what you want or need. After 30 years, it has become hard for most voters in Nassau to remember anyone else doing Mr. Dillon's job. That alone would be reason to recommend his Democratic challenger, the energetic Kathleen Rice, whose experience as a prosecutor in Brooklyn and in the United States attorney's office in Philadelphia more than qualify her to take his place.
In any political cycle, there comes a time when it is necessary to make room for new ideas, fresher visions and the rethinking of possibilities. Mr. Dillon, 71, has had more than enough time to achieve the many goals he had as a reformer in the 1970's, and the thought of having a prosecutor as skilled and ambitious as Ms. Rice to take it from here is highly appealing.
But leaving aside Mr. Dillon's prolonged tenure, there are other reasons arguing against giving him another four years. The flip side of reliability is rigidity, and nowhere is this more obvious and troubling in Mr. Dillon than in his fervent public mission to end abortion.
His advocacy, as plain as the right-to-life rose on his lapel, has led him to use his office as a bully pulpit and interfered with his prosecutorial duties. It left him, for example, unable or unwilling to pursue charges against people arrested in a 1988 abortion-clinic protest.
Whether the appointment of a special prosecutor in that case was an abdication of duty, as Ms. Rice contends, or what Mr. Dillon calls a routine recusal to avoid arousing public suspicion of his motives, it underscored an unpleasant truth: that Nassau's chief law-enforcement official is unnecessarily burdened by a crusade that has nothing to do with his job.
It is unfortunate that Mr. Dillon's energy in his moral struggle is not always matched by an equivalent vigor in exposing actual statutory crimes, like government corruption. One need only look at his counterpart in Suffolk County, Thomas Spota, to see what an aggressive, creative prosecutor can do to clean up a rotted political culture. Mr. Dillon's office can seem listless by comparison, as it also did in what appeared to be a half-hearted investigation of abuses by priests in Long Island's Roman Catholic diocese, whose headquarters are in Nassau.
A more recent example was the plea deal taken by Frank Tassone, the corrupt former school superintendent in Roslyn, which calls for a sentence of 4 to 12 years in prison for his role in what has been called the country's biggest school fraud ever. Mr. Dillon defends it as a good deal, but it smacked of expediency and undue caution and was not commensurate with the seriousness of Mr. Tassone's crimes.
Mr. Dillon does not lack for achievements and good ideas, like his innovative use of assets seized from criminals to benefit crime victims and drug-abuse programs. He candidly acknowledges that Nassau's low crime rate owes more to demographics than law enforcement, and points proudly to his office's high percentage of convictions as evidence of a job well done.
Ms. Rice, a 40-year-old Democrat who was once an intern in Mr. Dillon's office, is waging an aggressive campaign, stressing fresh ideas and innovation. She is dubious about Mr. Dillon's jealously guarded conviction rate, saying it makes his office more willing to cut deals to protect its statistics rather than risk more ambitious prosecutions.
An experienced courtroom lawyer, Ms. Rice has tried dozens of murder cases in the Brooklyn district attorney's office and taken on fraud, public corruption, and drug and gun cases as a federal prosecutor in Philadelphia. She promises to fight Internet crime and gangs with special units and to coordinate anti-gang efforts with Mr. Spota, waging an islandwide assault on an urgent problem.
Mr. Dillon is an honest man who has served creditably, but the times and crimes change. We endorse Kathleen Rice.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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The Community Alliance joins The New York Times in its endorsement of Howard Weitzman for County Comptroller and Kathleen Rice for District Attorney.
In endorsing Weitzman, we take absolutely nothing away from Don Clavin, the clever and energetic Receiver of Taxes for the Town of Hempstead. Don is a thinker outside the box who, one hopes, will break tradition of favoring party line over bottom line.
Indeed, if not for Clavin, who literally reinvented the Tax Bill/Statement so that we now can plainly see where every tax dollar goes, we'd still be in the dark as to the true impact on our wallets of taxing entities from school districts to sanitary districts. In fact, Don Clavin has done such as remarkable job as the Town's Receiver of Taxes, we believe the taxpayers would be best served by having Clavin complete his term in office. After all, if Don could fix the Tax Statements, then surely, he could fix the Receiver's office itself -- fully automating systems so that the offices' function (to collect taxes and distribute same to the many and varied taxing jurisdictions) is streamlined, eliminating the need for (and the cost of) a bevy of Deputy Receivers, Assistants to the Deputy Receivers, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera down the patronage line.
Yes, we like Don. Still, when it comes to the County's finances, at this crucial time in the County's fiscal recovery, we cannot recommend that we change horses in the middle of the stream. In addition, we had hoped for more substance from Clavin, this after a flurry of captivating and tongue-in-cheek fluff. More on his 4-step Audit Plan which, even now, remains an enigma. More on what he would do to safeguard the taxpayers' hard-earned dollars from bottomless money pits such as the Town sanitary districts.
Howard Weitzman has been and continues to be a critical part of the team that brought Nassau County back from the brink of the financial abyss. There's no denying that, and no praise enough for an astute money manager - the first CPA (believe it or not) to hold the job of County Comptroller - who has not only been watching the money, but regularly reporting to 'we the people' as to where that money goes. Bravo!
As for those who intimate that Weitzman did not undertake the necessary audits, or follow through, they are simply wrong. The Audit Reports as posted on the Comptroller's official website dispel such concerns, as they do the allegation that the Comptroller's Audits were partisan in nature. [Click here to check out the Comptroller's Audit Reports.]
If voters need a reason not to return to "the good old days," they should remember this: The last Republican who held the job of County Comptroller (Fred Parola under the Gulotta administration) was a watchdog all right. He "watched" as Nassau County slipped into financial ruin. Hear no evil. See no evil. Speak no evil. The GOP Comptroller wasn't watching as the pot boiled over - or, more aptly, evaporated.We dare not go back to this kind of fiscal mismanagement at a time when the County is not only seeing light at the end of the tunnel, but is focused on even brighter days ahead. [And if you were worried about former County Comptroller Fred Parola, the man who Howard Weitzman ousted from office, don't be. Parola now has a cushy patronage job at Hempstead Town Hall, still watching those tax dollars roll in. Only now, they roll into his pocket!]
A vote for Weitzman is a win-win for Nassau County residents. A win for the County's financial strength. A win for watching where and how residents' tax dollars are being spent. The Community Alliance is pleased to endorse Howard Weitzman for County Comptroller.
As for the District Attorney's spot, suffice it to say, its time. 30 years as District Attorney is more than enough. Mr. Dillon has served admirably and has, more often than not, put the public's interests above his personal political views. And yet, politics was always on the fringe - and even just outside the Grand Jury room - in Dillon's exercise of prosecutorial discretion. If you were a GOP insider who grabbed a million bucks for himself, you got a free ride. Mr. Nobody, on the other hand, whose comparatively petty - although no less shameful and dishonorable - indiscretion paled by comparison, got the book thrown at him. Such is life. Deal with it and move on. Still, justice is best served when it is offered up blindly and equitably, and not with party favoritism.
Kathleen Rice, a keen and youthful prosecutor, offers the District Attorney's office -- and Nassau's citizens -- the opportunity to move law enforcement into the 21st Century. While it is true that crime in Nassau County is way down -- a national trend in metropolitan areas and, yes, a tribute to Mr. Dillon's stewardship -- the new crime wave, which ranges from waring gangs roaming our streets and our schools to the latest spate of home invasions, warrants a new mindset and fresh leadership. You cannot fight a 21st Century war on crime with weapons that date back to the early 70s. The time has come for Mr. Dillon, who has served with honor and distinction all these years, to step aside for generation next. A County tough on crime and true to its convictions demands no less. The Community Alliance entusiastically endorses Kathleen Rice for Nassau County District Attorney.
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Read Newsday's endorsement of Howard Weitzman for Comptroller.
Read Newsday's endorsement of Kathleen Rice for District Attorney.