Thursday, October 18, 2007

Two And A Half Men: The Future Of New York's GOP

All Right. Its Three Men, But We Needed A Catchy Title

Lawrence Levy, columnist, former member of Newsday's editorial board, and executive director of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, opined in a recent article that not only is the death of New York's Republican Party -- despite Joe Mondello's best efforts to take the party with him to the grave -- greatly exaggerated, but its demise would be detrimental to a democracy that draws its strength from a vibrant, vital two-party system. [See, New York needs two-party system, with wiser GOP]

To demonstrate that a one-party system -- or two-party, where one has diminished capacity and virtually no voice -- is harmful to democracy -- "it discourages the sort of scrutiny and competitiveness necessary for honest and creative lawmaking," says Levy -- we need look no further than the Town of Hempstead, where a single party -- the GOP -- has called the shots for, believe it or not, 105 years. [Yes, it has been that long!]

Yet, with all of its shortcomings -- and there were too many to mention, even in the 600+ blog posts that grace this portal -- and for all of our venomous rants against the governing body that calls itself Hempstead Town [and, in particular, the town's presiding officer, Supervisor Kate Murray], the seeds of hope, at least for the future of New York's Republican Party, if not democracy itself (all right, that's a stretch), are planted at that building at 1 Washington Street.

What we're sure will be a collective groan aside, we at The Community Alliance offer kudos to three men -- Republicans all -- who stand poised to break the mold that Mondello cast (and its getting moldier by the minute, Joe). Three who have, on more than one occasion, and in not so subtle ways, publicly bucked "she who must be obeyed" (we mention no names here), exerting the independence (sort of) that will be required, not only to salvage New York's Grand Old Party, but to give shine to its long-tarnished image. [Oh, we hear the coughs and catcalls already. So be it.]

The three men we speak of -- the future of New York's Republican Party (and our hope of a strong, two-party system) are, in the order that they will appear on the November 6th ballot, Hempstead Town Clerk, Mark A. Bonilla; Receiver of Taxes (sends shivers up the spine, doesn't it?), Donald X. Clavin, Jr.; and Town Councilman, Edward A. Ambrosino. [You didn't think we were going to say, Tony "they enjoy paying more" Santino, did you?]

Okay. You're thinking we've lost our marbles. Haven't we been trying to oust the GOP from Hempstead Town Hall by means ranging from enemas to Roto Rooter? Absolutely, but let's not throw the babies -- and these three are the Generation Next of the Nassau GOP -- out with the contaminated (as in water districts and Superfund sites) bath water.

True, there's still too much of the party line being towed by Bonilla, Clavin, and Ambrosino, but one would have to expect that in our "hand that feeds you" politic. Yes, way overboard with the "Kate Murray and I" talk and the shared Murraygram dance, but face it, were the Dems not constantly at one another's throats, and choking on their own inability to grab the bull by its horns and at least get into the China shop, they'd be singing "Tom Suozzi and I," all the way to the polling place.

Within the context of the hellish cesspool that is Hempstead Town Hall -- a century of fecal waste accumulated behind closed doors and one-party edicts enough to make the heads of sanitary district commissioners spin -- Mark Bonilla, Don Clavin, and Ed Ambrosino are, for lack of a better term, rebels in the cause of freeing the GOP from the corpse-like grip of the Mondello era.

It is difficult, even for us liberal thinkers -- perhaps especially so -- to present members of an entrenched, monolithic political club as innovators, let alone as men who are capable not only of independent thought, but of thinking outside of that stuffy and confined GOP box, where thinking itself is seldom allowed. And yet, that's just what comes to mind when we think about Mark Bonilla, Don Clavin, and Ed Ambrosino.

Frankly, they'd be heroes enough in our book, and torchbearers, certainly, of the new Republican guard, had their only good deed been to stand up to the likes of the embodiment of all evil in Hempstead Town, Kate Murray.

Mark Bonilla, fiercely independent, will not be upstaged by the Supervisor, often asserting, to Kate Murray's dismay, the autonomy of his office.

As Town Clerk, Bonilla has transformed the office from one of mere political hackery (now there are other things, in addition to political hackery), where the occasional marriage was performed for photo op purposes, or death certificate unceremoniously filed for the unincorporated, into a one-stop-shop of useful, consumer-friendly public services.

First to mind is the Town's one-stop Passport Service, which, as one of the largest -- if not the largest -- passport service centers in the nation, can be credited with getting more folks out of the Town of Hempstead than property taxes. Its fast. Its humane. Its a pleasure for all who seek to travel outside the borders of the good old US of A. And Mark Bonilla makes it work.

Mark Bonilla, lauded as the first Hispanic to be elected to a Town-wide position in Hempstead Town (not that this should be noteworthy criteria in and of itself, but something that will serve him well in a township where demographics are shifting steadily, and in a party that is generally whiter than a polar bear drinking whole milk in a snow storm), is a rising star in Nassau politics, as well he should be.

What can we say about the Receiver of Taxes (pause for mass boos from the gathered), Don Clavin. He's a centrist with a sense of humor. [One surmises he'd be a top notch blogger in another life ;-).] Attend a meeting of the Town Board (one wonders why Don does, since he has no vote there, anyway), and you can catch Don smiling wryly -- sometimes even laughing -- at the silly-business as usual. Don Clavin gets it.
Sure, they could do with ten people what the Receiver's office probably does with 100 (we're guessing), but that's the broken system at play, not Don.

It was Don Clavin who gave residents the mobile tax office [okay, so the Town is hunting you and your tax dollars down. Get over it], and, most recently, in what is the most creative idea to come out of Hempstead Town Hall since Rich Guardino jumped ship for academia, the E-Z Pay Drive-Thru Tax Window at the back of the Receiver's office. The only thing missing is the latte and the cinnamon bun, but we hear Don's working on that. [Something about a Special Coffee & Donut District!]

Just another way of taking the taxpayers' money? Well, you could say that. Taxes being that necessary evil upon which government runs (amuck and otherwise), we look at it, as Don has said, this way: "Residents can now enjoy the convenience of paying their taxes in the comfort of their car at the EZ-Pay Drive Thru Payment Window. . ." [Or, in brief, as Tony Santino would say, "Residents can now enjoy... paying their taxes..."]
Well, Don, maybe if you offered an oil change and Carnuba wax with that. . .

Watch Don Clavin. He's a first-class guy who deserves much credit for his take on a taxing job.

We won't say that we've saved the best for last, but Ed Ambrosino is truly one of us. Never have we seen an elected official agonize over the very issues that dog homeowner, taxpayer, and stakeholder alike.

Whether its the long-awaited renaissance in Elmont -- where Ed serves in an advisory capacity on Elmont's Coalition for Sustainable Development -- or giving the Supervisor Hell for her obstinance (okay, call it what it is, foolish pigheadedness) in standing in the way of the Courtesy Hotel's closure in West Hempstead, Ambrosino has proven himself a leader among those who, all too often, refuse to lead.

As we said back in 2005, and reiterate here, "Ed is a bright spot on the Town Board, a man who, when first elected, offered no assurances other than 'give me a chance to get the job done.' While the job, in most communities around the Town, is far from done, when the cause of community does move forward in Hempstead Town's 2nd District, it is largely because of the efforts of Ed Ambrosino. A doer in the face of frustration, Ed hammers away at the "let them have blight" Town Hallers, looking to move off center to redevelop the very face of community."

By now, our readers on the Democratic side of the aisle, assuming they haven't hemorrhaged, are wondering where we are coming from.

Well, we all know from whence we came -- as anybody of somewhat sound mind in the unincorporated hinterlands of Hempstead Town can tell you. The real question is, where are we going?

They may not be the Nassau GOP's answer to Abraham, Martin, and John, but in a town that time, and democracy, seems to have forgotten, if you cock your head just right, squint your eyes so, and look over that hill on the Hempstead Plain, you might just see Edward, Mark and Don.

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