The candidates were in clear agreement on at least one point: taxes, in general, are too high for Long Islanders.
Beyond that, their collective vision of what to do about it got a lot murkier at Wednesday's candidate's debate, sponsored by the Plainview-Old Bethpage Chamber of Commerce and held in the auditorium of the Marriot Residence Inn in Plainview.
The dual morning face-offs, one between candidates for the , the second between various candidates vying for elected positions in the Town of Oyster Bay, was generally cordial, free wheeling and short on specifics. The debate's most heated moments involved the dozens of political signs recently defaced belonging to , D-Woodbury, the longtime legislator who represents Plainview area.
"The Republican party owes me $1,500," said Jacobs of the political signage bearing her name that were vandalized recently. Jacobs said she paid for the now-ruined signs out of her own pocket.
Her colleague on the other side of Nassau's aisle, Republican Joseph V. Belesi, R-Farmingdale, decried the vandals, saying "anyone who destroys signs has no place in politics. If I found out anybody did that in my party, they're gone."
The two Legislative incumbents, both of whom are opposed by little known challengers, set the theme for the morning's discourse:
Both blamed the other side for the fiscal mess facing Nassau County.
"We are in drastic shape in Nassau County," said Jacobs, whose district includes Plainview, Woodbury and Syosset. "We are a vocal minority who is trying to get our thoughts across."
She blasted the county's decision to hold a referendum on the Coliseum proposal this past summer as "ridiculous," a decision that cost taxpayers $2.5 million and was crushed by the voters. Jacobs also raised the spectre of the proposed closing of two Nassau County police precincts as a result of the financial crisis.
Jacobs said Democrats inherited poor financial planning from Republicans and, while briefly holding the majority in the legislature, managed to raise Nassau's credit rating with lenders, thus lowering borrowing rates.
Belesi, whose district includes parts of Massapequa, Farmindale, Bethpage and Old Bethpage, blamed "unfunded mandates" from Albany and Washington for the problems. "We're not going to raise your taxes, the former police officer and decorated Vietnam veteran said. "We're going to work to cut taxes and hold the line. I'm telling you now I won't raise your taxes."
Their respective opponents seemed in agreement:
"The issue is how are you going to keep your kids on Long Island and from going to North Carolina and Florida because you can’t pay the property taxes," said Jacobs' Republican challanger, James Milano, an emergency room doctor by trade. "If you want higher taxes stay with my opponent."
I don’t think anyone on this panel [of candidates] wants to raise your taxes," said Eva Pearson, the Democrat challenging Belesi. "That’s not the goal of any of the parties."
The articlulate Pearson, a Gulf War veteran, college professor and mother of two, agreed the "main issue is taxes. We're imploding from them," she said. "So I’m running on a platform of fiscal responsibility."
Pearson's political signage was also targeted recently. Her response: "Someone must feel really threatened by us."
The candidates offered few specific ways to cut spending at the county level.
And, while the Town of Oyster Bay candidates made taxes a central theme, some offered specifics that showed a clear divide between the parties.
John Capobianco, a Democrat running against entrenched Republican Supervisor John Venditto, said he'd eliminate the town's controversial security patrol force, which can't issue tickets or make arrests. That, he said, would represent a savings of more than $5 million from the town's budget.
"We’re being driven off the Island," Capobianco said. "In the '70s we used to export F-16s (Grumman fighter jets.) Now we export college students."
Venditto was not present at the debate Wednesday. Chamber President Gary Epstein said Venditto had a last-minute family emergency. Previously, Venditto defended the security team as the "eyes and ears" of the town's various parks and recreational facilities.
Capobianco and Democratic board candidate Terry Kelly said that service could be provided just as well by Nassau police officers. Both men charged the security force was an expensive political patronage machine.
"Security guards have no business being town employees with pensions and benefits," Kelly said. "There is one party rule; they hold every position in town government. Hopefully if I could get into that job, I could see what they’re really up to."
Plainview Republican Rebecca Alesia, a lawyer, mother and incumbent councilwoman, countered that public safety officers do have ticket-writing powers. She said the officers write more than 300 tickets a year, and that town bay constables, who work for the Department of Public Safety, are peace officers who have the power to arrest.
"They use this power to protect both the south and north shore waterways," she said.
Without addressing the charges specifically, Councilman Joseph D. Muscarella defended "The Venditto team," saying it had worked hard for senior housing and keeping the town's parks and recreational facilities in top condition. "We want to keep the young people here, too," Muscarella said, citing a newer town program that offers low-interest loans for young homebuyers.
Alesia said she wants to defend the quality of life enjoyed by area residents:
"We moved here to enjoy our single-family homes, the great schools and the best shopping centers anywhere, a suburban quality of life that is second to none," she said. The town is working to keep it that way, she said, and the efforts of the Chamber of Commerce are creating business growth.
But challenger Ally McNally, a Democrat from Old Bethpage, mother and real estate agent, said that quality of life is slipping for some. "I haven’t seen any development in Plainview in the last 7 years, she said. "What I've seen is an attitude of 'shut up -- pay up, or get out. That's what I hear."
Councilman Anthony D. Macagnone, Town Clerk Steve Labriola and Receiver of Taxes James J. Stefanich were also in attendance and vowed to work for the interest of town voters.
(Editor's Note: Patch has arranged video interviews with each of the candidates and will post them to this site in the coming days leading to the election.)