By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
As midnight approaches, and it's clear to everyone outside of Levittown Hall that the voters have already transformed the Nassau Republican Party from a fancy carriage into a pumpkin with its teeth knocked out, the party's Cinderella is still on center stage, playing make-believe.
Slim, dark-haired, handsome Chuck Fuschillo, handpicked last year by Nassau GOP boss Joe Mondello to serve in the state Senate, is in charge of posting results on Election Night. Runners deliver sheets of numbers, and someone writes them on a big board for all to see. Winners and losers. Democracy in action. But forget your civics lessons. True to the form that has made the Nassau machine the closest thing to Soviet-style one-party rule in this country, Fuschillo isn't getting his numbers from the Board of Elections to pass on to the people. He's posting results from faxes sent to him from his autocratic stepsisters, the party bosses at machine headquarters on Post Avenue in Westbury.
Hailed last year by Newsday as a "bright hope for the future," on this night Fuschillo is nothing more than another party hack, participating in a charade by not even giving his fellow party members accurate and timely information on who's winning or losing.
Fuschillo, whose dad was a prominent machine politician and who spent his entire life working for the party before being personally plucked out of the pack by Mondello, seems embarrassed as he confirms that he's just following orders. "I just put up what they give me," says this anointed bright light of the GOP. Pointing to the results just handed him, he says, "They keep sending me the same sheets they sent me an hour ago."
While voters are breaking the kneecaps of the Nassau GOP, its leaders continue to spew out propaganda, hiding the facts even from their own followers. Especially their own followers. Party stalwart Bruce Blakeman conceded before 11 p.m. More than an hour later, Fuschillo had posted no results from Blakeman's county legislative race against Democrat Jeff Toback. Only early results from the shocking Hempstead Town Board races are posted. Several races are left blank on the board, as if there were zero voters.
There isn't even a television set on in the crowded hall, as there is at the Democrats' partyand at every other such party whenever an election is held. Smart strategy by Mondello. If Fuschillo posts timely results or if TV anchors are seen pounding out a steady drumbeat of defeat, the crowd, which consists mostly of low-level workers, might flee in panic before the bosses arrive to parade their few winners and put a good face on the debacle.
As it is, people like businessman Rich Kruse look as if their puppies have just been run over. "That's what it feels like," says Kruse, his head sagging into his right hand.
Still in the dark is Roz Amalfitano, mother of Hempstead Town Board candidate Linda Reed. Tired of asking whether her daughter has won, she stands with her hands clasped in prayer. Warren Brinker, swamped in his bid for the North Hempstead Town Board, wanders the hall like a character in Night of the Living Dead, imparting the scent of defeat on everyone he hugs. One person who's immune is Angelo Ferrara, a North Hempstead Town Board member lucky enough to not be up for re-election this day. Ferrara insists to a reporter that he himself is more man than machine. "I swear to you on my children," says Ferrara, "that I don't think there is a 'machine.' It's an organization."
And still a savvy one.
Mondello and his factotums and stooges stay away from Levittown Hall until the very end. If they were around for the whole evening, and if Fuschillo were doing his job right, the crowd might have stoned them before fleeing in panic.
But maybe not. Numbed by so many years of obedience to their bosses, this crowd doesn't even seem to know it's being manipulated on Election Night. No one appears to catch the irony of Hector Girgenti singing about how "there'll be some changes made." Girgenti and the rest of the Broadway Jammers provide Dixieland music as a suitable background for the festivities. The ancient Jammers may wish they were back in Dixie, and maybe they once were: They look as though they played at GOP gigs back in the days of Abe Lincoln.
The pretzels are stale, too. But what's worse is that a Republican can't even get a stiff drink this night in Levittown Hall.