At the phony lovefest that passed for the installation of the new Nassau County Legislature, County Executive Tom Gulotta gets exactly 2.4 seconds of applause from the crowd. Forget about that $300 million deficit. This is what a gladhander like Gulotta considers a real crisis. So, like a shipwreck survivor grabbing for driftwood, he suddenly snatches the hands of Democrat Judy Jacobs and Republican Peter Schmitt and raises them over his head. The cheers of a thousand people wash over them. Crisis averted!
Jacobs, the new presiding officer of the Democratic majority, is going to have to be quicker than that in the future if she wants to keep Gulotta from grabbing her and dragging her down with him.
As quick as, say, Democratic boss Tom DiNapoli. As he marches in a procession of pols up to the stage in the Nassau Community College gym, LIPA chief Richie Kessel playfully sticks out a foot to trip his fellow Democrat. But DiNapoli nimbly avoids it.
It's that sort of playful day for the Democrats. On the surface, it's love and kisses. The Nassau County Police Band sets the mood with such standards as "Tenderly." But right underneath, it's kiss my ass. Taking over county government for the first time in decades, the Democrats not only stick the knife into the Nassau GOP machine, they twist it. And they smile while they do it.
Presiding over the ceremony is the leading Democratic critic of the Nassau GOP machine, State Comptroller H. Carl McCall. Bringing the official welcome from state government is yet another Democrat, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. You can almost hear the "nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah."
McCall offers his "assistance" in solving Nassau's fiscal crisis. But those are just words. He's getting off easy today. One of his staffers cracks that he's thankful to take on this ceremonial role. As for the upcoming dogfight over the budget? When voters' taxes will probably be raised to compensate for decades of GOP greed? No politician from the outside wants to really get involved in that.
Before the ceremonies, the incoming legislators gather their families together for official portraits. The GOP survivors of last fall's Democratic rout paw at Congressman Pete King, the most visible Republican, for hugs and poses as if he were the last lap dancer in town. But nobody's posing with GOP boss Joe Mondello. He's nowhere to be found.
A couple of years ago, Mondello figured that he would be arm in arm for this ceremony with his machine pal Al D'Amato. Then D'Amato was upset in the '98 Senate race. And last fall, Mondello's legislators were swamped. The richest irony Monday is that Senator Chuck Schumer, the guy who defeated Senator Pothole, shows up to crown Jacobs as presiding officer.
Come to think of it, who elected Jacobs as the queen of the county? Her fellow pols in the Democratic caucus picked her. But if you were unfamiliar with the way Nassau County government is set up, you'd think by the way she's treated that the electorate made her ruler. In Nassau, even the Democrats can be anti-democratic.
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