The County Legislature “has been called all sorts of names, from wild to independent, unpredictable, innovative and sometimes just crazy,” said William Lindsay last week after he was reelected presiding officer of the panel. “At times, all of those adjectives were correct, but its independence and unpredictability are what make this body great.”
“It’s the truest form of democracy that I know of,” said the Holbrook Democrat. “Coalitions around here come together and dissolve just as quickly around issues, not over partisan politics, but over issues that are important to our constituents.”
Also reelected—by a unanimous vote, too—was Vivian Viloria-Fisher, an East Setauket Democrat, as the county governing body’s deputy presiding officer.
Nominating Mr. Lindsay at the organizational meeting on January 5 in Hauppauge was Legislator DuWayne Gregory, an Amityville Democrat who won a special election last year and is the newest member of the panel. “Bill Lindsay is a man of integrity,” he said. “He will not sacrifice his reputation or the reputation of this body. Moreover, he’s a man of his word who works diligently to manage the various interests and, I must say, personalities of this body, which can be a daunting task, to say the least.”
Seconding the nomination was Cameron Alden, an Islip Republican and the most senior member of the legislature—this is his last year because of a 12-year term limit for county legislators. “This is a separate, co-equal branch of government,” he said, which the executive branch of County Executive Steve Levy “would actually love to see … fold and just give in to whatever whims that he [Mr. Levy] came up with, but we didn’t do that under Bill’s leadership.”
Earlier in the meeting, the president of the county’s correction officers union complained about a long delay in his members getting a new contract from the administration of Mr. Levy—with 250 correction officers present backing him up.
Mr. Lindsay, a retired electrical union official before running for Mr. Levy’s legislative seat when Mr. Levy vacated it to run for the State Assembly, demonstrated his union background in his acceptance speech.
Mr. Lindsay said: “Just a few minutes ago, we saw the auditorium filled with correction officers and we heard the president of the correction officers talk about their contract problems. It expired five years ago and they haven’t had a raise in six years for a job that is probably the most difficult job in the county. The dregs of our society are put into a facility that, in the one case, is more than 50 years old and is vastly over-crowded, and we ask these men and women to literally put their lives on the line with every tour of duty to keep them in line. Money for their raises has been in a reserve account. We’re not asking anybody to break the bank. But I think when a contract dispute goes on that long, unfortunately it’s a failure of the collective bargaining system, a system that I lived with for 25 years and believe in … But unfortunately, even with mandatory arbitration, this … contract dispute has not been resolved.”
Mr. Lindsay said that “2009 is shaping up as an even more difficult year, primarily because of the world-wide recession. When times are good, there’s plenty of money to solve problems, but in times like these you have to say no. In the coming year, we’ll be challenged in many ways.”
“We’ll be asked to be frugal but at the same time to protect and preserve the infrastructure that provides vital services to our citizens as 2009 progresses. Programs that we funded in the past might have to be eliminated,” he said. “I’m sure before this year is out, issues like our nursing home, our health centers, the number of police that are needed to protect us, will all be before this body. Although it’s symbolic, I, too, will be rejecting my cost of living increase [as] several of my colleagues have already done, and hopefully we get through this very tough year.”
“On a federal level,” he went on, “they’re the people that print all the money and I think ultimately the solution to the economic demise [is] the stimulus package that we’ve all heard so much about.”
Ms. Viloria-Fisher was elected deputy presiding officer of the legislature last year after Legislator Elie Mystal resigned. He quit after charges were leveled that he did not live in his district any longer and spent most of his time in Florida. He is currently under indictment on the address allegation. Ms. Viloria-Fisher, a retired teacher, was the first Hispanic elected to the legislature, Mr. Mystal the first African-American. His replacement, Mr. Gregory, is also black—the only black elected official in Suffolk County government.