Jim Altadonna, Oyster Bay’s town clerk and a former mayor of Massapequa Park, announced his candidacy for supervisor of the Town of Oyster Bay on Feb. 13 at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City. Altadonna, a Republican, will run on the Democratic ticket against current Supervisor Joseph Saladino, who is also a Republican.
“As town clerk for the last five years, I’ve witnessed wasteful spending, mismanagement and the censorship of free-flowing information,” Altadonna said. “I feel I have the experience, instead of a self-promoting political showman.”
James Versocki, a Sea Cliff Democrat who ran unsuccessfully in 2017 for a seat on the Town Board, said that Altadonna’s eagerness to cross party lines is “telling” when it comes to the state of Oyster Bay politics, particularly “how bad it is.”
Versocki added, “I think Jim is a gentleman. For somebody of such high elected position, seeking to run on another party line, I think that takes a lot of courage.”
Altadonna took issue with Saladino’s use of official mailers to elevate his political profile. “Instead of fixing roads, we’re sending out mailers,” he said. “They’re spending millions of dollars in mailings to promote car shows, lunar new years at the Mill Ridge Inn and a myriad of other correspondences that I felt could be covered in a quarterly newsletter.”
Altadonna took aim at what he called “the same playbook [that] is being followed that got the previous supervisor in trouble” — namely, he said, a failure to responsibly address a budget deficit. He specifically called out the issuance of $10 million in tax anticipation notes to address a gap in the 2019 budget, essentially letting the town borrow against future revenues. The notes, he said, helped plug the budget hole, but would create problems down the line.
The best way out of Oyster Bay’s budgetary woes, Altadonna said, would be to cease “excessive hiring and excessive raises.” He also said that raises were being given to the wrong town employees. “The appointed [employees] are getting the raises,” he said, “while union members are being left behind.” He noted a 2 percent pay cut that union members agreed to in late 2016 to stave off potential layoffs.
Part of Altadonna’s platform includes structural changes to the makeup of the town government, including term limits and councilmanic districts, in which council members would represent specific districts of the town rather than the town as a whole. He also said he wanted to end the practice of paying for lawyers to represent employees in town-related matters. “There’s no reason, if you’ve done nothing wrong, why can’t you talk to law enforcement?” he said. Federal employees and private citizens, he added, have to pay for their own representation.
Asked about his views on whether the town board should make an election-year appointment to fill the recently vacated seat of former Councilwoman Rebecca Alesia, he noted that while he was appointed before being elected, the administrative role of the town clerk needed to be filled. “Voting members of the board should always be elected by the people,” he said.
Crossing party lines
When Altadonna, a lifelong Republican, was asked why he decided to run on the Democratic ticket, he said, “As mayor, it was never about what party you represent. As town clerk, I feel the same way, and I’ll feel the same way as supervisor. I’m here to represent all the people. Not just the people who agree with me, not just the people who have the same political designation.” He talked about the strength of a “coalition ticket,” with Democrats and Republicans working together, checking and balancing each other.
Jay Jacobs, the chairman of the Nassau County Democratic Party, agreed. Jacobs brushed off criticism from within the party that running a Republican showed a lack of faith in Oyster Bay Democrats. Bob Freier, a spokesman for those Democrats, and Altadonna spoke about each other with mutual respect.
“What I’m looking for in candidates right now is, what are they about?” Jacobs said. “What’s in their hearts? What are they going to do? Is it somebody we can work with?” He added, “I think Jim Altadonna is going to be a fabulous candidate, and he’s going to be a great supervisor. And by the way, I think he’s going to beat Saladino.”
Altadonna also spoke of a commitment to service that transcends partisanship. “Somewhere along the line, [public service] became a business,” he said. “I still think it’s a service. You go into being an elected official because you want to serve, not because you want to make money.”
His track record seems to confirm that sentiment: For 12 years, as mayor of Massapequa Park, Altadonna took a salary of $1, leaving the rest of what he would have been paid in village coffers.