Suffolk County Executive Candidate Jim O’Connor Urges Bellone to Stop Using IDA Benefits as Rewards for His Political Benefactors
Jim O’Connor, the Republican and Conservative candidate for Suffolk County Executive, was joined by Suffolk County Legislators Robert Trotta and Tom Cilmi at a press conference on September 28 to show companies that are politically tied to Steve Bellone’s reelection campaign are receiving financial benefits from the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency (IDA). He added that most of these companies do not create enough jobs to justify receiving these financial incentives.
During the press conference, Mr. O’Connor displayed a list of companies that have received IDA benefits as a result of contributing to Mr. Bellone’s political campaigns. Among those were:
● Sheltair, an aviation company based in Florida with locations in Farmingdale and Westhampton Beach. The company donated $11,000 to Bellone’s campaign and William McShane, Sheltair’s vice president of business development, gave $1,100 in 2014.
● Wenner Bread, a maker of bread products which received $451,446 in property tax savings and $51,750 in sales tax exemptions from the IDA. After the offer was made, Richard Wenner, the company’s president, moved the company’s operations from his Ronkonkoma facility to a site in New Jersey, moving 400 jobs off Long Island. Mr. Wenner contributed $2,000 to Mr. Bellone’s campaign.
● West-Rac Contracting Corp., a Hauppauge-based contract construction company, received IDA benefits to renovate and expand its property in Melville. These benefits included a sales tax exemption of $100,500; a $21,000 mortgage recording tax exemption and a 10-year tax abatement on the proposed addition of a warehouse, with a 50% reduction on existing taxes for the first year. The Racanelli family, which operates West Rac, gave $2,400 to the Bellone campaign and the family’s other company, Racanelli Construction, donated another $3,300.
“If you want to know who has benefitted from the IDA, just follow the money,” Mr. O’Connor said. “These companies were very generous contributors to Mr. Bellone’s campaign and the county executive used the agency as his personal patronage mill to pay back these donors.”
Mr. O’Connor also discussed how Mr. Bellone’s hand-picked Suffolk IDA head, Robert Stricoff, had to withdraw his nomination while the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office looked into financial irregularities in the Babylon Town Democratic Party, which Mr. Stricoff headed while he was also Babylon Town IDA’s Chief Executive Officer. Mr. Bellone had nominated Mr. Stricoff, his best friend, despite the massive conflict of interest, given that he was also Bellone’s Treasurer and the Chair of the Babylon Democratic Party. Mr. O’Connor will propose that county candidates be barred from accepting donations from IDA applicants or recipients.
On September 24, Mr. O’Connor handed a letter to Anthony Catapano, Chief Executive Officer, Suffolk IDA, during the agency’s meeting requesting that the advertisements touting the work of the Suffolk IDA be pulled off the air, citing the timing of the start of the ad campaign — less than 40 days before the election — as political self-promotion and the inaccuracies in the commercials, which claims more than 10,800 jobs were retained over the last three years.
Not surprisingly, the ads were produced and placed by Zimmerman/Edelson, which gave $2,500 to Bellone’s campaign. The two principals — Robert P. Zimmerman and Ronald M. Edelson — gave $500 and $2,500, respectively. Mr. Edelson’s other company, Edelson Marketing, Inc., donated $2,500. In exchange, the IDA increased the firm’s retainer from $3,000 a month to $4,000 a month.
“What the PSA does not say is that other major companies such as Forest Laboratories, Adecco and Voxx International have relocated off Suffolk County into other parts of the country with more favorable economic climates.”
Mr. O’Connor said the county should focus on creating real economic development. “Suffolk County should stop corporate cronyism, political patronage and backscratching,” he said. “That is why it is time the agency pull these commercials that redefine the term ‘deceptive advertising.’”