Our Views: Dems’ handling of Birnbaum lacks sense

Our Views: Dems’ handling of Birnbaum lacks sense

Republican candidate Lisa Benjamin charged last week that Nassau County Legislator Ellen Birnbaum, her opponent in the race for the Legislature’s 10th District seat, has been unable to properly perform her duties as county legislator because of her removal from all county committees and the Democratic caucus.

We think Benjamin has a good point. 

But perhaps of even greater concern is how Nassau County Democrats have been performing their jobs.

In May 2014, county Democrats, Town of North Hempstead officials and community members called for Birnbaum to step down for racially insensitive comments about the African-American community.

Robert Troiano, vice chair of the Town of North Hempstead Democratic Committee, said at a May 19 rally calling on Birnbaum to resign that “a collective recollection” of people who heard Birnbaum was that the freshman legislator said “Why would anyone want to go there?  It’s a bad neighborhood. It’s a ghetto. It’s full of those black people.” And, later,  “all [African-Americans] want to do is play basketball.”

Birnbaum denied using the word “ghetto” and said she was commenting on the financial situation on the center.

When Birnbaum refused to resign, Nassau County Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams stripped her of her committee assignments, banned her from the minority and Democratic caucus and removed one of her staff members.

This, as Benjamin pointed out, has deprived residents of her district –  which includes Great Neck, Herricks, North Hills, North New Hyde Park and Searingtown/Albertson – full representation ever since. 

Birnbaum remains an outcast from her own caucus to this day, though she said she has attended every legislative committee meeting since her banishment.

If true, Birnbaum has either demonstrated a strong commitment to her job, an extremely high threshold for pain or both.

But the Democratic legislators’ determination that she was unfit to attend caucus meetings or serve on committees did not prevent the Nassau County Democratic Party from picking her to run for re-election. 

No explanation has been offered as to what Birnbaum has said her done to merit remaining in the Legislature let alone getting elected to a second term.

Suspicious minds might conclude it has more to do with the Democrats’ fear of  losing a seat that could hand Republicans a supermajority in the Legislature – rather than good government or adequate representation of residents.

Birnbaum also said she was back in good standing with the Democratic party and was going to be restored to her committees as well as the caucus, 

The director of Communications for the Nassau County Democratic Legislature Minority, confirmed Birnbaum’s reinstatement.

But so far no official announcement has been made and what committees Birnbaum is going to sit down is still unknown.

And as with the Nassau County Democratic Party’s endorsement, the timing of the Democratic legislators’ 11th-hour reinstatement raises questions.

Nearly a year and a half after first trying to remove Birnbaum from office and then stripping her of  her committee assignments and more – and less than a month before election day –  Democratic legislators now say she is fit to return as a full member. 

Hardly the ringing endorsement a candidate for office might look for. 

And hardly the kind of leadership one would hope for from legislators and party officials.

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