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Jul 28, 2009 5:25 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Ethics complaint filed against Zwirn

Jul 28, 2009 5:25 PM

A retired Republican campaign finance expert who lives in East Hampton filed an ethics complaint on Monday, July 27, against Democratic East Hampton Town Supervisor candidate Ben Zwirn over his effort to convince Suffolk County to forgive tax penalties charged to East Hampton residents this year after the town did not send out its customary reminder notices for the second half of the year’s tax bill.

Carole Campolo, who retired from her position as the deputy executive director of the New York City Campaign Finance Board a year and a half ago, was on her way to the post office to mail a letter of complaint when contacted Monday afternoon, a week after a number of ethical issues related to Mr. Zwirn’s proposal were raised.

The foremost among them is a county ethics law that prohibits county employees from attempting to pass county laws that would assist them in an election bid.

Republicans have argued that a law proposed by Mr. Zwirn, which would not benefit anyone in the county outside of East Hampton, was just such an ethical violation. Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, an Independence Party member and former Republican, withdrew his support for the bill last week after he was advised by the County Legislature’s attorney that the county would not be legally allowed to refund tax penalties except in extreme cases that are spelled out in the Suffolk County Tax Act.

“As a private citizen, it does bother me that people will use their taxpayer-funded position to run for office,” said Ms. Campolo, who said that she had read of the issues surrounding Mr. Zwirn’s proposal in local newspapers last week.

Ms. Campolo, who is married to East Hampton Town Republican Committee member Don Cirillo and who wrote a letter to The East Hampton Star last week decrying actor Alec Baldwin’s recent defense of current Democratic Supervisor Bill McGintee, said that she made the complaint as a private citizen in the interest of good government.

“I happen to like Bill Wilkinson,” she said of the Republican supervisor candidate.

“This is what they do. It’s not as if it’s an honest, legitimate complaint,” said Mr. Zwirn of the Republicans. He decried what he termed the “sleazy, underhanded tactics” of “Bill Wilkinson’s operatives” for filing the complaint.

Mr. Wilkinson said that he had not seen Ms. Campolo’s letter and that she had a right, as a private citizen, to ask the county ethics board for an opinion. He added that “it doesn’t matter who made the complaint.”

“I think the taxpayers and voters deserve much better,” Ms. Campolo said of Mr. Zwirn’s actions. “If there is an issue, they should know about it. They can shrug their shoulders and vote however they want, but at least they know.”

Mr. Zwirn said that he was the one who had the taxpayers’ interest at heart. “While I’m trying to help them, these guys are putting road block after road block in my path,” he said. “Clearly, we’ve hit a chord with this issue.”

Mr. Zwirn said that several other legislators had expressed interest in sponsoring the tax penalty forgiveness legislation after Mr. Schneiderman backed down.

“I still hope that Schneiderman will come on board,” said Mr. Zwirn. “If it gets to the floor, what’s he going to do, vote against it? It’s a question of injustice.”

Ms. Campolo said that her complaint would ask Suffolk County Ethics Director Alfred M. Lama to look into whether Mr. Zwirn used any taxpayer-funded resources such as employees in his office as deputy Suffolk County executive, to prepare a proposal that would directly benefit his campaign.

Mr. Lama said that if he were to receive a complaint he would not be at liberty to discuss it with the press. He said that the county’s three-member ethics commission, which meets once a month, discusses complaints and decides if they warrant further discussion with the person against whom the complaint was filed.

He said that even if he did know all the details of the case he could not comment on whether Mr. Zwirn’s actions were a violation of the county’s ethics code. He also would not comment on what the penalties for ethical violations would be.

“Maybe yes, maybe no,” he said when asked if county employees could pass county laws that would help them win an election. “The devil’s in the facts.”

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Yes, Mr. Zwirn, you and whoever "we" are (Democrats, I presume, Deb
Foster, Chris Kelley, Alec Baldwin, Lona and David Rubenstein, who are always watching out for "us" - aren't they?!) DID hit a "chord". The irony of the "chord" is that the residents and taxpayers of East Hampton have heard this "tune" before! As a matter of fact - the song sounds eerily familiar. Has Ben Zwirn, upon hearing that this proposal may be illegal, and retorting "They are wrong" - not learned anything from Bill ...more
By Board Watcher (534), East Hampton on Jul 27, 09 9:46 PM
1 member liked this comment
Yo, Ben. Keep on fighting for the taxpayers who got a royal you know what from the town. It's a no brainer. They should get their money back. You've got guts Mr. Zwirn to take on the politicians more intrested in their own futures than in neighbors treated unjustly.
By veritas (7), East Hampton on Jul 27, 09 9:48 PM
Once again the Republican hacks
Start the onslaught of mendacious attacks
Now a retired trooper
Tries to put us in a stupor
But shows again they are all quacks
By Scratch (26), Sag Harbor on Jul 28, 09 8:01 AM
Mr. Zwirn said several other legislators expressed interest in sposorong the legislation. If the legislation is legal and not an ethical violation as he claims, then getting the legislation done would have been as simple Mr. Zwirn going to County Executive Steve Levy, having him ask the presiding officer (same party) to introduce the bill and have the Democrat majority approve it. It could have been done two weeks ago. If Zwirn's real intention was to help the taxpayers and he believed it was legal, ...more
By truthinbonac (46), Amagansett on Jul 28, 09 2:34 PM
Is it true Zwirn's leading contributor is the Nassau County political boss and leader -- now the state leader -- Jacobs? So much for no more politics as usual. Read this to get a taste of who is supporting Mr. Zwirn. www.topix.com/forum/city/east.../TQ39MG5KLRRQLTE3A - Cached - Similar

By truthinbonac (46), Amagansett on Jul 28, 09 3:51 PM
Sorry...the link about Zwirn's big financial backer is

By truthinbonac (46), Amagansett on Jul 28, 09 4:01 PM
For anyone who read the 10 comments on the link above you just have to ask yourself if the big contributions from Nassau are to ensure a guy like Zwirn will be the State party's lapdog on the east end -- here to help get the Suozzi nomination for governor, although Cuomo is the best choice. We do not need a political lap dog beholden to the state big shots running our town. The political shenanigans associated with this tax penalty rebate stunt is the type of actions you expect from Nassau County. ...more
By truthinbonac (46), Amagansett on Jul 28, 09 4:15 PM
And now an eery silhouette
Jabber jaws that he is upset
But it turns out that he
Is a politico wannabe
And says what he's told, you bet

By Scratch (26), Sag Harbor on Jul 28, 09 9:40 PM
Roses are red
Violets are Blue
Scratch is a paid Dem operative
And we all know who
By truthinbonac (46), Amagansett on Jul 29, 09 6:15 PM
Grinning, he displays
A silly childrens poem
He should go to bed
By Scratch (26), Sag Harbor on Jul 29, 09 11:47 PM
O, my heavens! A haiku!
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Jul 30, 09 1:13 PM
There is nothing silly about writing something that everyone understands. That is the difference between the Democrat operatives in this town and the blue collar Republicans, Democrats and Independents in East Hampton. The Democrat operatives are a closed circle of elites who speak in their ouwn tounge. The Republicans are interested in openess and transparency and speaking in a language everyone understands and supports. It is the reason a guy like Jay Schneiderman gets everyone's endorsement ...more
By truthinbonac (46), Amagansett on Aug 2, 09 11:01 AM