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Tue, 12 Apr 2011

Nassau bus bidder has ties to D'Amato - Newsday

Nassau bus bidder has ties to D'Amato
Originally published: April 12, 2011 10:04 PM
Updated: April 13, 2011 10:36 AM
By ALFONSO A. CASTILLO alfonso.castillo@newsday.com


One of the three private companies bidding to take over Nassau County's bus system is represented by a consulting firm headed by former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato and a Republican Party heavy-hitter with ties to County Executive Edward Mangano.

Paris, Ill.-based Veolia Transportation hired D'Amato's firm, Park Strategies, to help secure a contract with Nassau to take over operation of Long Island Bus, which has about 100,000 daily weekday riders.

Veolia -- the largest of the three bidders -- is working with Park Strategies vice president Robert McBride, a well-known GOP supporter who held a Jan. 27 fundraiser in his Hicksville home for Mangano. At the time, bidding for the LI Bus contract had closed.

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McBride said Monday that the fundraiser was "booked way before" Veolia hired Park Strategies. He said he has never had any discussion with Mangano about the bus contract.

"I stand by doing everything right," said McBride, who added that he has known Mangano for more than 20 years and has hosted fundraisers for both Democrats and Republicans.

D'Amato, who co-hosted the fundraiser, declined to comment Tuesday.

What Veolia is paying D'Amato's firm and the length of the contract was not disclosed.

Two county legislators, both Democrats opposed to LI Bus' privatization, questioned the propriety of the links between Mangano, Park Strategies and Veolia.

Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said Tuesday that Mangano is not personally involved in selecting a bidder to run LI Bus' operations. He called any claim of an appearance of impropriety "ridiculous."

Mangano has formed an independent committee to recommend a vendor. That company would have to be approved by the legislature and the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority, which must sign off on contracts of more than $50,000.

The bus system is county-owned but has been run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority since 1973.

Mangano, in his push for privatization, has said he believes a private company can operate the system more efficiently than the MTA. The transit agency, in a long-running dispute with the county, has said it needs $26 million more yearly than the $9.1 million Nassau contributes to maintain existing service levels.

County officials put the system out to bid last fall and are considering Veolia and two other vendors -- MV Transit, based in Fairfield, Calif., and Cincinnati-based First Transit.

Veolia spokesman Michael Setzer said last week that the company began talks with Park Strategies because of the relationship between Veolia chief executive officer Mark Joseph and McBride, who both have longstanding business ties in the taxicab industry.

Setzer said Veolia has had no direct dealings with D'Amato, and the former Republican senator "has not been involved" in the LI Bus negotiations.

"The interaction that I've had with [Park Strategies] has been advisory," Setzer said. "When we wrote the proposal, we bounced the draft off of them."

Veolia officials said they had no information on which way Nassau is leaning.

Since October, Veolia advertised bus management jobs in Nassau County on the company's website. A spokeswoman said the company routinely searches for candidates in markets it is looking to enter.

Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead) vowed to ask "tough questions" when the company selected to run LI Bus goes before the Legislature for approval, perhaps as early as June.

Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick) said the fact that people working for Park Strategies held a fundraiser for Mangano while the county was considering Veolia's bid "sends the wrong message" -- especially considering the controversy involving Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy's campaign contributors and their connections to county public works projects.


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