Thomas S. Gulotta, 75, Republican Who Led Nassau County, Dies


Thomas S. Gulotta, the former Republican Nassau County executive on Long Island whose political career ended with his government verging on bankruptcy and his party’s once impregnable machine poised to lose its grip on one of the nation’s wealthiest strongholds, died on Sunday in Oceanside, N.Y. He was 75.

His death was announced by County Executive Laura Curran, one of his Democratic successors. No cause was given.

Abandoned by his own party, Mr. Gulotta chose not to seek re-election to another four-year term in 2001, ending a 24-year political career that he had seemed destined to pursue.

His father, Frank A. Gulotta Sr., was elected Nassau district attorney in 1949, the first Italian-American to win a countywide race in Nassau, and became a State Supreme Court justice.

Undefeated in 11 races, Thomas Gulotta was first elected to the State Assembly in 1976. In 1981 he became the presiding supervisor of the Town of Hempstead (of which Oceanside is a part), succeeding Alfonse M. D’Amato, who was elected to the United States Senate.

He was at first appointed Nassau County executive in 1987 when Francis T. Purcell, also a Republican, resigned to become a political commentator for Cablevision. Mr. Gulotta was elected to the post later that year and would remain in it for 14 years.

On taking office he announced a tentative budget that would lower the average annual property tax bill by about $42. An indefatigable campaigner and public official, he was returned to office four times.

Like Mr. Purcell, Mr. Gulotta was a self-described fiscal conservative. But he believed in what he called “a very hands-on approach to government,” in contrast to Mr. Purcell, who famously said in response to a blizzard, “Snow melts.”

Mr. Gulotta was credited with establishing the Cradle of Aviation Museum at the storied Mitchel Field, a former air base in Nassau County.

But the county’s budgetary woes mounted. A fiscal crisis erupted in the late 1990s, resulting from an inequitable tax assessment system, cost overruns for public safety and other government services, as well as state-mandated costs imposed on local governments.

His popularity plummeted as the county budget fell deep into the red. Financial overseers attributed the deficits to what they called “Gulotta-nomics” — borrowing heavily in order to expand county services, including parks maintenance, without raising taxes.

After credit rating agencies downgraded Nassau’s bonds to near junk, the State Legislature established an independent board, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, to oversee the county’s finances. It granted $105 million to bail out the local government.

In 1999, Republicans lost control of the County Legislature for the first time in 80 years. Two years later, fearing that Mr. Gulotta was unelectable, the party scrambled to find another candidate to field against the Democratic nominee.

“The fact that he has become so unpopular, plus the fact that his own county chairman had to tell him not to run, plus the fact that there’s no obvious person to succeed him — those three things add up to the death knell of the traditionally powerful political machine in Nassau,” Howard A. Scarrow, a political-science professor at what is now Stony Brook University, told The New York Times in 2001. “That era has certainly come to an end.”

The Republican nominee, Bruce R. Bent, a wealthy financier who had never held political office and had been endorsed by Senator John McCain of Arizona, was defeated that fall by Thomas R. Suozzi, the first Democratic Nassau County executive in 30 years.

By 2004, Mr. Suozzi declared the fiscal crisis over.

Thomas Stephen Gulotta was born in Oceanside on April 27, 1944, to Frank and Josephine (Giardina) Gulotta.

After graduating from Malverne High School, he earned a bachelor’s degree at Trinity College in Hartford and a law degree from Columbia University Law School.

In 1970, he married Elizabeth Fryatt, who survives him, along with his son, Christopher; his daughter, Elizabeth Amendolare; his brother, former State Supreme Court Justice Frank A. Gulotta Jr.; his sister, Franca Rizzo; and three grandchildren. Another son, Thomas J. Gulotta, died in 2004.

In the years after he left office, Mr. Gulotta founded Executive Strategies, a consulting firm, and joined the Long Island law firm of Shaw, Licitra, Bohner, Eserino, Schwartz & Pfluger in Mineola. He was later special counsel at another Long Island firm, Albanese & Albanese, in Garden City.

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