We are not as politically divided as people may have you think. The best way to find that out is by going door to door, showing up at events and public places, and speaking to voters. Only then does the divide become more of a crack than a chasm.
“I am somewhat old-fashioned, but I don’t think there is anything more important than speaking to people face to face and listening to their concerns,” says Nassau County Republican Party Chairman Joseph G. Cairo Jr. “Voters are sophisticated, and they are in tune with what affects them directly. They deserve to be heard.”
Cairo has been a fixture in the worlds of government and politics since the mid-1970s. A 1967 graduate of the University of Notre Dame, Cairo took the reins of the Nassau GOP in 2018. Throughout his career in public service, he served as a councilman on the Hempstead Town Board, president of the Board of Commissioners of the Nassau County Board of Elections, and president and CEO of Nassau Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation.
Cairo has had a lot to celebrate. In 2022, Republicans took the three congressional seats in Nassau, two of which had been in Democratic hands for decades, although the newly elected U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-Nassau/Queens) was discovered to have lied about his schooling, career and everything in between.
In short order, Chairman Cairo led a pack of Republicans in calling for Santos to resign and made it very clear that he would not be supporting a reelection campaign. The Nassau GOP also won four out of the five state Senate seats.
“We elected a myth, and shame on us,” Cairo said at a chamber of commerce meeting in January, shortly after Santos took office. “He came from Queens County recommended by the Queens Republican Party and shame on us for perhaps not looking deep enough.”
Cairo also had overwhelming success in 2021 local elections, with Republican Bruce Blakeman defeating incumbent Democrat Laura Curran for the county executive seat, Elaine Phillips becoming comptroller, and Nassau District Attorney Anne Donnelly winning her election against former then-New York State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), who played a key role in passing Albany’s bail reform laws.
“When it comes to cashless bail, the R or D just doesn’t matter,” Cairo says. “Public safety is a universal issue.”
It was and continues to be an issue that has transcended political affiliation. Cairo recalls a story from Nassau in which a group of men were committing home burglaries.
“Despite the great work of Police Commissioner Pat Ryder and the Nassau Police Department, those men were never prosecuted,” he says. “The prosecutor was the current DA, Anne Donnelly. The suspects were going to be released without bail, to which she contested that they were a flight risk since all were from Chile. The judge ordered them to be fitted with monitoring devices, the suspects allegedly got lost on the way because they couldn’t read signs, and they disappeared back to Chile.”
The frustration of the voters was palpable.
“These are issues that sweep across party affiliation,” Cairo reiterates. “People are concerned about taxes and crime.”
He also points out that voters have grown weary of policymakers making decisions that will impact their quality of life without hearing the concerns and questions of their constituents. He points to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s recent attempts to mandate housing growth in suburban communities.
Under the plan, downstate counties must add 3% more new housing units every three years. Upstate, the required growth is 1%. The state would have the ability to override any local zoning laws or land-use regulations. The proposal, which was being debated as part of Hochul’s budget proposal, has been met with anger by local elected officials.
“This is a bad idea, a terrible idea, one that supersedes politics,” Cairo says. “This is not why people live in the suburbs. This is not why people move out of the city to the suburbs.”
Cairo said a neighbor, a lifelong Democrat, recently asked him about the bill. After Cairo explained how it would work, he recalls the neighbor asking him, “They want to do this, and we can’t have a say?”
Cairo’s commitment extends far beyond the scope of government and politics.
In 1995, Cairo and his children established the Pat Cairo Family Foundation, in memory of his wife and their mother who lost her battle with cancer. The organization has raised $5.5 million for cancer research and the assistance of those terminally ill with the disease.
The foundation’s work has been acknowledged for making the development of a groundbreaking cancer vaccine possible and also pushed the End of Life Care Law, which ensures terminally ill cancer patients spend their final days in peace and dignity at terminal care facilities like Calvary Hospital in the Bronx. In 2007, Calvary Hospital presented Cairo with the Calvary Hospital Compatior Award.
He is an honorary chief of the Elmont Fire Department and has been a high school football official for 45 years. He is a 2019 inductee in the Nassau County High School Athletics Hall of Fame.
Cairo believes in hard work. A plaque that invokes the famous words “play like a champion today” hangs on his office wall. That hard work is done on the ground, door to door and face to face.
“The personal touch is what it’s all about,” he says. “The world is upside down right now. We need to be talking. We are not that divided. Elected officials and candidates need to be responsive to residents. In the end, there is nothing like talking to your neighbors. Nothing can replace that.”
Todd Shapiro is an award-winning publicist and associate publisher of Dan’s Papers.