Peter Schmitt died on the job. The Nassau Legislature’s presiding officer was in the county executive’s office last Wednesday morning, working on next year’s budget, when he suffered a massive heart attack.
Schmitt, a Republican, was known in political circles as a tough advocate for his party’s positions, especially the need for government to spend less and to keep residents’ property tax bills from getting any higher.
These were hard choices to make. Youth and counseling-service budgets that depend on county funds to provide residents with desperately needed help were on the chopping block. To cut services, to oppose tax increases, were decisions that won Schmitt no friends from those who advocate for more government help. But he held firm.
One of the great frustrations that people in public life must experience is that casual observers, the press and even many constituents, who know an elected official only from board meetings or public events, form judgments without knowing much about that official’s life — his or her relationships, motivations and community involvement. We all have a tendency to say, “Oh, he’s just a politician,” or “She’s a Republican,” or “He’s a Democrat,” as though those neat phrases sum up all anyone needs to know about a fellow human being.
It’s a great tribute to Schmitt that since his death, prominent people have praised the whole man, noting his steadfast political positions but also praising his genuine love for his family and his community and his numerous leadership and supportive roles in so many aspects of life here on Long Island.
There will now be concerns about the 9-to-9 divide in the normally 19-member Legislature, and what’s to be done about the county budget and other long-unfinished business. More than ever, it’s time the two parties identify and act on areas of agreement so that progress can be made. Legislators must find common ground, compromise on vital issues and put aside the “my way or no way” attitude that leaves the process stalemated and the electorate dissatisfied with all of them. Voters must look carefully at how their representatives act in this critically important time, and remember their performance when they run for re-election.
For now, we join with so many others in thanking Schmitt’s family for sharing him with the public, and offering our condolences.