Catching up with Phil Nolan

A conversation with Islip’s former supervisor

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It’s been nine years since Phil Nolan served as Islip Town supervisor. Although he has not held political office since then, he has continued to make a mark on local interests. Nolan oversaw one of the largest contributors of late to the county’s fiscal health, Suffolk Off Track Betting. As its president, he breathed new life into that organization by pulling it out of the clutches of bankruptcy and restructuring it into the most successful casino in New York State. Though now retired, Nolan is not bowing out of public life just yet. And although there are no imminent plans to run for office, he leaves that possibility open.

The former Democratic supervisor is a member of the Nolan political dynasty in the township that spans nearly seven decades. His dad, Phil Nolan Sr., was an important influence in his career. After the family moved to Islip, Nolan said his father worked to make some changes in their new hometown.

“We didn’t have streetlights,” Nolan explained. “So, my father began going around the neighborhood [collecting signatures]. He brought all [the signatures] to Town Hall. In a year, we had streetlights.”

Not long after, his father became a Democratic committeeman, and nearly all of the family of six children got involved in politics in some way. “We delivered his literature,” Nolan said with a chuckle.

He and his younger brother, George, now a NYS Supreme Court judge, subsequently became committeemen as well in different election districts. But it wasn’t until 1977 that he decided to run for public office, that time for 10th District Suffolk County legislator. “I knocked on thousands of doors, “he remarked. “[Afterwards] people said they voted for me because they remembered [as a paperboy] I bought them a dry newspaper.”

Although he’d always been interested in government, Nolan indicated his primary reason to enter the political arena was much more specific. “I wanted to make a difference,” he said. He noted that at the time, the southwest sewer district was a big concern because of “fiscal mismanagement.”

Nolan lost that race to an incumbent, Republican Tom Findley, but ran again for that position in 1981 and won. During his tenure in the legislature from 1981 to ’87, he served as a minority leader in 1983, 1986 and 1987.

At the time, many of his constituents were very worried about the proposed Shoreham nuclear plant. “I worked with the county executive to get it shut down,” he said. “It was the right thing to do.”

Nolan said he worked hard to make major changes in the county. He helped bring about many of Suffolk County’s open-space acquisitions and worked toward groundwater protection. “Nothing is more important than having good drinking water,” he said.

After leaving elected office in 1988, he served as Suffolk’s deputy commissioner of public works and assistant deputy county executive. He worked in the private sector and as chief of staff for the City of Yonkers before opening his firm, PCN Consulting, in 1996, which he still owns. That business strategically guides professional organizations through regulatory issues and ways to increase profitability. His well-rounded job resume also includes running departments in other municipalities.

However, in 2006, when disgraced Islip Town supervisor Pete McGowan, a Republican, was forced to resign from office, an opportunity opened for Nolan to run for that position, which he won in a special election. A year later, he ran again and kept his job.

Nolan presided over Islip Town during what is now often referred to as the Great Recession (2007-2009). Despite a major gap in the budget that was created by the recession, he is known for working to maintain services while minimally raising taxes. “I’m a good manager and I manage frugally,” Nolan said. “I try to balance taxpayer needs with costs.”

That fiscal know-how led him to his next position with OTB. After losing a bid for another term as Islip supervisor to Republican Tom Croci in 2011, Nolan was appointed president of the financially strapped organization.

Suffolk OTB had filed for bankruptcy in March 2011 and entered into Chapter 9 in May of 2012, with approximately $17 million in debt. After taking the helm of the organization in July 2012 and through to his retirement in January 2021, Nolan led a restructure program that streamlined operations by reducing overhead, selling excess property, and establishing a new business plan. Included in that plan was establishing Jake’s 58 Hotel and Casino in the former Marriott Hotel in Islandia. The successful casino has generated over $225 million to help support public education and employs approximately 250 Teamsters Local 237 union workers with health care and pensions. The hotel/casino’s Rewards Club has 200,000 people enrolled. “That’s a hefty number,” Nolan remarked.

On June 30, 2020, Suffolk OTB paid back, in full, all of its debts. “I’m proud to leave Suffolk OTB stronger than when I found it,” he stated upon his departure.

Though retired, Nolan remains on Suffolk OTB’s staff as a consultant. And the rest of his time is taken up as a certified service provider for the NYS Department of Transportation in the Sponsor Highway Program on Long Island. He said he’s been enjoying more quality time with his wife Lisa, their two sons and four grandchildren.

When asked about a future in politics, he shrugged and said, “You never know.” But not a moment later he added, smiling, “I was bit by the [political] bug in 1977 and I haven’t yet found the antidote.”

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