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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Nassau, A GOP Stronghold? Nope

Even though its editorial pages are written by the cast of Hair, I read The New York Times every day. It is one of the nation’s best newspapers.

But the Times published a detailed article about Nassau government and politics earlier this month which, while factually accurate, shows how omissions, and a lack of context, can mislead readers.

The story’s headline blared: “In Nassau County, an Influx of Democrats Threatens a G.O.P. Stronghold.” It was teased as follows on page one of that day’s print edition: “Republicans in Nassau County, long symbolic of the party’s suburban dominance, face a wave of new Democratic voters in the next election.”

Such a statement would make sense only if you believe history began in January 2010, when County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, and a GOP-controlled county Legislature, took office.

In fact, every Democratic presidential candidate has carried Nassau since 1992, although that went unmentioned. And Nassau’s Democrats held the majority in the county Legislature from 2000-2009, a full decade, while a Democratic county executive joined them in 2002, giving the Democrats eight straight years in complete control of Nassau County government. Here’s how the aforementioned timeline was described in the article.

“Republicans in Nassau had a preview of this challenge in 1999, when they lost control of the County Legislature after a series of scandals, and then the county executive’s office two years later. But they [the Republicans] recovered,” the article intones, without citing any of the policies (e.g., a double-digit percentage county property tax hike, the inclusion of a county tax on utility bills) the Democrats implemented between 2002 and 2009. No, the voters turned the Democrats out of county government in 2009 for mysterious reasons not worth exploring, or explaining.

Like The New York Times reporter who wrote this story, Nassau’s Democrats want Election Day 2013 to be like Election Day 2001. Nassau’s Democrats have even made it easier to remember what it was like 12 years ago, giving their official county executive line to Thomas Suozzi, and its county comptroller nomination to Howard Weitzman. Both Suozzi and Weitzman were first elected in 2001, re-elected in 2005, and lost their bids for third terms in 2009. In a blow to Adam Haber, who is trying to force a Sept. 10 Democratic primary against Suozzi, he goes unmentioned in the Times article, as well, with Suozzi listed as the county executive’s “probable Democratic opponent” in November.

“Compared with a decade ago, there are nearly 82,000 more registered Democrats in Nassau County, while there are more than 16,000 fewer Republicans, according to the state Board of Elections,” the Times reporter adds. “How did you let them [the Republicans] recover when the registration rolls have been trending this way?” would have been the story’s logical next sentence.

Oh, and I need to add color to another thing that goes unmentioned about the 2009 county executive race, in which then-county Legislator Mangano prevailed by a few hundred votes, the Times article mournfully observes. Mangano’s 2009 victory was all the more incredible because Suozzi, as he did in 2005, convinced the county’s Conservative Party four years ago to run its own candidate. This created a three-person race aimed at splitting the anti-Suozzi vote, and it worked like a charm in 2005.

The 2005 Conservative Party candidate for county executive soon thereafter became a judge, and that surely made it easier to recruit someone who had judicial aspirations to follow in that fellow’s footsteps in 2009.

The 2009 Conservative Party county executive candidate, who was a county employee (!) at the time, won about four percent of the 2009 vote, which would surely have gone to Mangano, had the county executive been given the Conservative Party’s nomination. Would it surprise you to learn the 2009 Conservative Party’s nominee is neither a judge nor a county employee in 2013?

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: