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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Democrats Battle To Take On Mangano

The Democratic nominee for Nassau County executive has won two of the last three elections for the post so it is a ballot line worth fighting for. Two candidates are doing just that.

Tom Suozzi, the county executive between 2002 and 2009, and Adam Haber, a Roslyn school board member, will face one another in a Tuesday, Sept. 10 primary election, and the campaign has intensified in recent weeks. Suozzi has been airing a cable TV spot highlighting what he sees as his governmental accomplishments during his two terms in office and bemoaning the current state of affairs in Mineola, while Haber has been rolling out hard-hitting direct-mail pieces, assailing the Suozzi administration’s record and taking periodic shots at the incumbent Mangano administration, as well.

The Suozzi television ad, called “Sinkhole,” offers a Nassau History Lesson, if it were written by Newsday’s editorial board, circa 2002-2009. The TV spot’s script goes as follows: the Gulotta administration ran the county into a fiscal ditch, the state had to step in to shore up the county’s finances, and Tom Suozzi, who was first elected in 2001, helped “rescue Nassau from the brink of bankruptcy.” The county’s Dark Ages Resumed in 2010, the former county executive’s ad implies.

The Suozzi campaign’s website offers little in the way of bold policy prescriptions for fixing Nassau’s finances but does a great job of identifying the reasons the county’s budget has often been short on cash: sluggish sales tax revenue growth, limited residential and commercial development, and a lack of high-density housing for young people who want to reside near mass transit hubs. Mineola and Farmingdale are rightfully singled out as communities where progress has been made on the latter point.

Haber, an East Hills resident, has been criticizing both Suozzi and Mangano in his advertising, arguing that neither one of them, having held the office of county executive, are offering any compelling reasons they should be Nassau’s top elected official in January 2014. In his first bid for countywide office, Haber is citing his service as an elected member of Roslyn’s school board as an example of how he contributed to a municipal turnaround in the years after some of the Roslyn school district’s top administrators were jailed for stealing taxpayer monies. Haber was not on the school board when the scandal occurred.

Yet Haber realizes that, before he can make it to the general election against County Executive Mangano in November, he needs to beat Suozzi on Tuesday, Sept. 10 in a contest only open to the county’s registered Democrats. In that regard, Haber is facing some strong institutional obstacles. With Nassau’s Democratic Party and its traditional financial supporters backing Suozzi, the former county executive has access to the party’s committee members for door-to-door canvassing and phone banks, as well as the resources to pay for advertising. Moreover, Suozzi has, as of this writing, declined Haber’s invitation to debate the issues, denying Haber a forum where the two of them would be standing side-by-side, generating media and public interest in the primary.

The Haber campaign, primarily funded by the candidate himself, believes it can pull off the electoral upset by identifying, and persuading, the 50,000 to 60,000 Nassau Democrats who are likely to show up at the polls on Sept. 10. This number is comparatively small, considering there are more than 370,000 registered Democrats in Nassau.

Former Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick, a Democrat, could complicate matters for both Suozzi and Haber. Hardwick announced earlier this month he wants to be Nassau’s next county executive, and is circulating nominating petitions to appear on November’s ballot as the nominee of the newly-formed We Count Party. Some Democrats cried foul, saying Hardwick was getting into the race to split the anti-Mangano vote and help the incumbent get re-elected.

Don’t Hardwick’s critics recall that this tactic failed in 2009 when then-County Executive Suozzi, the Democratic Party’s candidate, and Steven Hansen, the Conservative Party’s county executive nominee and a county employee at the time, joined forces to stop Ed Mangano?

In fact, Nassau’s Conservative Party between 2002 and 2009 was consistently able to rise above principle so long as the Suozzi administration employed the Conservative Party’s key decision-makers, at least one of whom was a Gulotta holdover, in the Consumer Affairs Department during that era. I would have had no problem with that, except the county’s taxpayers had to foot the bill.

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