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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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100 Days Out

As of this weekend, there will be 100 days left until Nassau County residents will cast ballots for something like 46 county, city and town offices, plus some judgeships, on November 3. Right now, it looks like maybe two or three of these campaigns are going to be strongly contested by both major parties. Maybe. The parties aren’t playing fair with the people of Nassau County, which is a big part of why this county has run up a streak of disturbingly low voter turnouts. None of New York’s larger counties have had fewer incumbents defeated or even seriously challenged since 2000.

A hundred days to Election Day and the Republican candidate for County Executive, Legislator Ed Mangano, has $49,896.36 on hand in his campaign fund as of last week. He has raised $78,759.10 and spent a big chunk of that, apparently, on buttons and other campaign novelties. Let’s understand that Nassau County, where John McCain did surprisingly well in 2008, still has over 330,000 enrolled Republican voters, has elected approximately half of the county legislators, controls the two largest towns and still is (along with Westchester and Manhattan) one of the eastern seaboard’s Great Googamooga political piggy banks. I imagine that Mr. Mangano has had to go out of his way to raise only $78,000 at this point, perhaps asking people to put away their checkbooks.

Perhaps we can expect a Republican campaign of ideas that lays out a new vision for sustainable, affordable delivery of services in the new century. Visions can inspire supporters, aid other candidates on the ballot, build for the future. Well, there’s no evidence that we can expect that, not yet. In political circles, much of the talk about Mr. Mangano’s campaign has centered on speculation that he will be appointed to the Oyster Bay Town Board in January. Usually, challengers who come out of nowhere to lash out at a well-known incumbent go nowhere, because they haven’t built up their own credibility. Mr. Mangano will soon lose any ability to control his campaign’s destiny, and will have to rely on scandal, invasion or some other catastrophe to run anywhere near County Executive Tom Suozzi.

Mr. Suozzi’s campaign, sitting on $2.7 million in funds, is under pressure to exceed his somewhat disappointing 57 percent finish of 2005. The collapse of voter participation in county elections here has favored Democrats in general, but this double-edged sword also hampers the running up of large percentages. There is also a historical tendency for the third campaign to be unexpectedly problematic for sitting county executives: Paterson, Nickerson, Caso and Gulotta all ended up in serious races the third time around. The Suozzi political circle believes that a large victory will support an expected claim that he is owed a statewide nomination, for something. It no longer matters for what. Something.

Most elected officials run one race too many. They either run until they lose, leaving a bad taste, or run until they are bored, and then it is very hard to hide that or to maintain the spark that made them special. Mr. Suozzi has certainly made it seem as if being county executive here is just about the last thing he wants to be; potential appointments to other positions haven’t worked out. Had Governor Paterson been on surer legal grounds to make a Lieutenant Governor appointment, Mr. Suozzi might have resigned the other week.

Tom Suozzi can truly use his time left here to help himself and his county by applying some of the rhetoric of his statewide activities to the job he still holds. Mr. Suozzi has traveled the state saying that he favors a New York City-style campaign finance system, prohibitions and limitations on many types of campaign donations that he now accepts regularly, nonpartisan drawing of legislative districts, greater oversights and openness in government, ethical standards and other reforms that can be tried right here in Nassau County, right now.

Do some of that, a piece of it, and people will be suitably impressed.

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. He lives in New Hyde Park.

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net