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Feature Stories

Windmills Beware!

“Quixotic” is the word that came to mind when I first heard that Adam Haber wanted the Democratic nomination to run against Ed Mangano for Nassau County Executive. After all, Haber is just a rich guy from Roslyn whose political resume doesn’t include much more than “Member, Roslyn School Board.”

At first glance, there was a kind of Don Quixote kookiness to Haber resolving to take on the likes of Tom Suozzi, himself a powerful brand in these parts, and maybe even Jon Kaiman, the well-proven Town of North Hempstead supervisor, who (though undeclared) would (were he to declare) enter the fray with an undefeated record.

C’mon, tilting at windmills is more realistic than jousting with such local political superstars.

But after meeting with Haber at the Anton Community Newspapers offices recently, I have removed “quixotic” from my vocabulary. Haber isn’t just a political hobbyist who has the wherewithal to loan his campaign $2 million. He’s serious, smart and full of new ideas. In all, Adam Haber is a very convincing candidate.

“I couldn’t do any worse than they’ve done,” Haber said, smiling, the same day the state appeals court ruled that the county couldn’t shift property tax refunds to school districts and municipalities, and that Nassau itself would have to come up with another $80 million a year. Suozzi, of course, blamed Mangano for this mess. Team Mangano, naturally, blamed Suozzi, his predecessor in the office, for “the broken assessment system” that led to demands for refunds.

“It’s all reactive management,” said Haber, summing up the Nassau’s modus operandi over the past decade. “And nothing gets done.”

As a businessman, Haber has gotten a lot done, and credits his background as a commodities pit trader (“You have to have a thick skin.”). Today, he owns restaurants, commercial real estate, and, I suspect, much else that he didn’t get a chance to list while in a wide-ranging discussion with the Anton editors. He cites real achievements even as a school board member, ranging from money-saving cooperative agreements with other school districts on school buses, to refinancing debt at a low rate, to a plan to lease the roofs of Roslyn schools for solar energy generation.

Ask him what he’d do if elected, Haber speaks of:

Boosting business incubators (“We should be a launch pad for new businesses.”)

Redeveloping the Nassau Coliseum property without any taxpayer money (“It should be a place where people come, like a Pike’s Place Market,” he said, referring to the iconic Seattle shopping/dining/entertainment mecca that’s a magnet for both locals and tourists)

Making the Freeport armory a veterans’ center (“Take the $3 million a year from the naming rights for the coliseum” and use up to half of it to develop the armory and provide services for veterans.)

Pushing for the third track on the LIRR’s Main Line (“We have to do it,” otherwise the local economy risks “a slow death.”)

Working with—not vilifying—the unions (“We negotiated a new teachers’ contract in Roslyn, and we had no layoffs.”)

Addressing the county’s finances like…well, a finance person. (“You can’t raise taxes.”)

And that’s just a sampling. With each topic, Haber had to pull himself back so that he wouldn’t get “too granular” on the specifics. It was clear that he wasn’t just blowing smoke and kicking around ideas, he had actually thought about—even planned—them. Politics and the party organizations? Our editors couldn’t draw him into that, despite facing a September primary and possibly a November election.

“It’s not about politics,” Haber said emphatically. “It’s about leadership. People want to see this place succeed.”