Written by Steve Mosco Thursday, 26 September 2013 00:00
The Coalition of Nassau Civic Associations hosted the candidates for county comptroller—incumbent George Maragos and challenger Howard Weitzman—in a town forum at the Plainview-Old Bethpage Library last week.
Each candidate was granted five minutes of speaking time, followed by a question and answer session with residents in attendance.
Broadly speaking, Maragos said the county has “held the line” on tax increases and not burdened Nassau County’s homeowners, while Weitzman said the county can not sustain the debt t has accrued during the current administration’s time in office.
In order to make it a truly democratic forum, the Coalition wanted the candidates to flip a coin to decide who would speak first—but with Maragos running 20 minutes late, the Coalition decided to let Weitzman speak first.
Weitzman said that residents can expect to hear two different stories about Nassau County this election year. He said the Democrats will say the county’s finances are horrible and changes need to be made immediately; while Republicans will say the county is on the right track and needs to keep moving forward in the current direction.
“Don’t listen to the politicians. They lie,” he said. “I’ve never considered myself a politician. The truth can be discerned by looking at what people on the outside are saying. During my time in office, the county had 13 bond upgrades and an honestly balanced budget for eight years. I left when the country was in the depths of a recession and the county still had a stable output, according to Standard & Poor’s.”
He said that Maragos’ tenure has been marked by three bond downgrades, a negative outlook rating from Standards & Poor’s and the highest level of debt in county history.
Weitzman said taxpayers can expect to feel the consequences of the current administrations’ actions when property taxes are raised in October.
“[Maragos] betrayed the purpose of the office. It is supposed to be a taxpayer watchdog, independent from the current administration,” said Weitzman. “Instead, he’s shown himself to be a spokesperson for the administration.”
For his part, Maragos said the county has seen significant improvements from what the administration inherited in 2009. He said he is especially proud that the 2014 budget contains no property tax increases.
“No other county in the state has been able to hold the line on spending, reduce costs and make government more efficient by rooting out waste and fraud than this administration,” he said. “I come from the private sector with 35 years of experience. I brought business principles to this office. Simply, you cannot spend more than the revenues you bring in. The people have to live within their means and we insist the government do the same.”
Maragos said raising property taxes is the worst thing an elected official can do because it pushes residents to leave the county and keeps businesses from setting up shop.
“The cost of living is too high in Nassau,” he said. “We have to be aggressive in keeping our young people here.”
The forum turned contentious when Weitzman requested a chance to issue a rebuttal against some of the comptroller’s statements. This request was denied by the Coalition, which said both candidates would have an opportunity to respond to claims at a debate to be hosted by the League of Women Voters of Nassau County at Molloy College on Oct. 10.
Residents in attendance pleaded for transparency above all.
“There is no way for the people to know where the money is going and what work is getting done. There is no transparency,” said Trisha Kearney from the Bay Park Civic Association. “There needs to be a way for people to know. There needs to be a paper trail online.”