New York State Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli and Glen Cove Mayor Thomas Suozzi, Democratic candidates for Nassau County executive, squared off on Monday night in the first of three debates sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
Assemblyman Tom DiNapoli
The tone of the evening was set with the first question in the hour-long debate - could the two candidates support their opponent if he won the primary.
"I think we would have been in a stronger position as a party today if we could have coalesced behind the Democratic nominee early and we could be addressing the Republicans and addressing their issues," said DiNapoli referring to Suozzi forcing a primary after DiNapoli won the party's official endorsement.
Mayor Tom Suozzi
"If Mr. DiNapoli wins the primary, I will support him and if I win, I hope he will support me," responded Suozzi.
The two discussed issues at the debate, which was held at the Vanderbilt in Plainview, including Nassau County's fiscal situation, day laborers and affordable housing following questions asked by both a panel of Long Island journalists and selected "write-in" questions from residents.
DiNapoli offered ideas such as making Long Island more accessible to off-Island energy sources and the inevitability of adding some additional on-Island energy sources to solve what he called a "near-crisis" energy situation.
Another priority to DiNapoli is keeping young people in Nassau County. He spoke about the current program that assists first time homebuyers with the down payment and the importance of improving that program along with working with federal officials because "the county has no housing responsibilities."
Suozzi focused his responses on initiatives he has taken as mayor of Glen Cove and the experience he has gained since being elected mayor in 1994.
Although rules of the debate did not allow for a rebuttal, Suozzi took time from his two-minute response allotment and challenged DiNapoli's statement regarding the county's involvement with housing responsibilities. "DiNapoli says the county has no responsibility over housing issues," said Suozzi. "Nassau County has a department of Housing and Intergovernmental Affairs and those federal funds that [DiNapoli is] talking about flow through that department."
Suozzi proposes building affordable housing for seniors and young people on the commercial strips throughout Long Island. "By putting housing there it will stop the over development of retail," said Suozzi. "We will also help to build up our downtowns again."
The debate over day laborers has been one that Suozzi has confronted in the City of Glen Cove. He supports the day laborers who uphold the laws of the community and encourages them to take classes, such as English-as-a-second-language, when they are not picked up to work. DiNapoli spoke about his efforts with the Hate Crime legislation he fought to pass in Albany.
The focus of the county executive race has revolved around the county's recent fiscal predicament. Suozzi identified $100 million in cuts that can be made to help the financial situation. "The problem is not that citizens are under taxed in Nassau County, but Nassau County government overspends," said Suozzi.
DiNapoli stressed his efforts in 1992 when he called for an oversight board recognizing the county's financial troubles. He also emphasized his ability to work across party lines and stated how important that will be when trying to resolve Nassau County's finances. "The NIFA legislation has changed the framework for governments in Nassau County," said DiNapoli. "That's an idea I came up with a very long time ago and working across party lines at the highest level to achieve results for the people of Nassau County is how I have delivered for you already."
Those in attendance, and listening to the live broadcast on WLIR radio, had their first chance to hear the two candidates debate important issues. Democratic residents of Nassau County can let their opinion be known by voting in the Sept. 11 primary. The winner will face Republican Bruce Bent in the November election for Nassau County executive.