Bruce Bent, the Republican, Conservative and Right-to-Life candidate for Nassau County Executive, has kept his message simple and clear from the day he was nominated. First of all, he says that he is a businessman who has been very successful and that is exactly what Nassau County needs in its present fiscal crisis. He is an outsider who owes nothing to any political leader. When asked about issues other than the economy, he usually says that until the county's finances are straightened out, it is premature to talk about other issues.
Bruce Bent is a co-founder and has been CEO for the past 30 years of The Reserve Funds. He and a partner created the first money market mutual fund, which has made him a millionaire many times over and become a $2 trillion industry.
At a meeting at the Congregational Church of Manhasset's Men's Club recently, he said of the campaign, "it's been an interesting six or seven months. I've lost 13 pounds." When Bent announced last spring that he was running for the post of county executive, he says that he tried to get interviewed by the Republican leadership but was rebuffed. It wasn't until the Conservative Party endorsed him that the Republicans chose him as their standard bearer. Conservative support is very important to Republican candidates.
Bent said that he is constantly being criticized for being politically incorrect, but from his point of view the "imposition of national politics into local races is totally inappropriate." He pointed out Brian Vincent, former mayor of Plandome, in the audience. "Stem cell research and Afghanistan have nothing to do with village government and they have nothing to do with Nassau County government. "They tend to pit neighbor against neighbor when we would all be better served to focus on what we have in common. Pro-choice and pro-life don't apply to Nassau County."
The fact that he is a political outsider, he said, means that he will be able to make the tough decisions. "Career politicians won't make decisions that will antagonize the voters," he said. "They don't have the guts. I won't mind being a scapegoat. I'm not looking forward to going on in politics. I don't want to go to Albany. I want to get back to my garden in Plandome after we get Nassau's finances straightened out."
Straightening out Nassau's finances doesn't mean not spending money where it is needed. Bent said that he wants to see efficiency in government. In the county clerk's office, he said, they won't spend the money to automate. They're still using typewriters. "They are totally ignorant of computerization and they won't update the skills of their employees." The county clerk's office could actually become a profit-making enterprise if it is properly automated. "Karen Murphy (the present clerk) is very well motivated," he said, "but she hasn't been given the tools."
Bent reiterated his earlier campaign pledge to do the job of county executive as a "dollar a year" man. He once again called attention to the fact that County Executive Thomas Gulotta's chauffeur is paid $140,000. "Why?" he asked rhetorically. "Because he's a first grade detective."
This led him to the topic of the police. According to Bent, the last police contract gave the county the authorization to take police officers off desk jobs and replace them with lay people. "It was never implemented," he said. A related question was asked about Bent's position on drug offenders. Although he is a conservative, Bent said that when it comes to a question of treatment or incarceration, treatment costs less than half of what incarceration costs and has better results. He said that the Nassau County correctional facility is what is known as a "high risk prison," although better than 90 percent of the prisoners are not high-risk prisoners. He proposes taking the high-risk prisoners out and sending them elsewhere-to Riker's Island, for example, which has empty beds. "We have ignored common sense solutions," he said.
Bent said that Gulotta "is a very pleasant man and shows up at all Eagle Scout installations, but he's unwilling to make decisions." He was specific about Gulotta's unwillingness to raise taxes. "The average house is assessed at about "5500," he said. "If we raised taxes by about 2 percent annually, it would cost the homeowner $20 a year and we wouldn't be in this mess."
"Where I am today," he said, "is that I have the business experience to get it done and go back to my garden." Of his opponent, Glen Cove Mayor Thomas Suozzi, Bent said, " He's been mayor of Glen Cove for seven years. His entire career makes him definitely a politician. If he's elected the Democratic pigs will replace the Republican pigs at the trough."
Bent himself has received little help from the Republican organization. "They haven't written any checks," he said, "but in the last few weeks they've had the rank and file going around being door stuffers. It would have helped more if it had been done earlier."
On Nov. 6, Nassau County voters will elect a new county executive and, for the first time in 40 years, it's quite possible they will give that position to a Democrat. Thomas Suozzi, 39, the current four-term mayor of Glen Cove, waged a shoe-leather campaign that led to a surprising yet decisive, primary victory over fellow Democrat, State Assemblyman Tom DiNapoli, in September. A few hours after his primary win, Suozzi was back on the campaign trail bringing his plan and vision for "making Nassau County the best in the nation" to every corner of the county and its 1.3 million residents. Within just a few days of the victory, county and state Democrats in elected office followed Assemblyman DiNapoli's lead and pledged their full support to Suozzi as he faces his Republican opponent in the November election.
During a recent interview with Anton Newspapers, Mr. Suozzi said that since the primary, he has pursued three goals-unity in the party, forming "Republicans for Suozzi" and fund raising. Suozzi credits the current unity within the Democratic Party to Assemblyman Tom DiNapoli. "He is the one person responsible and I thank him for the class he's shown and his strong support," said Suozzi. "Republicans for Suozzi" held a fundraiser at the Nassau County Bar Association last week that reportedly brought $100,000 into the Suozzi war chest. And as for the third goal, Suozzi said fund-raising efforts have brought in $800,000.
Tom Suozzi's message has four parts. "I've got the proof I can do the job because of my background as a CPA, attorney and four-term mayor of Glen Cove; I have a $100 million taxpayer savings plan to eliminate waste and patronage from Nassau County government; I've got the independence and courage to break the culture of machine politics in the county and I am going to work harder and longer until Nassau County is the best county in the nation," said Mr. Suozzi.
He sees two problems facing the county because of its status as the first, therefore the most mature, suburban community in the nation. One is a function of Republican machine politicians who he says completely mismanaged $2 billion over the last 80 years of one-party domination. The other is a combination of machine politicians poorly planning the future of the county. Suozzi cites the over development of commercial strips, the decline of downtowns, concerns about drinking water and cancer, the need for affordable housing for young people and senior citizens and the need for high-skilled, high technology industry to expand the county's tax base and provide high paying wages. "The next county executive must address these problems with immediate crisis management and long-term vision just like we did in Glen Cove," said Suozzi. "We have good bones in Nassau County; the only thing screwed up is the government. I'll work across party lines to bring the best and brightest so we can re-create our government," he added.
Suozzi is focused on three issues: the Nassau County budget, developing the proper homeland defense to ensure the safety of county residents and the honing of a master plan that will bring sustainable economic development to Nassau that will be in harmony with the natural environment. In an uncanny coincidence, Suozzi faced the same set of problems when he first took office in Glen Cove. The city's bond rating was one step above junk status, the city's waterfront had remained polluted and neglected for a generation and Glen Cove's historic downtown shopping district neared extinction. Under the Suozzi administration Moody's Investor Services has upgraded the city's bond rating three times as the city continued to prepay debt under a surplus situation; the myriad state and federal agencies with jurisdiction have been brought together by Suozzi to clean up major sectors of the waterfront and close an incinerator and the city's downtown has renewed life with the implementation of a Business Improvement District and the opening of three major national retailers.
"On Nov. 6 we need to elect a Democratic majority and a team of people to change Nassau County. We can't afford to play politics. I am asking for two years with a Democratic majority to break the culture of machine politics. There's no reason why we can't be the best county in the nation-we have beautiful ocean beaches, recreational areas, a diversity of wealth, great schools and we're only a stone's throw from the capital of the world, New York City," said Suozzi.
Ed. Note: Tom DiNapoli's name will appear on the ballot's Independent and Liberal lines. Mr. DiNapoli has made it clear he is not seeking election and is supporting Democrat Tom Suozzi.