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Local Incumbents Weather Election Storm

Nassau County Races Undecided; GOP Wants to Repeal Energy Tax

The anti-incumbent wave that swept the Republican Party back into control of the Nassau County legislature didn’t make its way to the Town of North Hempstead this past Nov. 3.

All local incumbents faced only modest difficulties in winning re-election to their various offices.

While both the Nassau County executive and comptroller races remain undecided pending the count of absentee ballots, Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman beat back a challenge from Republican Lee Tu, by a 20,333 to 17,600 margin. The town clerk race saw similar results, with Lee Gross winning re-election by a 20,314 to 15,781 margin over Jon P. Wicks. The Democratic Party maintained its control of the town council, with the lone Republican, Angela Ferrara, also being re-elected.

Wayne Wink, who represents much of the Roslyn area in the county legislature, defeated his Republican challenger, Peter Losquadro, by a 7,422 to 4,892 margin. Wink, however, will be serving in a different legislative body, as the Republican Party now holds a slim majority in that chamber.

In other countywide races, District Attorney Kathleen Rice and County Clerk Maureen O’Connell had little difficulty in being elected to new terms. Ms. O’Connell is a resident of Albertson.

County Races Up in the Air

As noted, the Nassau County executive and Nassau County comptroller races have not yet been declared official, as absentee ballots are being counted. That process could take up to a month. County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi, according to unofficial results, leads his Republican challenger, Edward I. Mangano, by a 118,111 to 117,874 margin. Steven Hansen, the Conservative Party candidate, received 9,552 votes. If Suozzi’s current lead holds, then the Hansen vote would certainly deny Mangano an upset victory.

In the comptroller’s race, George Maragos, the Republican challenger, currently leads the Democrat incumbent, Howard Weitzman, by an equally slim 115,473 to 114,897 margin. Unlike Mangano, Maragos was endorsed on the Conservative Party line.

A win in the 7th Legislative District gave the Republicans control of the Legislature. In that race, Republican challenger Howard Kopel upended Democratic incumbent Jeffrey Toback to give the GOP their legislative edge. According to unofficial results, Kopel won his seat by a solid 6,654 to 5,544 margin.

A count of absentee ballots will determine the result of the heated 14th Legislative District race between Democratic incumbent Legislator Dave Mejias and Republican challenger Joseph Belesi. Belesi, who was also running on the Conservative Party Line, received 7,184 votes, and Mejias, who was also running on the Independence and Working Families party lines, received 7,156 votes. If Belesi’s lead holds, then the GOP will hold an 11-8 majority in the upcoming Nassau County legislature.

The Reactions

There was plenty of reaction by politicians on both sides of the aisle to the surprising results of Nov. 3.

“We are thrilled to be taking over the majority,” said Legislator Peter J. Schmitt, a Republican from Massapequa who is expected to be the new Majority Leader. “We look forward to doing what we told the residents we would do. We are going to repeal that home energy tax and we’re going to cut spending and we are going to repair the institutional integrity of the Legislature.”

“While I am honored to be re-elected to another term as a county legislator, I am disheartened by the loss of my party’s legislative majority,” said Presiding Officer Diane Yatauro. “Political winds are often influenced by prevailing socio-economic conditions. Last night we witnessed significant voter opposition to incumbents, which severely affected many Democrats. Voter anger was a product of the now year-long recession, which caused massive unemployment, a serious credit crisis and real fear in the hearts of taxpayers across the nation. We in Nassau County had to make some tough and, in some cases, unpopular decisions to keep our county solvent.  As I congratulate my Republican colleagues on re-taking the legislative majority, I pledge to continue to work towards bringing financial stability to our county government.”

The big shocker remains the county executive race. Last summer, several local politicos wondered aloud to this reporter if the Mangano campaign would ever take traction. On Nov. 3, they got their answer.

“Clearly, the people of Nassau County want to see change in Nassau County government,” Mangano told Anton Community Newspapers. “I am hopeful I will be leading that change and I thank everyone who supported me in my grassroots campaign and platform to stop wasteful spending, fix property tax assessment system, stop energy tax and create local jobs and opportunities.”

In a press conference the day after the election, County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi called the dead-heat race a sign of issues larger than his contest with Mangano, interpreting widespread “anti-Democrat” and “anti-incumbent sentiments” as a display of frustration with high taxes.

“People are mad as hell about property taxes,” he said. “You don’t see this result in one place. This is going on all over the region. People are unhappy and they take it out on incumbents.”

With only 237 votes separating the candidates at the moment, the county executive said the race was too close to call and that the recount process could take up to a month as voting machines are re-canvassed, legal challenges are made and absentee ballots are counted, which he estimated at around 12,000.

County Executive Suozzi said that he was not shocked by the close race and that he believed it was bringing an important issue to a head - the fact that the bulk of the taxes overburdening people are coming from school taxes, which Albany should cap.

“The voters are angry, and I share their anger,” he said. “What we need to do is channel that anger now and hope that some good comes out of these results. It is school taxes that are crushing Long Island. If I am defeated, it will be a wake-up call to other elected officials that, ‘If it happened to Suozzi, it could happen to me.’ If I win, I will continue the crusade to stop Albany from pushing costs down. Everybody has to wake up.”

He ended warning that if he loses and Republicans assume control of the executive branch, as they have the legislative branch of Nassau County, their cost-cutting methods could revert the county back into the “fiscal basket case” it was when he took office. He said that presently Nassau has the highest bond rating it has had in 20 years and that removing huge revenues like the $39 million energy tax without a way to “fill the gap” could destabilize the county.

—Victoria Caruso-Davis and Matt Piacentini contributed to this article.