Election Day is still eight months away, but the race for Nassau County Executive has already begun to heat up. Two Democratic candidates — one who is quite familiar to the county political scene — have emerged to seek the party’s nod to challenge Republican incumbent Ed Mangano in November.
Former County Executive Tom Suozzi, who held the job from 2002-09, and Roslyn school board member Adam Haber have both announced their desire to win Nassau’s top job and likely will face off in a Democratic Party primary in September.
Suozzi said that a few months ago, many people in and out of Nassau’s political circles started encouraging him to run. It took a little convincing, he admits, but he finally decided to launch a campaign. Suozzi said he is fed up with the current county government. “Nassau County’s a wreck,” he said. “I’ve seen it decline more and more over the last three years.”
The first sign of trouble, Suozzi said, was when a state control board, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, began its oversight of the county’s finances. Suozzi pointed out that NIFA was in place during his eight years as executive, but never had to step in. “They never came close to taking over because we had eight balanced budgets, eight surpluses, 13 bond upgrades,” he said.
Haber described himself as an “outsider” to Nassau County politics and said he believes his success in running businesses would be an asset if he were elected. The East Hills resident and father of two owns two restaurants, one in Mineola and one in Manhattan. He said he has experience creating jobs.
Nassau County is in dire financial straits, Haber said, and neither raising taxes nor getting more concessions from the unions can fix those problems. Instead, Nassau County needs to increase its tax base by attracting more businesses, Haber explained. “You have to make this place an economic engine,” he said. “That’s the only way out.”
Haber described himself as a hard-worker and said he plans to make that fact evident to voters in the coming months. He said he has been pondering a run for county executive for nearly two years, and has attended the Legislature’s meeting on a regular basis since 2011.
Suozzi lost to Mangano by 386 votes in 2009 in a race that took several weeks to decide. He said he believes that the outcome could be different this time. “I didn’t work hard enough in 2009. I took it for granted,” he said, adding the he felt comfortable with his lead in the pools. “I thought I had no problem to win the race.”
It was after he was out of office when Suozzi realized how much he missed the job, he said. Suozzi notes that in the past he has had aspirations for higher office — he unsuccessfully challenged Eliot Spitzer for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2006 — but said now he would be content if he never makes it any higher. “If it turns out that my life is that I was the county executive of Nassau County who helped to turn around the county, that’s a pretty big accomplishment and I’m satisfied with that,” he said.
Since leaving office, Suozzi, of Glen Cove, has spent time working for Cablevision to help launch MSG Varsity, worked for a financial company to push public-private partnerships, and currently is with the Harris Beach law firm. He has also been spending more time with his wife and children.
Haber said that Suozzi had his eight years to try and right the ship in Nassau County. He said that while Suozzi and Mangano are both nice people, they are not innovators.
Meanwhile, Haber said that as a school board member in Roslyn, he has led an effort to refinance the school district’s debt to save money and created a partnership with neighboring districts to provide more efficient transportation for students attending private schools.
Suozzi said he did try innovative ideas when he was county executive, most notably trying to create “cool downtowns” in Nassau. He pushed for development around transit hubs, specifically to attract young professionals. Suozzi said that several of these projects are under way in Suffolk County. “Nobody’s even talking about it here,” he said.
Haber said he dislikes the cuts that have been made to social services in the county. One of the main functions of government, he explained, should be helping people who can’t help themselves. He also says that the current administration’s solution to the county’s financial problems is to borrow more money.
He said he would like to make Nassau County a destination, and if elected would develop a plan to increase tourism. Haber also said he is working on a plan to fix the county’s broken assessment system, though he won’t say what that is until a comprehensive plan is developed.
Suozzi criticized Mangano’s management of the assessment system, saying that the county still owes $300 million in refunds with no way to pay for it.
Noting that Suozzi is the favored candidate of the Democratic Party, Haber said he makes no apologies for seeking the nomination and will continue to push hard in the race. “I’m an outsider who’s running just to see if I could help,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of success that we can have.”