Nassau County executive race gets more interesting

Candidates for the Democratic nomination for Nassau county executive -- Adam Haber and Thomas Suozzi vote in the primary Tuesday. The winner will face Republican incumbent Ed Mangano in the general election. Videojournalists: Chuck Fadely and Jim Staubitser (Sept. 10, 2013)

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has ...

The race for Nassau County executive just got interesting.

For the first time ever, an incumbent, Republican Edward Mangano, will face off against a former incumbent, Democrat Thomas Suozzi, for a county's top-elected post on Long Island.

They will meet, almost eye to eye, both having dealt with the mess of Nassau's finances, its broken assessment system and a host of other still-ongoing challenges.

So far, Mangano and Suozzi have pointed fingers at each other on who made Nassau a mess.

But really.

Suozzi first put the blame on Republicans and former GOP County Executive Thomas Gulotta, who was so embattled in 2001 that he decided not to seek a third term. Suozzi became the first Democratic county executive since the 1960s with his victory in 2001.

Running now against mistakes made during the Gulotta era -- as Suozzi seemed to do for much of his primary campaign this year -- seems pointless. That was the last century.

Besides, that gambit ignores the fact that Suozzi and a Democratic majority in the legislature ran Nassau for a decade before Mangano defeated Suozzi and Republicans regained control of the legislature.

Mangano, meanwhile, has spent much of the last four years slamming Suozzi -- for everything from the county's broken-almost-beyond-redemption assessment system to labor contracts that pushed expensive payouts into the future.

The sitting county executive is also still running on a platform that he hasn't raised taxes. And that he eliminated the Democrats'  taxes on energy and automatic property tax increases tied to the cost of living.

But that was almost four long years ago, too.

It would be better for both candidates to deal with Nassau's very real and precarious present.

What about those holes in the budget, and the diminished level of county services?

What about the operations of a police department marred by scandal?

Earlier this week, Newsday reported that 87 percent of property owners who appealed their assessments won. Does that mean that only 13 percent were right?

What about the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the state control board overseeing county finances? Should the county be working with NIFA, or continuing to fight it in court?

What's the plan for the rest of the Hub area around Nassau Coliseum? And is there a way to trim labor costs in a way that would lift a two-year wage freeze?

Residents need answers, not history.

Suozzi, this time, does not have the incumbent's advantage he had in 2009's close race with Mangano, and he's been out of office for four years.

But the general election campaign won't be a cakewalk for Mangano.

Last time, Mangano beat Suozzi by 386 votes -- hardly a mandate -- in a race that garnered very little turnout.

This time, the race could be wide open.

But Mangano and Suozzi -- and, likely, Haber, if he chooses to run on the Liberal line -- will have to woo the majority of Nassau's prospective voters. In 2009, most of them opted to stay home.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this column misstated the length of time the Nassau County energy tax was in effect.

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