Nassau exec race kicks off with blame game

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, right, speaks with

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, right, speaks with former County Executive Thomas Suozzi in Mineola. (Dec. 2, 2009) (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

Joye Brown

Newsday columnist Joye Brown Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006.

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The race for Nassau County executive kicked off last week with District Attorney Kathleen Rice's announcement that she would not run for the seat.

Not that she wanted it in the first place, mind you.

Rice, for more than a year, has been telling local Democratic Party leaders that she had no interest in the position. On Thursday, a week to the day before a fundraiser at the Cradle of Aviation Museum, Rice made the predictable official.

She's seeking a third term -- for now, at least, since Rice also has been mentioned as a potential candidate in some future congressional race -- as Nassau's top elected law enforcement official.

Who, then, will be the Democrats' candidate for county executive? Could it be former two-term County Executive Thomas Suozzi, a Democrat who lost last time around to Republican Edward Mangano, who is up for re-election.

Or Richard Kessel, the first head of the Long Island Power Authority? A county lawmaker, David Denenberg; a town supervisor, Jon Kaiman; and a school board member, Adam Haber, Democrats all, are said to be jockeying for the spot as well.

County Democratic leader Jay Jacobs -- who asserted and later deserted his own desire for the post -- said the decision will come by the end of the month.

No matter.

This is a campaign off and running with Republicans and Democrats both likely to continue their finger-pointing habits on everything from borrowing to assessments. As such, it's not too early to make a request: Don't. As last week's bumbling in Congress over a bill to aid superstorm Sandy-damaged communities in New York and New Jersey showed -- again -- voters have had enough of this game.

Yes, campaigns are about tearing down the opposition; about slinging around as much rhetorical mud as possible.

But it's wearisome, especially in Nassau, where Republicans and Democrats -- like those in Washington -- have been at loggerheads so long that it appears that the art of governing through compromise is dead.

The stakes in the upcoming county executive's race remain high. The county remains under a state control board that is monitoring its finances; Nassau's bond rating has also taken a double-decker dive.

That's not to say that Mangano hasn't put forth moves he believes help right the ship. To that end, he essentially ridded Nassau of the expense of managing bus service, halved the number of full-fledged police precincts and has not abandoned a proposal to shift management of sewers to a private operator in return for an upfront investor payment.

This is what the campaign ought to be about. Not assessing blame as much as offering ideas, some vision of what Nassau should be four years from now, along with the candidate's plan for getting there.

Suozzi's first campaign was about vision, and his first term -- before he was distracted by quests for potential higher office the second time around -- was almost textbook perfect.

Even Republican officials (privately at least) agree on that. Believe it or not, there was a time -- briefly, sadly -- during Suozzi's first term when Nassau came tantalizingly close to beginning to get its finances right with Republicans and Democrats working together. No more.

At this point, no one cares who got Nassau into a mess -- and for the record, it was a combination of past Republican and Democratic leadership.

What counts is the way out. Residents, for example, deserve an accurate and fair assessment system. Is returning to an elected, rather than appointed, assessor the way to go? That's one of many questions worthy of debate -- rather than finger-pointing -- as the campaign really gets rolling.

Which candidate -- Republican, Democrat, or some third party entry -- will be up to the task? Stay tuned.