Suozzi's entry into race creates Democrats' free-for-all

Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi addresses colleagues before Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi addresses colleagues before the end of his second term during a luncheon at the Garden City Hotel. (Dec. 16, 2009) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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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 ...

Thomas Suozzi's not-so-surprise entry into the Nassau County executive's race makes a field of spirited candidates even more so.

The road to election in Nassau is usually tightly scripted, but here we have a free-for-all among Democrats.

Nassau's last few political tsunamis all were surprises at the end of campaigns, and most were scattered decades apart.

In 1999, even Democrats were stunned when they took the majority in the legislative branch for the first time in 70 years. Two years later, an upstart Democrat, Glen Cove Mayor Suozzi, scored another stunner by defeating popular state lawmaker and then-county Democratic Party leader Thomas DiNapoli in a rare Democratic primary.

Suozzi went on to win election, and then won a second term against weak Republican opposition. But four years after that, as Suozzi sought a third term, he -- and the Democratic majority in the legislature -- fell to Republicans and veteran county lawmaker Edward Mangano.

Despite the efforts of county Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs, Suozzi hardly has a clear path to nomination for county executive this time.

North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman has filed paperwork to create an exploratory election committee. He has gone so far as to launch a grenade against Mangano, using his State of North Hempstead address to announce that he intended to help the town's 75,000 homeowners appeal their county property tax assessments.

Under Mangano, almost all appeals resulted in reduced assessments for winners -- which, in turn, increased the assessment burden on those who did not appeal.

Adam Haber, a Roslyn school board member who announced in December his intention to seek the Democratic nomination, isn't backing off either. "I'm not going anywhere," said Haber, sounding as much of an upstart as Suozzi once did.

Would that mean a running primary against Suozzi, Kaiman or both? "Absolutely," Haber replied.

And there's supposedly another wrinkle.

Kaiman is said to be considering entering the race at the suggestion of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, although neither he nor Cuomo's office would confirm or deny that, according to my colleague Dan Janison.

But why should Cuomo, a Democrat, care? The governor already has a close relationship with Mangano; and his partnering with another Nassau Republican, Dean Skelos, the State Senate's co-leader, on some issues helps burnish the I-can-work-with-Republicans-and-Democrats bona fides Cuomo likely would need in a campaign for higher office.

Why would he be so interested in Nassau? The answer, insiders insist, is Hillary Rodham Clinton, who remains, for now, the presumptive Democratic candidate in 2016 (if she runs) for an office Cuomo is said to covet: president of the United States.

Suozzi and Jacobs are considered to be Clinton people; Kaiman -- whom Cuomo considered appointing head of the Long Island Power Authority, before Sandy -- is considered to be a Cuomo person.

Ah, politics.

But 2016's well in the future.

For now, though, there's no way to know where the county executive race is going.

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