Voters denied live Mangano-Suozzi TV debate

Candidates for Nassau County Executive, Tom Suozzi and Candidates for Nassau County Executive, Tom Suozzi and Edward Mangano, speak in Old Westbury during a debate sponsored by the Nassau County VIllage Officials Association. (Oct. 8, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

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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 ...

Tuesday night's live debate between New York City's mayoral candidates showed them at their honest, earthy, street-wise best as Joseph J. Lhota, the underdog Republican, turned unexpectedly aggressive against Bill de Blasio, a Democrat and New York's presumptive next mayor.

It was riveting, tense and often unintentionally entertaining fare -- in short, great live TV.

That won't be happening in the Nassau County county executive race, where incumbent Republican Edward Mangano has turned down a request for a live televised debate with Democrat Thomas Suozzi, who wants his old job back.

On Monday, Mangano campaign manager Brian Nevin sent a letter to Patrick F. Dolan, president of News 12 Networks, informing him that the county executive would not participate in the debate.

"The Mangano campaign has on several occasions requested -- and you have refused -- to disclose during the debate your station's corporate relationship with Tom Suozzi -- including about $200,000 in political contributions this year as well as private sector employment during prior years at your parent company, Cablevision," the letter said.

Cablevision, which owns Newsday, has contributed $200,000 to Suozzi and $11,000 to Mangano.

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George Maragos, the Republican candidate seeking re-election against Democrat and former comptroller Howard Weitzman, turned down News 12's invitation for a debate as well.

In response to their decisions, News 12 issued this statement:

"Viewers expect News 12 Long Island's election coverage to be thorough, objective and fair, as providing information on local races has been part of our mission for more than 25 years.

"When a candidate refuses to participate in a debate, it is News 12's policy to proceed with the forum to enable voters to be as informed as possible. News 12 intends to adhere to that policy regarding the races for Nassau County Executive and Nassau County Comptroller."

What's being lost is the chance for Nassau viewers to -- as New Yorkers did -- watch the candidates mix it up live. There are two other upcoming debates, only one of which is televised and that won't be live.

Over the course of the campaign, Suozzi and Mangano have made several joint appearances at candidate forums in different parts of Nassau.

But making statements, or speaking separately at the same event, does not a debate make.

They probably would have clashed at one slated by the League of Women Voters, a group that since 1920 has worked hard to engage voters.

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Nassau's league is a pro at handling debates, and at drumming into candidates and moderators -- including me, from time to time -- how essential good debates are to civic life.

While Suozzi accepted, Mangano could not resolve scheduling conflicts to do a league debate, a campaign spokesman said.

Mangano -- taking the traditional front-runner's position of limiting debates -- also declined a request to appear with Suozzi Thursday night at a debate sponsored by the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, a nonprofit group that encourages civic participation in a variety of issues in the Village of Hempstead.

So far this campaign, there's been only one New York City-like debate between Mangano and Suozzi.

That came earlier this month when the Nassau County Village Officials Association moderated a contest -- which was not televised -- in Old Westbury.

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The crowd was boisterous. Candidates accused each other of lying. And, at one point, Suozzi and Mangano actually agreed on an issue -- that Albany must relieve county government of required state programs that come with no state funding.

That could have been entertaining TV, too.

There is one televised debate on CBS scheduled for later this month. The taped debate will be aired Nov. 3 on channels 2 and 55. The Long Island Association also is holding a debate between Mangano and Suozzi on Tuesday morning on the anniversary of superstorm Sandy.

But more would have been merrier.

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