Voters win Nassau executive debate

Adam Haber and Tom Suozzi, democratic candidates for Adam Haber and Tom Suozzi, democratic candidates for Nassau County Executive, prepare their notes for a debate hosted by News12 at their Woodbury studios. (Aug. 30, 2013) Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

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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 task before Adam Haber, an East Hills businessman and Roslyn school board member making his first run for the county's top elected office, was clear in Tuesday's Nassau County executive debate.

He had to introduce himself, his ideas and his motivations to an electorate that, even after Haber has knocked on thousands of doors, knows little about him.

Former County Executive Thomas Suozzi, who must get past Haber in Tuesday's Democratic primary for a shot at running against incumbent Edward Mangano, had the harder task.

Suozzi had to reintroduce himself to residents who already know him -- while also making a case that he deserves another shot at the third term voters denied him, narrowly, four years ago.

Since then, Suozzi, once hailed as the Boy Wonder mayor of Glen Cove, has worked outside of government (including for Cablevision, Newsday's parent company) and turned 50 years old.

He's also mostly stayed out of the public eye, and kept his views on Mangano's stewardship of Nassau to himself.

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So, who won Tuesday night?

Well, Nassau's residents did, by having some of their questions and concerns put to candidates during a live News 12 Long Island broadcast.

It was only 30 minutes. But that brief time frame seemed to work.

Instead of having to hear Haber and Suozzi repeat their platforms in answering every question, voters got to see a few detours.

At one point, after repeated jabs at his record from Haber, Suozzi felt the need to strike back, saying that while Haber was entitled to his opinion, he wasn't entitled to his own facts.

The back and forth contrasted with the debate's first half, when the candidates pitched past each other -- and Democratic primary voters -- in an attempt to connect with a larger, general election audience.

Neither directly answered the moderator's question about whether they would raise taxes.

Both labeled Mangano's proposed contract to redo Nassau Coliseum as too small and unambitious. And Haber -- to his credit -- castigated Democrats and Republicans in the county legislature who are still feuding over how to fix Nassau's crippled Bay Park sewage plant.

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Haber constantly touted his outsider status as a plus, while Suozzi -- as he did during his first campaign for county executive in 2001 -- repeatedly pushed his experience.

Back then, Suozzi was the outsider running in a Democratic primary against better known then-Assemb.-now-state-comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who had been favored to win.

An aggressive Suozzi stunned everyone by taking the primary victory -- and later the general election -- instead.

Eight years later, Mangano, now the Republican incumbent county executive, was the general election underdog.

The then-county legislator from Bethpage, who many in his own party believed would lose, took to the streets and ended up pulling off a surprise victory against two-term-incumbent Suozzi instead.

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Haber has a third-party line to run on in the general election should Suozzi, as polls predict, win with Democrats next week. Would Haber use it? Probably.

All of which could make this an unusually feisty county executive race. Incumbent Mangano v. former incumbent Suozzi v. outsider Haber?

Pass that popcorn.

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