Kaiman discusses why he's not in the race

Jon Kaiman, supervisor of the Town of North Jon Kaiman, supervisor of the Town of North Hempstead, speaks at the Smart Growth Summit in Melville. (Nov. 16, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / Ed Betz

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North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman acknowledged that there was lot of interest in him running for Nassau County executive last year when the field of credible Democratic candidates appeared sparse.

"If you go back to last year, there was not a field as there is today," Kaiman said. But with the emergence this year of former County Executive Thomas Suozzi and wealthy financier Adam Haber, "There's less urgency for Jon Kaiman to be part of the race than when discussions began in 2012."

It was the closest that Kaiman, 50, came to giving any specific reasons for his decision last week to take a pass on the Democratic primary for county executive in September. But he was emphatic that his decision had little to do with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who reportedly wanted Kaiman to make the race. "I know there been a lot of talk about the governor, but it's not what drives this thing at the end of the day," Kaiman said.

Kaiman formed an exploratory committee the day before Suozzi announced his candidacy last month, but never formally entered the race to take on Republican County Executive Edward Mangano. "I never campaigned, nor did any fundraising," Kaiman said. "When the opportunity arises you take the time to look at it."

The Great Neck-based Democrat, at least for now, has put off any immediate endorsement in the race.

"I have a good relationship with Tom Suozzi and a good relationship with Adam Haber," Kaiman said. "I'm part of the Democratic organization and at some point I may engage in this campaign. But for the next few weeks, I'm going to enjoy my sense of peace."

Before superstorm Sandy and the fallout from the Long Island Power Authority's storm response, Kaiman was mentioned as a leading contender to head LIPA. He said he does not dwell on that or other jobs, and says he expects to seek re-election next year.

"I'm always willing to have a discussion," he said, but the main thing that changed was Sandy and the discussion for the governor has gotten much bigger and continues."

The town website calls North Hempstead the state's seventh largest town and Kaiman said it's "exciting to run a government of this size with a very diverse community of so many moving parts. Experience counts. Knowing how to navigate minefields is very helpful."

The impact of Kaiman's decision to skip the county executive race remains unclear.

Haber, of East Hills, said he believes Kaiman's exit helps him, especially in North Hempstead, because "it frees a lot of people to support me" who might have backed Kaiman.

Haber, who has been doing direct mail for the past three weeks and has a $2 million campaign war chest, said he has been campaigning at the grassroots level for two years and believes it will lead to victory.

"We've tried Suozzi and it didn't work," said Haber, referring to Suozzi's eight years as county executive and his efforts to run for governor. "He said he'd 'Fix Albany' and he couldn't even fix Nassau. We need a fresh start."

Jay Jacobs, Nassau Democratic chairman and a Suozzi ally, said Kaiman's departure will unite the party behind the former county executive. He said he expects Haber to go heavily negative against Suozzi in the primary, but warned that such a tack won't work in a Democratic primary that attracts die-hard party activists who have backed Suozzi in the past.

"His only path to victory is to try to use a flame thrower," Jacobs said. "But that sometimes can come back to burn you."

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