Coliseum vote a hard defeat for Mangano

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and New York

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and New York Islanders owner Charles Wang announce the defeat of the referendum to build a new Nassau Coliseum. (Aug. 1, 2011) (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

Chalk up one hard midterm defeat for Edward Mangano.

Long Island's political world was bound to view this referendum as an epilogue to the surprise events of November 2009.

That month, Republican legislator Mangano ousted the incumbent Nassau executive, Democrat Thomas Suozzi. The contest was so close, Suozzi didn't concede for another four weeks. The ersatz, GOP-aligned "Tax Revolt Party" provided an extra boost for underdog Mangano and others on his ticket who took part in the upset.

Postmortems of that campaign mentioned three factors: Low turnout, high taxes and tea party sentiment. Mangano had campaigned, with apparent success, against Suozzi's home-energy tax worth an estimated average of $87 per year per household.

The forces of low turnout and high taxes returned Monday to Nassau's polling sites. Self-styled tea-partiers shunned the deal; predictably, county Democrats seemed to look forward to political comeuppance.

This time, the mix of circumstances came back to bite Mangano.

Monday's ballot proposal, once approved, would have added an estimated $58 in taxes to the average homeowner's tax bill -- or, perhaps, $13.80 if the county's expected take of Coliseum revenues went to tax reduction.

Proponents of a "yes" vote, of course, worked hard to make clear the distinction between the unpopular utility tax that Mangano got to eliminate on his first day -- and this bond proposal, which they promoted as an investment in a vital facility that would spur employment and commerce.

Among those who came out, that message -- emphasized at every turn -- appeared to fall short. Mangano and company, of course, will now underscore the position that they put the choice to the people to decide.

He expressed optimism last night, saying "we will find a way" to make a Coliseum plan work.

Mangano has struggled since taking office. Citing shaky fiscal assumptions, a state monitoring board took control of his budget, as he and GOP allies tried to win the public-relations war by blasting the board as too political. If Mangano had won this arena vote, it would have given him leverage in the county Legislature and with the board, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority. Then he'd have had a clearer shot at succeeding where Suozzi failed, to keep the Islanders hockey team in Nassau and also develop the hub.

For full-time politicos, it will be time to review how the "yes" and "no" campaigns were conducted and exactly who was moved to show up and vote -- not to mention speculation of what might have happened if the same proposal had appeared on the primary or general-election ballot.

The rival parties may find all that information useful as they look to November, with the county's 19 legislative seats open.

As of Monday, the "Vote Yes 2011" election committee registered by Charles Wang's Islanders organization reported spending $239,407 over the past two weeks. As of July 20, the Association for a Better Long Island had reported committing $35,000 against the proposal, which is expected to be updated later on.

There will be concrete consequences. The future of the real estate in Uniondale -- and of the Islanders in Nassau -- has become as murky as ever.