Edward Mangano's plan: Stay the course

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano speaks about the progress that the county has made since he took office in 2009, and why voters should re-elect him in November.  Videojournalist: Chuck Fadely (Oct. 11, 2013)

John and Rachel Mangano, the parents of Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, were ardent Democrats in the 1960s who named their three sons after the Kennedy brothers Edward, John and Robert.

But after the family moved from Richmond Hill, Queens, to Bethpage in 1967, Mangano's parents followed the lead of countless other city transplants by turning Republican.

"My parents were big supporters of the Kennedys," Mangano recalled in an interview. "They started out as Queens Democrats and became suburban Republicans, which commonly happened back then . . . My parents moved here to enjoy the suburban quality of life that we continue to enjoy in Nassau County."


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Now Edward Mangano, a lifelong Republican, is in a rematch with former Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi, a Democrat.

Mangano is campaigning on the same principles he said attracted his parents to the GOP -- lower taxes and smaller government. Mangano's key line of attack against Suozzi, who is seeking a comeback after serving as county executive from 2002 to 2009, is that the Democrat raised property taxes twice, and instituted a new tax on home energy fuels.

"I never had it in mind that government and politics would be my career path," said Mangano, 51, of Bethpage. "I was brought up with a strong work ethic. I just wanted to be civically involved, study and work."

Mangano has had an 18-year career in county politics. He started out as a Bethpage civic activist speaking out about chemical contamination at the old Northrop Grumman site, and served for 13 years on the county Legislature, where he was known for scrutinizing county contracts.

He beat Suozzi by 386 votes in 2009.

"I'm probably the only one besides him who thought he would win," said Nassau Republican chairman Joseph Mondello. "The people that surrounded us, they were not enthusiastic about a possible victory."

Since then, Mangano has become a well-known public figure -- joining in numerous televised news briefings during superstorm Sandy and posing for photographs with rap artist Jay Z during the debate over plans to overhaul the Nassau Coliseum. His name is emblazoned in bold blue and orange letters on county park signs.

 

Building on 'successes'

Mangano said he is running again to build on the "successes" of his first term in office. He touts the $229 million deal to revamp the Coliseum without the use of public funds, his repeal of a $38 million home energy tax -- and the fact that he has not raised property taxes in the past four years.

"In 2009, in the State of the County address before I took office, the message was 'Things are as bad as they can be,' " Mangano said of Suozzi's last address, which came in the midst of the recession. "We have since taken a new direction. I'm asking residents to allow me to continue to enact those policies."

But the county's finances are still "not out of the woods," said E.J. McMahon, president and founder of the Empire Center for Public Policy, an Albany fiscal policy think tank.

"They still haven't made enough of the fundamental changes they need to make," McMahon said of the Mangano administration. "Has Mangano done nothing? No, he's done things -- he's reduced the workforce. Has the county done things that needed to be done? Yes. Have they done enough? No . . . they need to fundamentally restructure county operations."

Suozzi in the campaign has said the amount of property tax refunds owed to residents has spiked under Mangano, and that administration property assessment policies have caused many residents'' school taxes to rise far beyond the levels that their local districts had approved.

Mangano, was born the middle son in Richmond Hill, and the family moved to Fairview Lane in Bethpage when he was 5 years old. His father was an ironworker, his mother a homemaker. They still live in the house, which is less than a mile away from the home Mangano shares with his wife Linda and their sons Salvatore, 22, and Alex, 20.

Mangano played on the football team his freshman year at Bethpage High School, and his former high school principal remembered him as studious.

"He was very serious, very studious, but not a nerd -- he was very well-rounded," said George McElroy, of Levittown, who retired in 1985.

Mangano worked nights as a janitor at a Bethpage printing firm to put himself through college. After working from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. on weeknights, he would sleep a couple of hours before heading to his 8 a.m. class at Hofstra University. He also was active in student government as a student representative.

After graduating from Hofstra in 1984 and Hofstra School of Law in 1987, Mangano went into private legal practice. In 1991, he married Linda Antonelli. They had known each other since high school, but did not start dating until later when Linda accepted a job as a receptionist at the printing firm. She is publisher of the weekly newspaper the Bethpage Tribune.

Linda Mangano recalled that Mangano once spoke to one of her high school classes after he was at Hofstra, and told the class, "You need to find something that motivates you to work hard."

 

A motivated individual

"I thought: 'Who is this guy? He's only a year older than me and he's giving us advice," Linda Mangano said. "But that's Ed -- he's always been an individual who is very motivated."

In 1998, Mangano became general counsel at Briarcliffe College in Bethpage, and later was dean of continuing education at the private, for-profit school, which has campuses in Patchogue and Queens. In 2001, he joined the law firm Rivkin Radler LLC in Uniondale, specializing in intellectual property law.

Mangano said his start in civic life began in the late 1980s and early 1990s when contamination was found on the former Grumman Aerospace headquarters on 600 acres on the border of Hicksville and Bethpage. Underground water wells and soil were found to be contaminated by hazardous chemicals originating from a plume on the site, which housed the defense contractor beginning in the 1930s.

He started attending community meetings speaking out about water-quality issues, building a name for himself among neighbors.

In 1995, Mangano ran for the new 19-member Nassau County Legislature, created after a U.S. District Court Judge ruled that Nassau's six-member board of supervisors violated the one-person one-vote principle of the U.S. Constitution.

"I was involved in the Bethpage Rotary Club, the Bethpage Chamber of Commerce . . . but, at that point, I thought I could make a bigger difference by being an elected leader," Mangano said.

As a freshman county lawmaker from Bethpage, Mangano became known for applying his legal training to closely analyze county contracts and trying to keep the spotlight not only on the Grumman pollution, but also on the thousands of jobs lost when the defense contractor downsized in 1995.

"When the defense industry downsized and there were 20,000 jobs lost in Bethpage that meant a lot of friends and neighbors moved away," Mangano said. "There were a lot of empty buildings, and businesses that became vacant. It was a circumstance that affected my community. Bethpage was very much a Grumman community -- you couldn't go two or three families without knowing someone who worked there."

 

Pushed for conversion

Mangano pushed to convert some Grumman warehouses into film production studios, a venture that continues to this day. In 2009, Angelina Jolie filmed the spy movie "Salt" at the studio and pop singer Justin Timberlake filmed a commercial for Sony there in 2010.

Mangano said he decided in 2009 to run for county executive after hearing Suozzi's State of the County speech, in which he highlighted Nassau's fiscal problems in the wake of the recession. Another motivation was Suozzi's failed bid for governor in 2006, Mangano said.

"Basically, I saw that he had no real interest in the county," Mangano said. "I knew I had spent a good part of my legislative term attracting jobs to the Northrop Grumman site . . . I felt I had the formula to be successful."

Suozzi said that while he didn't campaign as aggressively as he should have in 2009, when polls showed him with a wide lead, he has worked hard this election to prove to voters that he takes the race seriously.

"I am working 24 hours a day, seven days a week -- I'm doing everything I can to let voters know how serious I am," he said Thursday.

As accomplishments, Mangano points to economic development initiatives from his current term.

He often cites the $229 million Coliseum redevelopment deal with Brooklyn developer Bruce Ratner as a project that will spur development on the 77-acre Hub site in Central Nassau. Ratner plans to renovate the 40-year-old arena. In partnership with Syosset developer Edward Blumenfeld, he also will construct an adjacent entertainment district with shops and restaurants.

The deal followed decades of failed attempts to renovate the arena, including the $3.74 billion Lighthouse plan in 2009 pushed by New York Islanders Owner Charles Wang and backed by Suozzi -- but rejected by Hempstead Town as too dense.

Suozzi has criticized Ratner's Coliseum plan as not "ambitious enough," arguing that it should better connect other areas of the Hub with bike paths and pedestrian trails.

Burt Brodsky, CEO of Port Washington-based Sandata Technologies and co-chairman of Mangano's business advisory council, said the plan might have been defeated if it were larger.

"If you make it too big nothing will get done, which is what happened with the Lighthouse," said Brodsky, who also was a business adviser to the Suozzi administration.

Mangano said he recognizes the need for more "transit-oriented" development to attract young professionals to Long Island. He said he would like to expand a county program offering tax incentives for developers to convert empty office and warehouse space into apartments. The program has resulted in four projects in Mineola and Farmingdale expected to produce at least 850 apartment units, he said.

 

Sharp criticism

But while he says his economic development initiatives are gaining traction, he has come under sharp criticism for his handling of the county budget.

In 2011, 15 months into Mangano's term, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state monitoring board, voted to take control of the county's finances for the first time since its creation in 2000 as an advisory panel. The board, which has seven members, said Mangano's budget was unbalanced, in part due to the loss of $38 million in revenues from the energy tax Mangano fought to repeal.

On Oct. 9, NIFA released a review of Mangano's proposed 2014 budget and four-year financial plan, and said the county was far from getting out from under its control.

NIFA board member George Marlin, a Conservative Party member who serves as chairman and chief operating officer of The Philadelphia Trust Company, said the Mangano administration has used NIFA as a scapegoat in news media interviews when pressed about the county's finances.

"The leadership of the county was elected to lead and to govern and not to absolve itself of responsibility by blaming NIFA, whose controls it brought down on itself . . . ," Marlin said at the Oct. 9 board meeting.

Mangano calls NIFA "a critical body," and says he looks forward to working with board chairman Jon Kaiman, a former North Hempstead Town supervisor, and two other members recently appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

"We have people at NIFA now who actually want to work together rather than just serve as critics," Mangano said of the new board members

Mangano also points to a May 2009 NIFA report in which it also was critical of Suozzi's 2009 budget. The report said that while Suozzi's budget met the board's general approval it was "problematic because [the administration] . . . assumed optimistic rates of economic recovery and growth despite the crises affecting the nation."

Mangano said recovery from superstorm Sandy remains a priority, and that he is focused on securing nearly $700 million in federal and state funding to repair the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant, which was heavily damaged during the storm. Cuomo announced last week that the plant would receive funds from a pool of $815 million in state funding for Sandy-related infrastructure projects.

Mangano's profile rose significantly after the Oct. 29, 2012 storm. He traveled the county surveying damage and handing out buckets of cleaning supplies to residents who were impacted. In the following weeks, he attended ribbon cuttings as storefronts shuttered by storm damage reopened.

"To see children's toys and their belongings just floating in the street, to see belongings and personal items, wedding pictures, just scattered from one neighbor's house to the other was very, very emotional," Mangano said.

Legislative Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow), who has worked with Mangano since her election to the Legislature in 1997, said the storm showcased Mangano's "calm" demeanor.

"People see him as someone who is simpatico with how they are feeling," Gonsalves said. "He does feel what they are feeling -- he's not distant from the people that he's serving."

Democrats including Suozzi have criticized Mangano for not creating a database to track the status of displaced homeowners and identify infrastructure projects needed to prepare for another massive storm.

"If there's one priority for government it has to be that all Sandy victims get back in their homes, get back in their businesses and we mitigate against damage in the future," said Legis. Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick). "The problem is we're now here a year after the storm and there is no plan, there's never been a plan."

Mangano says a storm-mitigation plan is in the works, and that municipalities must provide lists of storm-hardening projects to the federal government by January.

Mangano also has had to defend his administration's handling of Sandy-related cleanup contracts.

Democratic State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued subpoenas to the Nassau County Republican Party and Mangano's campaign this summer related to contributions by Looks Great Services, a Huntington-based contractor that won almost $70 million in county contracts for Sandy cleanup work.

Mangano's commissioner of public works Shila Shah-Gouvenidras came under fire from Democratic lawmakers for not disclosing that her sister headed a company that received a $250,000 Sandy-related cleanup contract.

The Republican-dominated county ethics board said Shah-Gouvenidras did not violate the county's code of ethics, but should recuse herself from future dealings with CSM Engineering, the Uniondale-based firm run by her sister Carolyn Shah Moehringer.

Mangano dismissed the Sandy inquiries as "politically motivated distractions" and "mudslinging" by Democrats.

"I try not to allow silly distractions and lies to distract me from my purpose," Mangano said. "You have to have thick skin in this business. I shrug it off. My commitment is to the people of Nassau County, they granted me this opportunity to work for the county I love."

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