Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Democratic challenger Thomas Suozzi on Tuesday squared off in a sometimes heated debate that focused on the county's economic future, recovery from superstorm Sandy and the candidates' records on taxes and job growth.
The hourlong debate, hosted by the Long Island Association, a regional business group, was the second of the campaign and came a week before voters head to the polls in the hotly contested rematch. Suozzi, who served as county executive from 2002 to 2009, lost to Mangano by 386 votes in 2009.
Mangano repeatedly attacked Suozzi for twice raising property taxes, saying his policies led to less job growth and lower sales tax revenue.
"Throughout my term as county executive, I focused on rebuilding Nassau without asking taxpayers to foot the bill," Mangano told a crowd of 600 at Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury.
Suozzi called Mangano a "tea party conservative" who had mismanaged the property assessment system, causing school taxes to rise. Suozzi touted plans to fix the county's finances and attract new businesses to the region.
"We've got to be in the future business again in Nassau County," Suozzi said. "We've got to think about how to make this place better than it's been."
The candidates largely plied themes they've used throughout the campaign in appearances, TV ads and mailings, including the planned revamp of the Nassau Coliseum, redeveloping downtown communities and helping Nassau recover from Sandy.
Mangano said he successfully fought for state and federal aid to protect the county's infrastructure, including the badly damaged sewage treatment system.
Suozzi chided Mangano, who took office in 2010, for failing to create a countywide database to help track the progress of storm preparation projects.
Each promised not to raise property taxes. But they presented contrasting plans to fix the county's finances, which were taken over in 2011 by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state control board.
Suozzi said he would end Mangano's freeze on property assessment rolls at 2010 levels and broaden the county's tax base with new apartments for young families near Long Island Rail Road stations. "We've got to stop playing small ball, stop playing defense and holding onto yesterday," Suozzi said.
Mangano said four projects already are underway to convert vacant space near railroad stations into apartments.
"My opponent has been visioning for the past 12 to 14 years in government," said Mangano of Suozzi, who served previously on the old county board of supervisors and as mayor of Glen Cove. "I have actually been getting the job done."
Mangano noted his work to developer Bruce Ratner's $229 million project to remodel the Coliseum and build an outdoor entertainment district. He said the project "will be better than the Barclays" Center in Brooklyn.
Suozzi said Mangano's Coliseum plan was "not ambitious enough," and that he had "squandered the opportunity" to tie the arena to other attractions in the Hub area. He questioned why Mangano had turned to Ratner, who helped lure the NHL New York Islanders to play at the Barclays Center beginning in 2015. Suozzi speculated that Ratner was selected after hiring former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato as a lobbyist.
D'Amato, who attended the debate, said Suozzi misrepresented his role in the process. D'Amato said he helped arrange meetings between the developer and members of the county Legislature only after Nassau awarded Mangano the contract.
Some who attended the debate said the candidates likely swayed few voters.
"Neither guy delivered a knockout blow," said LIA president and chief executive Kevin Law, who moderated the debate.
Former Suffolk County Executive Pat Halpin, a Democrat, said the race is no longer about persuading undecided voters. "It's all about getting supporters out to vote," he said.