George Maragos, Howard Weitzman in close race for Nassau comptroller

(L-R) Nassau County Comptroller candidate Howard Weitzman on (L-R) Nassau County Comptroller candidate Howard Weitzman on the campaign trail. Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos greets voters at the Valley Stream LIRR station in Valley Stream. (Oct. 24, 2013) Photo Credit: Uli Seit; Ed Betz

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Nassau Comptroller George Maragos and his predecessor, Howard Weitzman, are locked in a tight race for the job of overseeing the county's finances.

Weitzman, a Democrat, has gone on the offensive, alleging that Maragos, a Republican, was insufficiently independent of GOP County Executive Edward Mangano. Maragos has defended his record and independence, saying that, if re-elected, he will continue the policies he has instituted since taking office in 2010.

"We're going to be pointing out in very compelling ways through our economic studies how to make our economy more competitive, the manner in which we can entice companies to stay or relocate in Nassau County," Maragos said.

Weitzman said he wants to tackle the county's troubled property tax assessment system.

"The biggest challenge right now is fixing the assessment system and dealing with tax refunds, because if those numbers can't be significantly reduced, then reducing the county's debt is made that much more difficult," Weitzman said. "We need to . . . reduce the county's dependence on borrowing."

The race is a rematch of 2009, when Maragos defeated Weitzman, then a two-term incumbent. Maragos brought to the job a business background, having served as a vice president at Citicorp and Chase Manhattan Bank and as president of his own financial technology firm.

Shortly after taking office, Maragos made the first of two unsuccessful attempts to win the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.

Maragos said he ran for higher office because he thought his expertise would be valuable at the national level.

"A lot of our issues that were affecting our local economy in Nassau County originated in Washington and I made a commitment that I would always try to do the best for our taxpayers," Maragos said.

Maragos said that if he is re-elected he will not run for higher office.

"I'm not running for another office and I'm not going to run for another term," if he is re-elected for another four years.

Weitzman, a certified public accountant and a former partner at the accounting firm KPMG, has been doing financial consulting for businesses and individuals for the past four years but says he has stayed close to politics, writing op-ed pieces about the county's finances.

"Like most other Nassau County residents, I was just outraged at the deterioration of Nassau County's finances," he said.

A Newsday/News 12/Siena College poll earlier this month showed the two locked in a dead heat with Maragos edging Weitzman 39 percent to 38, within the poll's 3.7-percentage-point margin of error. In the county executive race, Mangano had 52 percent to Democrat Thomas Suozzi's 35 percent.

Democrats have 361,570 registered voters in Nassau compared with 324,210 Republicans, according to the Nassau County Board of Elections. More than 206,000 voters are not registered with any party, while 47,294 who are registered with third parties.

Larry Levy, executive dean at the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, noted that Weitzman has managed, based on public polling, to carve out a separate identity for himself from the other Democratic candidates in a way that is unusual in local elections. "He is positioned in case Suozzi is unable to close the gap, to win his own race without coattails," Levy said.

Levy said Maragos seems to be perceived as part of the Republican team. "His fortunes are much more directly tied to those of the county executive, Ed Mangano, at the top of the ticket," Levy said.

Weitzman and Maragos said the county executive won't affect how they do their jobs.

"I'd run it the way I ran it before -- I was always independent," Weitzman said.

"I don't think it makes a difference," Maragos said. "After the election is over, we're all professionals and will work together for the benefit of our residents."

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