Ed Mangano was a sophomore at Bethpage High School in the late 1970s and looking for a job. The school had scores of positions posted on index cards on a bulletin board, but by the time the seniors and juniors took their shots and it was time for the sophomores, only two jobs were left - as janitors.
Mangano, then 16, took one of them, at a local printing company. It was "a horrific job," he recalled Tuesday, with the bathroom he had to clean after school every day awash in black ink.
After graduating from high school, he became night supervisor at the company, Photo News. He worked the 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. shift, went home to sleep for a few hours, then headed to Hofstra University for classes that started at 8:05 a.m.
"I never sleep," Mangano said. "I still don't sleep. I sleep four hours a night and that's it."
Mangano kept working his way up at the company. Eventually, he became its owner.
Mangano's up-by-the-bootstraps career at Photo News reflects a life story of overcoming adversity - and the odds - that has now culminated with his becoming the most powerful politician in one of America's most affluent suburbs.
Before his stunning upset victory over incumbent Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi, Mangano, 47, was a largely unknown figure, a nondescript Nassau County legislator who served his home area of Bethpage for 14 years. But while the low-key Republican politician exhibits little of the flash of some of his colleagues, friends and even political opponents paint a portrait of an extremely likeable, bright, down-to-earth figure who they expect will serve as a take-command "manager" of the sprawling county government.
"I think he is as honest and a person of integrity that you're going to find in public life," said Patrick Foye, former Empire State Development Corp. chairman and a colleague of Mangano's at the powerful law firm of Rivkin Radler in Uniondale.
Still absorbing the news
Tuesday, Mangano was still absorbing the news that he had defeated Suozzi in a squeaker that involved weeks of post-election vote counting. "I feel great," he said, sitting in his small legislative office in Mineola. "The American dream lives in Nassau County."
As if to underscore his blue-collar roots, instead of a suit coat he wore a blue pullover jacket with a zipper over his shirt and tie.
Mangano's father, John Mangano, is a Korean War veteran who labored as an union ironworker for years and taught his three sons the importance of hard work, no matter how unglamorous the task.
"My work ethic was very much a big issue in the Mangano household," the new county executive said.
He held his first job at 11, delivering giveaway weeklies to 211 houses in Bethpage. Later he landed what he called "the crown jewel" - a Newsday delivery route - which he kept until he broke his arm playing football and couldn't ride his bicycle.
By the time he was in junior high school, his father took him during summers to his new job at Kennedy Airport, cleaning the terminals. Ed shined chrome bannisters and vacuumed floors, working from around 9 p.m. to midnight.
Then came the printing plant job.
Mangano worked his way through Hofstra, and then Hofstra Law School. After graduating with a law degree in 1987 and going into private practice, in his free time he focused on a growing controversy in his hometown. Contamination was found on the 600-acre Grumman site and residents were concerned about their drinking water. Mangano started attending community meetings, and by the time the Nassau County Legislature came into existence in 1995, it seemed a natural move for him to run to represent the Bethpage area.
A ghost town
In his first year in office, 1995, Grumman downsized, devastating the area. Twenty thousand jobs were lost, seemingly overnight, while 110 storefronts turned vacant. "Bethpage and Hicksville became a ghost town," Mangano said.
His greatest accomplishment in the legislature, he said, has been redeveloping the Grumman site. When he started, "all the pundits were saying this property won't develop for decades and decades," he said.
Bruce Blakeman, a Republican who was the presiding officer of the Nassau legislature in the late 1990s, said Mangano was among two or three key people in the body he would rely on to help resolve difficult problems. "He was very smart, even-tempered, thoughtful and hardworking," Blakeman said.
Even Roger Corbin, a former Democratic legislator who served with Mangano for years but who is currently under indictment on federal income tax evasion charges, said it is difficult to find critics of Mangano. "I think Ed Mangano is not a bad person at all," Corbin said.
Still, during the county executive campaign, Nassau County Democratic Party chairman Jay Jacobs released documents he said showed Mangano still had links to the printing company - now called New Media Printing and owned by his brother, John - and that it had hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal and state tax liens.
Ed Mangano said he left the company in 1998 and that his name may have been left inadvertently on papers. John Mangano said he has paid most of the back taxes.
After he left the company, Ed Mangano became general counsel at Briarcliffe College, and later dean of continuing education. He joined Rivkin Radler in 2001, specializing in intellectual property.
He and others attribute his upset victory over Suozzi in part to a solid grassroots campaign that relied on Mangano's deep roots in the community and his everyman image. Badly outspent by Suozzi, he capitalized on voter anger over property taxes, among other issues, and organized Latinos and volunteer firefighters to help him win, he said.
"He went back to basics, to grassroots politics," Blakeman said. "A lot of people rolled their eyes at him and said it's about money. He said money is important, but grassroots, community and coalition are more important. He proved everybody wrong and he was right."
Mangano, who also ran on the Tax Revolt Party line, said the critics' doubts only fed his appetite to succeed.
"I've never let anyone tell me I can't do something," he said. "When people tell me [that] it's like something in me says, 'Now I gotta win.' "