Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano defended his administration's economic policies during his State of the County address Wednesday night and also announced plans for a scaled-down Nassau Coliseum that would be a "Rockefeller Center-type destination."
Speaking for an hour to a standing room-only audience at the Office of Emergency Management in Bethpage, Mangano said he "right-sized" Nassau's workforce, cut patronage jobs and eliminated government waste.
In defending his record of "reinventing" Nassau, Mangano, a Republican who is up for re-election, early in the speech took a series of shots at the "former administration" of predecessor Thomas Suozzi, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Mangano in November.
Mangano did not mention Suozzi by name but said, "we must never return to our past practices," said. "Clearly, Nassau's past spending practices and lack of reforms resulted in enormous debt and tax increases."
Suozzi responded in a statement: "Under Ed Mangano, Nassau County has been mired in reckless mismanagement and constant fiscal crisis. Furthermore, Mangano has presented no vision for our future and continues to rely on borrowing to the detriment of future generations."
Suozzi, of Glen Cove, has said a 19.4 percent increase in the county portion of the property tax in 2002 was necessary to restore financial stability, while revenue from a 3.9 percent increase in 2009 was necessary to help the county through the recession.
Roslyn businessman Adam Haber, who is also running for the Democratic nomination, added: "Mangano says that taxes have not gone up but Nassau's middle-class families know they are being squeezed by paying more fees, while government services are getting cut."
Mangano also took shots at legislative Democrats, arguing they should end their "petty politics" and approve a plan to borrow to pay for property tax refunds. The line received the loudest applause of the night but Democrats, as they did for much of the speech, sat on their hands.
Early in the speech, Mangano's Teleprompter went down, resulting in an awkward minute of silence. Mangano used a script for a few minutes before the Teleprompter was restored.
Mangano's speech followed back-to-back legal defeats for the county.
Last month, a federal judge threw out a wage freeze for county employees imposed by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state board that controls the county's finances. Two weeks later, a state appeals court rejected Nassau's attempt to shift the cost of property tax refunds to school districts and towns. Nassau is appealing both rulings.
In his speech, Mangano blamed unnamed "powerful lobbyists" for the appeals court defeat, which could cost the county $80 million a year.
Mangano, who took office in 2010, said rental payments from a downsized, privately funded Coliseum would go toward paying down $1.2 billion in county tax assessment debt.
Mangano has put out a Request for Proposals for firms to redevelop and operate a 8,000- to 12,000-seat arena. The Coliseum, home to the New York Islanders, has more than 16,000 seats.
He said Wednesday night that a “downsized, privately funded arena” would free up “excess parking acreage” to allow development of a “Rockefeller Center-type destination” — a reference to Radio City Music Hall.
Mangano’s plan calls for the arena to host family shows, concerts and minor league sports.He also called for labor unions to reach a settlement with Nassau that would lift the wage freeze and create long-term savings for the county. Mangano said he plans to meet with NIFA soon to “discuss cost saving proposals. Settlement of this dispute will provide closure, incentive and a clear path for a more affordable Nassau County.”
Police Benevolent Association president James Carver said “if NIFA and Nassau havean alternative, rather than going to appeal, we are willing to sit down and discuss.”
NIFA chairman Ronald Stack did not respond to a request for comment.
In the Democratic response to the speech, Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said Nassau "has hit rock bottom" under Mangano's leadership. "Week after week, this administration lurches from one crisis to the next," Abrahams said.