In the first candidates forum of the Nassau County executive race, Republican County Executive Edward Mangano and Democratic predecessor Thomas Suozzi Wednesday outlined their plans to spur economic development and fix the county's finances.
Speaking to 155 members of the Garden City Chamber of Commerce, Suozzi and Mangano talked about downtown revitalization projects, their plans to tackle the county debt and how they would remove the county's finances from the control of the Nassau Interim Finance Agency -- a state-appointed financial review board.
"We need to do placemaking in Nassau County to give us the future that we need, the future that we deserve and the future that will keep our children here," Suozzi told the group. He was the first candidate to address the group, after Mangano was delayed by responding to a nearby deadly shooting hours earlier at an East Garden City lighting store.
Suozzi touted his "New Suburbia Trailblazer" plan that would create a grant competition for villages and towns to compete for $10 million in county and state funds to finance revitalization projects in downtown areas near train stations.
Mangano touted similar revitalization work underway, saying the county has created a database of vacant office buildings and has set tax incentives for developers to convert those structures into commercial and residential space. Mangano said four such projects have been approved in Great Neck, Farmingdale, Long Beach and Mineola, which will bring some 1,000 new apartments to Nassau in the coming years.
"We looked outside the box," Mangano said. "We know our youngsters are looking for apartments to stay here."
Both candidates were asked how they planned to reduce the county's nearly $3 billion debt and how they would steer the county away from having its finances controlled by NIFA since 2011.
Suozzi, who served as county executive from 2002 to 2009, before losing to Mangano by 386 votes, said that while there is no "one size fits all" solution to reducing the debt, he would rely on a combination of bonding and using money from the county's general operating fund. Suozzi said he applied the same method while in office to reduce the backlog of property tax refunds.
"A plan needs to be put in place, it needs to be negotiated with NIFA, it needs to be negotiated with the legislature, and you probably have to negotiate with the tax cert borrower," Suozzi said on the issue of bonding.
Suozzi said "the way to get rid of NIFA" would be to "credibly lay out a plan that they believe will take place."
Mangano defended his four-year financial plan that passed the Republican-majority legislature, saying it would end financial control in four years, but noted it required "cooperation from two-thirds of the legislature." Democrats have repeatedly balked at providing Mangano the three necessary votes to borrow, often citing concerns about county spending.
"There has been some obstructionism there, obviously some political posturing, but I expect once we get past this November, that plan will move forward," Mangano said.