Republican Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and his Democratic challenger Thomas Suozzi battled over taxes, gambling, police management and social issues such as the legal age to purchase cigarettes during a debate that aired Sunday morning.
The one-hour, prerecorded debate aired on WCBS New York. It was the first televised debate of the campaign and third time the rivals squared off.
Mangano promised to amend the lease to redevelop the Nassau Coliseum to restrict gambling. Suozzi proposed prohibiting smoking in county parks and acknowledged that his 2009 tax on utilities "was a bad idea and it didn't work out well."
Mangano, who defeated Suozzi by 386 votes in 2009, portrayed himself as a small government conservative who "declared war on property taxes" by refusing to raise county levies for the past four years.
"I am a tax cutter, a tax fighter," Mangano said. "I do what I say and live through it."
Suozzi charged that Mangano is responsible for a 19-percent increase in school taxes over the past two years. "People's taxes are going up dramatically because of the mess he made of the assessment system," Suozzi said.
Moderator Kristine Johnson asked Mangano about investigations into the awarding of tree-cutting contracts following superstorm Sandy. Many of those contractors have contributed to Mangano. He said the contracts were properly awarded without favoritism. "Clearly everything has gone by the book," Mangano said.
Suozzi, who acknowledged that his administration also awarded contracts to donors, declined to attack Mangano for the investigations. "Contracts are given to campaign donors all the time," Suozzi said.
"And, sometimes donors give you money based upon on the fact that they want to keep a good relationship with the administration."
He harshly criticized Mangano for consolidating Nassau police precincts, arguing that the plan had caused overtime to skyrocket to the $61 million projected for this year and had reduced morale among the rank and file. Mangano said his plan reduced duplicative administrative expenses and helped him trim the size of the county workforce.
The candidates were offered an opportunity to ask each other a question.
Suozzi noted that Mangano had criticized him for accepting a $65,000 pay increase in 2008 but said his opponent had accepted the same increased wages. Suozzi asked Mangano whether he would return the money. Mangano said he would continue to accept his $174,000 salary but that he had turned down $52,000 in automatic pay raises.
Mangano asked Suozzi why he had "sold out taxpayers" in his second term, hiring employees from outside the county during his failed 2006 run for governor. Suozzi said his hires turned around the finances of the county.
Mangano and Suozzi were also asked to compliment one another. Mangano called Suozzi a "charming person" and said they have "fine conversations" in private. Suozzi said Mangano showed "empathy and sympathy" to residents after Sandy.
The debate also covered new ground not discussed in the previous two county executive debates.
Questioned about rescuing the troubled Hempstead school district, which was mocked over the summer for sending home a reading list filled with spelling errors, Mangano said the county had no jurisdiction to intervene and reallocate funds.
Suozzi said that while the county does not run the school districts, it should step in by providing additional social service resources for students facing educational and family problems. "We need to step up to the plate and help these communities," said Suozzi, who also attacked Mangano for cuts to social service programs.
And each candidate acknowledged past mistakes. Suozzi said he was focused too much on government, rather than politics in 2009, causing him to lose to Mangano. Mangano offered a hint of regret for his 2011 referendum asking taxpayers to spend $400 million to build a new Nassau Coliseum. The plan was rejected.
Both men traveled around the county Sunday making campaign stops and encouraging voter turnout.
After starting the day with campaign workers, Mangano made a handful of stops, including at the Lawrence Country Club to celebrate the community's recovery from superstorm Sandy and at the unveiling of a Cedar Creek Park statue of Matthew Scarpati, a 19-year-old cyclist who died after being hit by a drunken driver.
Suozzi spent most of the daylight hours in African American and Latino churches, encouraging minorities to vote.
He told worshippers at the Refuge Church of Christ in Freeport that they would decide the outcome of the race and the future of the county. He appealed to a sense of being treated unfairly by the system.
"Right now our communities of color, like everybody else, pay high property taxes, but you're not getting the same services as everyone else," Suozzi said, pointing to roads and schools. "We need to make sure that all of our communities are represented in Nassau County."
--With David Schwartz and Ted Phillips