Thomas Suozzi and Adam Haber, the Democratic candidates for Nassau County executive, faced off in their only televised debate last night with each arguing he has the experience to turn around the county's finances.
In a 30-minute debate aired live on News 12 Long Island -- the final debate before the Sept. 10 primary -- Suozzi and Haber addressed issues including property taxes, fixing the county's sewage treatment plants and renovating the Nassau Coliseum and its surrounding property.
With the exception of two brief exchanges, Suozzi, 51, a former two-term county executive, directed all of his comments at his successor, Republican Edward Mangano, who he claims has mismanaged the county's finances and increased its debt to record levels.
Haber, 48, a retired Wall Street trader and Roslyn school board member, called Suozzi a "career politician" who raised taxes and failed to fix the county's property tax assessment system.
"We deserve better," Haber said. "We can do better. I will do better."
Suozzi cited his tenure as county executive from 2002-2009, noting that Nassau received 13 bond rating upgrades and produced eight balanced budgets.
"Every candidate in this race agrees that we are in trouble," Suozzi said. "But I am the only candidate with a proven track record of turning around the county finances."
Suozzi said a county employee wage freeze, imposed in 2011 by the county's financial control board, will only be lifted if Nassau stabilizes its finances.
Haber said labor unions likely will prevail in a court challenge to the freeze, and if that occurs the county will owe employees $200 million in back wages.
Suozzi and Haber agreed that plans to redevelop the Nassau Hub were lacking. Haber said the winning bid by the developer, Forest City Ratner Cos., doesn't provide the county with enough revenue and fails to include a convention center and affordable housing.
Suozzi said the plan was not "ambitious enough" because it failed to link nearby attractions. "This whole area needs to be tied together as a destination point," Suozzi said.
Throughout the debate, Haber took aim at Suozzi's record in office, citing two tax increases, his failed run for governor in 2006 and continued shortcomings of the tax assessment system. He said Suozzi's bond upgrades have not "put food on people's table."
In his most direct attack on his opponent to date, Suozzi said Haber was "desperate to get elected but needs to start telling the truth."
Asked to comment on the debate, Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said, "Haber is clearly more polished as Tom Suozzi spent the entire debate dodging his double-digit tax hikes and record-level debt."
The winner of the primary will face Mangano in November.
With Sid Cassese