Former Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi, seeking to recapture his old job, on Thursday laid out proposals to repair Nassau's finances, build more affordable homes and get out from under control of a state oversight board.
Speaking publicly for the first time since disclosing his election bid Tuesday, Suozzi, a Democrat, defended his record on taxes, borrowing and labor negotiations during his two terms in office, from 2002-09. He said his initiatives put Nassau on firm fiscal footing after years of mismanagement.
Suozzi also argued that Republican County Executive Edward Mangano, who defeated him in 2009, has taken Nassau backward. He blamed Mangano for a rise in county debt, two downgrades by Wall Street bond rating agencies and a takeover of county finances by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the state control board.
"He blew it," Suozzi said in an interview. "He didn't fix the problems. There has been crisis after crisis after crisis."
Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said under Suozzi Nassau "earned the distinction of being the second-highest taxed county in the nation. If that's how Tom defines progress then we're all doomed under another term."
Suozzi's announcement followed a period in which he said repeatedly that he would not run for county executive.
He said Thursday that if elected, he would bring an end to the NIFA control period in less than four years. He pledged to work with towns and villages to build affordable homes for young people, to create a long-term plan for the Nassau Hub and to overhaul Nassau's commercial property tax assessment system.
Speaking at the Uniondale law office of Harris Beach, where he is of counsel, Suozzi said he wanted to return to the public sector because of his concern that young people are abandoning Nassau for more affordable places. "We are the oldest suburb in America but we've reached the shelf life under the original paradigm," Suozzi said. "It's time to be creative and have a vision for the future."
Adam Haber, a well-financed restaurateur and retired commodities trader who plans to run a Democratic primary against Suozzi, criticized Suozzi's "failed policies," including tax increases. In his interview earlier, Suozzi that he wouldn't engage in sniping with Haber.
Suozzi, 50, of Glen Cove, defended his record as county executive. He said a 19.4 percent increase in the county portion of the property tax in 2002 was necessary to restore financial stability. Revenues from a 3.9 percent increase in 2009 were necessary to help the county through the recession, he said.
Suozzi said an eight-year labor contract in 2007 that awarded average annual pay increases of 3 percent to Nassau police was the best he could do -- since county legislators including Mangano, who then represented Bethpage, had removed his best leverage by refusing to consider police layoffs.
"I wish the contracts were much more favorable to the county administration and to the taxpayers," Suozzi said."I got the best possible deal for the taxpayers."Suozzi said he is not interested in running for office higher than county executive. "If my legacy or the work of my life is helping the people of Nassau County and helping to change the direction of Long Island, that's a pretty big accomplishment," Suozzi said. "It's enough for me."
With James T. Madore