Democrat Thomas Suozzi and Republican County Executive Edward Mangano, the candidates for Nassau County executive, kicked off the general election campaign Thursday with dueling news conferences in which they blamed each other for accumulating millions of dollars in new debt.
Suozzi, a former two-term county executive, accused Mangano of being a "compulsive borrower" who had run the debt to $3.5 billion.
"We are going to cut up his credit card," Suozzi said at a news conference in East Meadow as he stood next to an oversized credit card bearing Mangano's name. "We are going to take away his authority to borrow money."
At a hastily called news conference later in Mineola, Mangano said Suozzi had increased debt by more than $400 million during his time in office from 2002-09, and called him a "compulsive liar." Mangano, who narrowly defeated Suozzi in 2009, said he cut the county's overall debt by $2.4 million during his term.
"This is a desperate political campaign," Mangano said. "I am happy to debate the facts in a mature way -- not this theatrical performance that he is trying to trick taxpayers with."
Mangano pointed to the 2009 year-end financial statement by County Comptroller George Maragos, a Republican who is running for re-election, that found that Nassau had $3.45 billion in outstanding long-term debt when Suozzi left office. That was $400 million higher than when Suozzi took office, according to the documents.
Maragos released a similar audit earlier this year stating that Nassau had $3.448 billion in total debt at the end of 2012 -- three years into Mangano's term. Both reports were reviewed by county auditors, Deloitte LLP.
Suozzi campaign officials said Mangano's assessment of the debt under Suozzi includes elements such as borrowing by the Nassau County Tobacco Settlement Corp. that are not related to general long-term county debt.
Suozzi said taxpayers should rely on official statements by the county treasurer that are used for bond offerings. Those statements, which Suozzi provided to reporters, showed Nassau had $2.958 billion in debt when he left office -- a decrease of $255 million from 2001. Debt has reached $3.524 billion under Mangano, according to Suozzi's documentation.
Maurice Chalmers, budget director for the independent Office of Legislative Budget Review, declined to comment, noting that he had not reviewed the documentation supporting Mangano's and Suozzi's claims.
Borrowing requires 13 votes in the county legislature, which under its current makeup includes three Democrats.
But, Suozzi said the legislature "bears minimal responsibility" for any new borrowing because it's the county executive who lays out Nassau's long-term financial vision.
Also Thursday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, after an appearance in Montauk, declined to weigh in on the race. "We had [primary day] on Tuesday and we'll see how that shakes out, and what the candidates say and we'll make the decisions from there," Cuomo said.
With Paul LaRocco