The November rematch between Republican County Executive Edward Mangano and his Democratic predecessor, Thomas Suozzi, is shaping up as one of the costliest and most competitive elections in the history of Nassau County, political analysts said Wednesday.
A day after Suozzi, a former two-term county executive, beat his Democratic primary opponent Adam Haber, attention turned to his general election showdown with Mangano.
Political experts said they expected the race to be tight, as the candidates vie for undecided voters. They also will be trying to energize their base of supporters in a year when neither the president nor the governor is on the ballot, experts said.
"This is an extraordinarily exciting race," said Michael Dawidziak, a Bohemia political consultant who works primarily with Republicans. "This is Ali-Frazier II. It's essentially a race between two incumbents."
In 2009, Mangano, then a county legislator from Bethpage, defeated Suozzi by 386 votes. Suozzi said he did not work hard enough in the race -- he had $1.1 million in campaign funds left over -- but said he was hurt by nationwide anger toward President Barack Obama over the nation's financial problems and by the sudden emergence of the tea party.
This year's county executive election probably will focus on local issues such as taxes, observers said.
"The number-one issue in Nassau County is still property taxes," said Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. "Mangano has a record to defend on taxes but Suozzi must convince voters that their lives were better four years ago."
Stanley B. Klein, an LIU Post political science professor and a Suffolk Republican committeeman, said that, with Democrats holding a nearly 40,000-person advantage in voter registration, Suozzi will have to get out the vote -- a challenge following a presidential election year.
"Turnout will be very important," Klein said. "If all the Democrats turn out, Suozzi wins. . . . But if you look at the election cycle, the year the president runs you have the biggest turnout. The year after, you have the smallest turnout."
In the 2009 race, 27 percent of registered voters cast ballots for county executive, compared with 34 percent in 2005 and 38 percent in 2001.
Neither candidate held campaign events Wednesday, citing the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
"There will be plenty of time to discuss this election over the next two months," Suozzi said.
Mangano Wednesday criticized Suozzi for twice raising property taxes and increasing spending while in office. "We are going to remind voters that we kept our promises of cutting taxes and spending," Mangano said in an interview.
The landscape is different from in the 2009 race, which occurred against the backdrop of a deep economic crisis, observers said.
"In 2009, the Democratic brand nationally and in Albany was in trouble while voters were feeling the effects of the recession," said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies. "That's not the case today."
The economy has improved, but Nassau continues to struggle with challenges including millions of dollars in debt for property tax settlements. The increasing burden from successful property tax protests was a major reason the state created an oversight board in 2000, which took control of Nassau's finances in 2011.
Mangano said he turned around Nassau's economy, frozetaxes and stimulated job growth. But, Suozzi said Mangano has relied excessively on borrowing and new fees to close the budget deficit.
"Suozzi has to persuade people that they made a mistake four years ago in firing him and hiring Ed Mangano," Levy said. "And Mangano needs to convince people that he's lived up to his promises and there is no reason to fire him."
Dawidziak predicted that Mangano and Suozzi will spend a combined $5 million over the next two months. "Nobody will take anything for granted," Dawidziak said. "There will be huge money on either side."
According to the most recent state campaign finance filings, released July 31, Mangano has $2.4 million on hand; Suozzi, who had to compete against Haber's self-financed campaign, has $1.63 million available. There are other factors which could be the difference in a tight election, Levy said.
Former Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick plans to wage a third-party candidacy that analysts believe could siphon some minority votes from Suozzi. Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs said Tuesday that he plans to challenge the legitimacy of some of Hardwick's petitions in court.
It remained unclear if Haber will run in the general election on the Liberal line. Haber plans to meet with Suozzi Thursday to discuss "how to best move Nassau forward," said Haber spokesman Galen Alexander.
With Laura Figueroa
Mangano vs. Suozzi
Edward P. Mangano
Lives in: Bethpage
Education: Hofstra University and Hofstra Law School
Experience: Worked at a Bethpage printing firm while in high school and college. Was in private law practice until 1998 when he became general counsel at Briarcliffe College, later becoming dean of continuing education. Joined Rivkin Radler LLC in Uniondale in 2001, Served as a Nassau County legislator from 1996 to 2009. Elected Nassau County executive in 2009.
Thomas R. Suozzi
Lives in: Glen Cove
Education: Boston College and Fordham Law School
Experience: Worked as an attorney at Shearman & Sterling, an auditor at Arthur Andersen & Co. and as a clerk to Judge Thomas C. Platt of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Served eight years as Glen Cove mayor before being elected Nassau County executive in 2001, serving through 2009. Currently of counsel at Harris Beach, a Uniondale law firm.