After eight years as Nassau's executive, and nearly four to reflect after he lost the office by 386 votes in 2009, Thomas Suozzi easily is the best Democratic candidate to lead the county. We believe he's best suited to jump-start the conversation about how to grow the local economy, reduce debt and add some polish to our quality of life.
Suozzi is the candidate to engage County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, in that debate. The general election should be a rematch, incumbent vs. former incumbent.
Suozzi, 50, served four terms as the mayor of Glen Cove, then was elected county executive in 2001. An intense manager, he assembled a talented team that put the county's troubled finances on a solid footing after the debt disaster and deep bond downgrades of the Thomas Gulotta years. He didn't just restore services, he re-imagined them.
Suozzi is accomplished and energetic. His firm grasp of the details of governance, the numbers and rules and strategies, is truly impressive.
Suozzi was bold with plans, like the Lighthouse Project for the Nassau Coliseum, which would have kept the Islanders here, and ideas to bring smart growth near transportation centers. But he also became distracted by a run for governor. The collapse of Wall Street and the real estate market bedeviled him. And he could come off as brash, as someone who didn't need to forge consensus on his proposals or listen to critics because he was so inarguably right.
Now he seems chastened by his 2009 loss, and by the things he wishes he had accomplished in office.
Intelligent and affable, Adam Haber, Suozzi's opponent in the Sept. 10 Democratic primary, is on the Roslyn school board.
Haber, 48, is an East Hills businessman who found success first in finance, real estate and venture capital pursuits, and more recently as the owner of two restaurants. Without any support from the county Democratic Party, which is backing Suozzi, Haber is running a vigorous, self-funded campaign that promotes him as a political outsider, beholden to no one and ready to change how things are done. But he tarnished his early efforts with a misguided television ad against Suozzi that played heavily and toxically on Italian-American stereotypes.
Haber's centerpiece proposal to raise revenue for Nassau, a multisport countywide "extravaganza" to attract international tourists and mounds of dollars from broadcasting rights, seems far-fetched. His actual knowledge of how government programs, budgets and staffing work is uninformed. He's not seasoned enough in the ways of multi-departmental governments, huge staffs, collective bargaining and the regrettably inevitable blood-sport politics to take on a challenge as large and complex as running Nassau County, which has 7,300 employees.
A primary win for Suozzi sets up a battle with Mangano over very different visions, and very different futures.
Suozzi has always promoted the idea of Nassau as a growing, changing and increasingly urban and multicultural region, and the county government as a tool to help create it. Mangano has put energy into shrinking government, maintaining Long Island's traditional composition, avoiding property tax increases and eliminating the energy tax (although he did hike fees and try to increase the sales tax). The two men also have different visions for developing the Hub, the county's byzantine assessment system and its debt-ridden books.
These are the debates Nassau County needs to put before the voters. Suozzi has the experience and standing necessary to carry the Democratic side of the fight.