Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
His re-election campaign may be two years away, but Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano's budget woes and last week's defeat of the Nassau Coliseum referendum already have Democrats seeing improved chances for taking back the county executive's office.
While conceding Mangano has plenty of time to recover, Jay Jacobs, New York State and Nassau Democratic chairman, said of the referendum vote: "Any time an executive faces such a staggering defeat, it will encourage potential opponents." Though he's had no discussions with possible candidates since voters rejected $400 million in borrowing for a new Coliseum on Aug. 1, Jacobs acknowledges having had earlier talks with several he declined to name.
Rice, a two-term incumbent, has developed a national profile for her tough stance against drunken driving. She has nearly $500,000 in her campaign coffers, having raised $6.5 million last year in the Democratic primary for state attorney general, in which she came in second. The problem for Rice, however, is she could not seek the county executive's seat without forgoing another run for district attorney.
Kaiman, in office since 2004, has a strong North Shore political base and $275,000 banked. Kaiman, up for re-election in 2013, also would have to roll the dice to challenge Mangano.
Also mentioned as a dark horse is Legis. Wayne H. Wink Jr. (D-Roslyn), the party's leading spokesman in the fight against the Coliseum plan. "Wink could be the sleeper in the whole deal. He's got all the tools in the bag," said Desmond Ryan, a lobbyist for Association for a Better Long Island, a commercial developers group that opposed the Coliseum deal.
Ryan said the referendum "energized Democrats," demoralized two years ago when they lost their legislative majority and voters ousted incumbent executive Thomas Suozzi. "It showed they could energize their base and get their vote out on a hot summer's day," he said.
But Brian Nevin, Mangano's spokesman, said Democrats have gained no momentum. "The vote doesn't hide the fact that Nassau Democrats increased property taxes 42 percent and placed a home energy tax on all our residents," he said, referring to Suozzi's eight-year tenure. "Ed's been the only county executive to put money back in people's pocket." Democrats, he added, have incurred the wrath of unions that usually back the party because the defeat will cost jobs and "they have alienated every Islander fan on Long Island."
John Durso, president of the 250,000 member Long Island Federation of Labor, said, "We're disappointed they did not stand up for jobs." But he added unions also have issues with Republicans because of recent layoffs of county workers.
Jacobs said that while Mangano has time to recover, he won't survive if he repeatedly makes missteps. "He seems to be a nice guy who is out of his depth, and taxpayers keep paying for his mistakes," said Jacobs, referring to the referendum's $2 million cost to Nassau.
"If he continues his bumbling, Mangano will be summoned to Post Avenue [Nassau GOP headquarters in Westbury] and told by [GOP chairman Joseph] Mondello he is not running again." The late GOP County Executive Ralph Caso was dumped by his party in 1978 and Thomas Gulotta took himself out of the race in 2001 before the party could deny him renomination.William Biamonte, the Democratic county elections commissioner, said Republicans could face a referendum-vote backlash in the fall, threatening their one-seat legislative majority. "They rode into office running against the energy tax and now that angry tax tiger is taking a chunk out of their hide," Biamonte said of the GOP. "And they don't know what do to about it."
However, Nassau Legislature Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) expects no backlash. "They may . . . see brass bands but it doesn't make it so," he said.
What will register with the public, said Schmitt, is what happens with the 2012 county budget. "We are not raising taxes," he said, adding there will be no proposal to use public money for the Coliseum. "We saw the vote and heard them clearly."