The central question in the race between Thomas Suozzi and...

The central question in the race between Thomas Suozzi and Edward Mangano is what to do about the county's tenuous finances. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Members of the Garden City Chamber of Commerce raised many of the right questions during Wednesday's first joint appearance by Nassau's candidates for county executive.

Among them:

When is Nassau getting rid of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, its 13-year-old control board?

When is the county's broken assessment system going to be fixed?

And what do incumbent Edward Mangano and his challenger, former County Executive Thomas Suozzi, intend to do about Nassau's staggering debt?

Both candidates provided some answers Wednesday, relying mostly on their stock positions. But their first joint appearance, at the Garden City Hotel, lacked any significant spark because the two weren't in the room together for long.

Suozzi had the floor to himself until Mangano -- who was dealing with a horrific workplace shooting in East Garden City -- walked in.

Both were supposed to give statements, and then, one after the other, answer a series of questions from a moderator.

It's possible that Mangano and Suozzi would have wandered off script to respond to each other.

Still, there were a few notable moments.

Suozzi and Mangano, separately and in answer to a question, said they wanted to be rid of the control board.

That was refreshing, because Nassau over 13 years and three county executives -- including both the candidates -- and leadership by Democrats and Republicans has seemed unable and unwilling to do what's necessary to free Nassau of NIFA.

What would it take?

The county needs a budget and four-year plan balanced under generally accepted accounting principles that essentially call for recurring expenses and revenue to match.

For New York City after its fiscal crisis in the 1970s, that's been common practice under every mayor since then.

In Nassau, the goal appeared to be to get through one more year, one more election.

That's why residents are still seeking answers -- actually, they're seeking solutions -- on budgeting, assessment and debt after more than a decade.

Which makes leadership the overriding issue in this campaign.

Wednesday, Suozzi took a few swipes at Mangano's record. And Mangano -- no surprise -- took a few swipes of his own.

It was predictable in a race where both have held a job Mangano wants to keep and Suozzi wants to win back.

Both did get to hear each other's answer to one question: What would you have done differently as county executive?

Suozzi, a Democrat, said he would have worked harder at cultivating relationships with town supervisors, mayors and other elected officials so they could support each other in remaking Nassau.

Mangano, a Republican, said he would have better communicated his policies to residents and news reporters.

What neither said was that they've both -- Suozzi in two terms, and Mangano in one -- made mistakes.

Rather than just honing in on each other's mistakes during the campaign, the candidates would do better to articulate how they intend to get Nassau moving after more than a decade of inertia.

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