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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

The more Suozzi-Haber debates, the better

Left, Adam Haber, Democratic candidate for Nassau County

Left, Adam Haber, Democratic candidate for Nassau County executive, greets commuters in Great Neck. Right, candidate Thomas Suozzi. (April 25, 2013) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

A debate.

That's great.

But there should be more, more, more between former Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi and Adam Haber, his Democratic primary rival.

In fact, as election season switches into high gear with summer's end, the more debates for offices in Nassau and Suffolk counties the better.

Suozzi, after months of strategically ignoring businessman and former Roslyn school board member Haber, has agreed to a lone debate.

The two, for the first time, will go toe-to-toe Tuesday before cameras at a half-hour debate sponsored by News 12 Long Island.

Haber wants more, which is not an unusual position for lesser-known challengers in any race to take. Which is why he's publicly peppered Suozzi with the label "Debate Ducker."

The same thing is happening in other races, too.

In Nassau's comptroller's race, for example, incumbent George Maragos, a Republican, is facing opposition in the general election from Howard Weitzman, a Democrat.

The race for comptroller usually doesn't generate a lot of heat. But this time around, things are potentially more interesting because Weitzman -- like Suozzi -- is seeking to unseat the candidate who beat him last time around.

Maragos beat Weitzman, just as County Executive Edward Mangano unseated Suozzi, who would get a rematch should he defeat Haber.

A series of debates between the veteran Suozzi and newcomer Haber could be helpful in teasing out differences between the candidates and how they would approach the top elected post in Nassau, which is approaching its third decade in financial distress.

As for comptroller, a debate between two candidates -- both of whom served in the post -- could be interesting, too.

Let's be clear, however.

Debates usually accomplish little in clarifying positions on issues. In Nassau, for example, no candidate in their right mind would run on a platform of raising taxes.

The best outcome for both sides usually is a debate that, to the rest of us, is boring. A candidate's job during a debate is to stay on message, which means repeating what residents already have heard during political ads.

Still, even the best-rehearsed candidates can't help but show something of themselves -- of how they react, think, handle stress -- during a good debate.

Hofstra University twice hosted presidential debates. Last year, the debate was billed as a do-or-die for President Barack Obama, who'd rattled supporters with his listless performance at the previous one.

One of the most interesting local debates came last year during the contentious congressional race between Randy Altschuler and Rep. Tim Bishop.

The questions were culled from community concerns. Candidates were given what seemed an eternity in debates -- more than two minutes -- to answer. And supporters for both candidates seemed to more easily put partisan exhibitions aside.

Or maybe that was because the debate was in a setting that encourages good behavior -- Riverhead Baptist Church.

Suozzi and Haber appear to be heading toward the first debate of the season.

The more -- and, yes, most of them should be in libraries, churches, meeting halls -- between candidates in Nassau and Suffolk, the merrier.

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