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Candidate Haber slams Suozzi's entry in Nassau race

Adam Haber, a Democrat candidate for Nassau County

Adam Haber, a Democrat candidate for Nassau County executive, in East Hills. (Jan. 11, 2013) Credit: Steve Pfost

Former Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi's entry into the race for his old job exposed a sharp divide among county Democrats Wednesday, even as the party leader appealed for unity.

Candidate Adam Haber attacked Suozzi for hiking taxes and brokering backroom political deals, and said he was in the race to stay.

And North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman was continuing to explore the possibility of a run.

Suozzi said Tuesday that he would attempt a political comeback, and on Wednesday, Nassau Democratic Party chairman Jay Jacobs began trying to clear the Democratic field for him.

"It is my objective to unite the party and our elected officials behind the strongest campaign," Jacobs said at a news conference in Mineola announcing Suozzi's candidacy.

But Haber, a Roslyn school board member who has lent his campaign $2 million, released a statement slamming Suozzi's record of "tax hikes, budget deficits" and "backroom deals." Haber said in an interview that he plans to run a primary against Suozzi.

"It's not right or fair to clear the field," Haber said. "I was the first one to announce my candidacy and, hopefully, I will be the last one standing."

Political leaders and experts took notice of the prospect of a potentially divisive and costly Democratic primary on Sept. 10.

Nassau Republican chairman Joseph Mondello said GOP County Executive Edward Mangano would benefit.

"This is just the first round of a 15-round fight," Mondello said. "The way . . . [Suozzi and Haber] are going at each other will certainly not hurt the Republican party or our candidate. It all benefits Eddie Mangano."

Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, called the Democrats' battle "political soap opera of the highest order. Whether it's a tragedy or a comedy remains to be seen."

Suozzi, 50, of Glen Cove, served two terms as county executive before losing to Mangano in 2009 by 386 votes. Haber, 47, a restaurateur and retired commodities trader, has not run for countywide office and portrays himself as an outsider.

Kaiman, 50, of Great Neck, has formed a campaign committee to explore a run. Asked Wednesday about whether he planned a race, Kaiman said, "This is an evolving process and we will see what happens over the next few days."

Jacobs said he planned to speak with Haber and Kaiman over the next few weeks to discuss their campaigns but that the party would back Suozzi.

On Wednesday, the Suozzi and Haber campaigns traded shots.

Haber criticized Suozzi for failing to appear at Jacobs' announcement, contending it demonstrated a "lack of respect" for Nassau voters. Suozzi, who has discussed his campaign only in emails, plans to talk about his candidacy at a news conference Thursday, Jacobs said.

Haber also argued that Suozzi gave $1.1 million in raises to political allies while getting the county legislature to approve a 60 percent raise for himself.

Jacobs said Haber is "misinformed and was getting his facts from a GOP website." Jacobs said the raises went to deserving managers and kept Nassau competitive.

"We can't all be millionaires," Jacobs said, referring to Haber's personal wealth. Haber in the early 1990s worked on Wall Street, trading commodities such as oil and sugar. He later went into commercial real estate and now owns Aldea, a Portuguese restaurant in Manhattan, and Lula Trattoria in Mineola.Democrats need to raise about $4.5 million for a general election campaign and another $1.5 million for a primary, Jacobs said.

Mondello said Jacobs' figures were too high and out of line with recent Nassau campaigns.

Suozzi has nearly $1.1 million in his war chest, while Haber has $2.19 million on hand. Kaiman has $356,000 in his campaign accounts and Mangano has $2.3 million on hand.

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