Former Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick is planning to throw his hat into the ring for Nassau County executive, claiming taxpayers are not represented by the current crop of Democratic and Republican candidates.

Hardwick, 56, a Democrat who was defeated by Robert Kennedy in March's Freeport mayoral election, said he has collected more than the 1,500 signatures needed to run on the new third party, "We Count," line in the November election.

Hardwick must submit his petitions to the Nassau Board of Elections between Aug. 13 and 20.

Hardwick, who served as the first black mayor of the state's second-largest village, said he's the only candidate in the race who understands the financial difficulties of Nassau residents, particularly those hit hard by superstorm Sandy.

"Hardworking middle-class people are suffering," Hardwick said in an interview. "And, you need to be someone from the middle class to get it and give these people a voice."

Several Democratic political sources charge that Hardwick was recruited into the race at the behest of Oheka Castle owner Gary Melius, a close supporter of Republican County Executive Edward Mangano. Melius and Hardwick deny the claims.

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Melius, who described Hardwick as a close friend for the past five years, said he would help his campaign raise funds. "Andrew is terrific politician who did a great job in Freeport," Melius said.

Melius' catering manager at Oheka Castle in Huntington is Rick Bellando, who doubles as executive director of the Nassau Independence Party, which has endorsed Mangano.

Democrats said Hardwick could potentially siphon minority voters from the Democratic nominee, helping Mangano win a second term.

Former county executive Thomas Suozzi and businessman Adam Haber will compete in the Sept. 10 Democratic primary, with the winner challenging Mangano in November. Mangano defeated Suozzi by 386 votes in 2009.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that [Hardwick] is trying to help Mangano and draw African-American votes away from Suozzi," said Legis. Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick), who represents parts of Freeport and who had clashed in the past with Hardwick.

Phillipp Negron, 25, of Freeport, had submitted petitions to run on the Green Party line, but withdrew Friday after he failed to show a sufficient number of valid signatures.

Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said he was unaware of Hardwick's candidacy. "It doesn't matter who jumps into the race as Ed Mangano is the only candidate who froze property taxes his entire term and created thousands of new private-sector jobs," Nevin said.

Haber said: "With the number of people getting in the race, it is clear that people are frustrated with the lack of choice between career politicians Suozzi and Mangano."

Suozzi, who declined to comment, appointed Hardwick as deputy commissioner of parks in 2002. But Democratic sources said the two men often clashed. When Hardwick ran for a second term as Freeport mayor, Suozzi and Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs supported Kennedy.

Hardwick said that he did not enter the race to play spoiler to Suozzi and that he had planned to run for county executive if he lost the mayor's race.

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"Why can't I just be a guy that wants to run," he said. "I have a good work ethic and a good understanding of government. I am going to win."

With Patrick Whittle