Incumbent Republican Edward Mangano routed Democrat Thomas Suozzi Tuesday night in a heated rematch for Nassau County executive.
With 99 percent of election districts reporting, Mangano led Suozzi 59 percent to 41 percent, according to the Nassau County Board of Elections.
"What a great night," Mangano said at a victory rally Tuesday night. "I feel so blessed to continue in this job. . . . We overcame the challenges. We overcame the deceptions."
Suozzi said Mangano had a simpler and clearer message to voters: He didn't raise property taxes while Suozzi did during his 2002-09 tenure. But Suozzi said his rival still had no vision for Nassau.
"This is a tough loss for Democrats. This is a tough loss for me, personally," Suozzi said. "But it doesn't mean we weren't right. We may have run a bad campaign. We may have hit the wrong message. . . . Their message was better and simpler to understand."
Polls showed Mangano ahead throughout the race, but few expected a blowout. Mangano had bested Suozzi by just 386 votes in 2009.
"Surprising is one word. Shocking is probably a better word," said Michael Dawidziak, a political consultant who typically works with Republicans but who wasn't involved in this race.
The Mangano-Suozzi contest was the most significant battle on Long Island this election season and one of the highest-profile races in the state this year, after New York City mayor.
For Mangano, the contest provided a chance not only to hold on to power, but to show that his 2009 upset over Suozzi wasn't just a political blip. For Suozzi, the race represented an opportunity to revive his political career.
Suozzi was a rising Democratic star after winning a second term in 2005. But he lost soundly to then-State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer in a Democratic gubernatorial primary in 2006, and then surprisingly lost to Mangano in 2009.
Analysts noted Mangano had high favorability ratings, helped in part by his work after superstorm Sandy, and said Suozzi didn't clearly convey why voters should boot the incumbent.
"Ed Mangano capitalized on his personal popularity with a very but simple but powerful message that resonated with voters: Thank you for not raising taxes and for being there for us after Sandy," said Lawrence Levy, executive dean for the Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University. "Tom Suozzi was never able to come up with a compelling answer to get them to say: No, thank you."
One analyst said Democrats might have fared better with another candidate.
"Tom Suozzi never made the case for change in Mineola," said Arthur "Jerry" Kremer, a former Democratic state assemblyman from Long Beach. "It's hard to oust an incumbent who no one was mad at. Maybe a newer face would have been more competitive."
Mangano and Suozzi traded allegations of fiscal mismanagement throughout the campaign.
Mangano attacked Suozzi for imposing an energy tax on homeowners and raising county property taxes twice during his eight years in office. Mangano said proudly that he never raised county property taxes.
"I lived up to my pledges I made four years ago," Mangano said. He added that "rebuilding after Sandy is job one" in his second term.
Suozzi said Mangano has relied on heavy borrowing that risks Nassau's financial future, and that his management of Nassau's property assessment system contributed to a 19 percent rise in school taxes over the last two years.
Jay Jacobs, chairman of the Nassau County Democrats, said Tuesday night that the party didn't react quickly enough to "mischaracterizations" Republicans made of Suozzi's eight years in office.
As for what's next, Suozzi said: "I think I'll take a little bit of a vacation, a little bit of a nap and get back to work in the private sector."
With Scott Eidler, Ellen Yan and Robert Brodsky