Candidates for Nassau County Executive, Tom Suozzi and Edward Mangano,...

Candidates for Nassau County Executive, Tom Suozzi and Edward Mangano, speak in Old Westbury during a debate sponsored by the Nassau County VIllage Officials Association. (Oct. 8, 2013) Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Democratic challenger Thomas Suozzi squared off Tuesday in the first debate of the campaign, with the candidates laying out starkly different visions to improve the county's finances, fix the assessment system and grow businesses.

The debate at The Wheatley School in Old Westbury, hosted by the Nassau County Village Officials Association, was punctuated by fiery exchanges between the candidates and frequent catcalls by audience members.

Mangano, who narrowly defeated Suozzi in 2009, said his record of freezing property taxes, cutting government spending and redeveloping the Nassau Coliseum and its surrounding 77 acres had put the county on strong fiscal footing.

"The policies we have put forward are working for the benefit of this generation and future generations," Mangano said.

But Suozzi, who served two terms as county executive, said the county has been in "constant crisis" since Mangano took office. He claimed Mangano had broken the tax-assessment system, relied heavily on borrowing and allowed Nassau to have its finances taken over by a state control board.

"This administration is in serious financial trouble and leading us down a road of ruin," Suozzi said.

The candidates, running in the Nov. 5 general election, spent much of the debate attacking each other's records.

In one pointed exchange, Suozzi accused Mangano of increasing the deficit. "That's an outright lie," Mangano responded, arguing it was Suozzi who increased the deficit.

Later, Suozzi raised a "rumor" that Mangano would add gambling to the Coliseum development. Mangano responded with furious laughter but did not answer the claim on stage. After the debate, Mangano said that gambling of any kind would not be permitted at the Hub.

Mangano highlighted his record on economic development, claiming millions in new revenue from movie production and the privatization of the county bus system. He noted that sales taxes are up in Nassau and unemployment is down.

Mangano said Suozzi's policies, including a 23 percent property-tax increase, had brought the county to the "brink of bankruptcy."

Suozzi, for his part, said young people were fleeing the county -- a trend he promised to reverse through new residential development around Long Island Rail Road stations.

"We have completely different visions for what needs to be done," Suozzi said. "But ultimately the voters will decide."

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