Tom Suozzi addressing the crowd of a few hundred as...

Tom Suozzi addressing the crowd of a few hundred as Nassau Democrats are hosting a "Stand with Suozzi against the Tea Party" rally at Hempstead Democratic headquarters in Hempstead. (Oct. 14, 2013) Credit: Uli Seit

Nassau Democrats have ramped up efforts to portray Republican County Executive Edward Mangano and Comptroller George Maragos as "tea party extremists," hoping the message resonates with voters concerned by the partial federal government shutdown.

Democratic County Executive candidate Thomas Suozzi held a news conference Monday in Hempstead criticizing Mangano for siding with the tea party platform and not publicly supporting state and federal gun control measures.

Suozzi, a former two-term county executive who lost to Mangano in 2009 by 386 votes amid a rise in tea party support, then headlined a "Stand Against the tea party" rally held hours later at Hempstead Democratic headquarters.

"My opponent in this race is sending a very strong message, but it's being done like a dog whistle where only certain people can hear it," Suozzi said at the news conference. "He is a strong tea party conservative, and that agenda, among other things, is that they're against any gun control legislation." Suozzi said he supported state and federal legislative efforts to strengthen background checks on gun buyers, and said that as county executive, he launched the county's gun buyback program.

Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin responded by saying 3,000 illegal guns have been seized by Nassau police since Mangano took office.

"It sounds like Tom Suozzi is running for governor again, as this is a state issue," Nevin said, referring to Suozzi's failed 2006 statewide bid.

Suozzi said that while gun control laws fell outside of the county's jurisdiction, the county executive post offered "one of the most important bully pulpits" to speak on the issue.

A recent Newsday/News 12/Siena poll showed Mangano leading Suozzi, 52 percent to 35 percent. Suozzi said he believed the same tea party support that helped Mangano in 2009 could hurt him as the partial federal government shutdown continues, prompted by congressional tea party members blocking general spending measures because of their opposition to President Barack Obama's health care law.

"I think people are fed up with tea party politics," Suozzi said.

Democratic comptroller candidate Howard Weitzman sent out a news release Monday attacking Maragos for aligning himself with tea party values during his failed U.S. Senate bid last year. The release referred to statements Maragos made on social issues on the campaign trail, including stating he is against abortions, except to preserve the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest.

"Mr. Maragos is a tea party extremist who ignored his responsibilities as comptroller to promote an extremist agenda out of step with Nassau County," Weitzman said.

Reached by phone, Maragos declined to comment.

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