Third terms are often political third rails. Think Mario Cuomo. George Pataki. Ed Koch.

And, of course, Thomas Gulotta, the Republican Nassau County executive who went from being one of the most popular local officials to the most reviled by the end of his third full term in 2001 - primarily because the county nearly went bankrupt under his watch.

Now Gulotta's successor, Democrat Thomas Suozzi, is looking for a third term even though he pledged during his ill-fated 2006 run for governor that he would not seek re-election as county executive.

"I'm more excited now than ever before," Suozzi said. "All the stuff I've been talking about for years - property taxes, consolidation, state dysfunction, fix Albany - is becoming a reality that other people are talking about."

At least one other politician avoided the third-term curse, he added. "Not that I'm comparing myself to him, but it was during Franklin Roosevelt's third term that he beat the Germans. I don't know if he was tired but he did a pretty good job," Suozzi said. Actually, the Germans surrendered in 1945 after FDR's death in his fourth term.

A recent Newsday/News 12 Long Island/Siena Research Institute poll put Suozzi comfortably ahead of Republican challenger Ed Mangano at 53-31, with 14 percent undecided. However, a recent Republican-paid poll showed Suozzi only slightly ahead of Mangano, a high-level party source said.

Pat Halpin, a Democrat and former Suffolk County executive, said Suozzi is not the typical weary third-timer. "He has an incredible amount of restless energy. He is constantly looking for new mountains to scale and new challenges to take on."

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Halpin cited Suozzi's efforts to develop Nassau's hub, including renovation of the Coliseum, and redevelopment of the former Grumman property in Bethpage, including 101 acres the county sold last Monday for $28.5 million to build a high-tech industrial complex.

"Those are all big initiatives," Halpin said. "Frankly, as I think about the public officials that are around Long Island, there aren't too many who would be willing to take those on and put their prestige and political capital on the line. But Suozzi is willing to do that."

Eyes on bigger prize?

Critics, however, complain that Suozzi is more flash than substance, a politician whose eye is always on a higher office. After his failed gubernatorial campaign, pundits predict he will try for a spot on next year's statewide ticket or may run a primary against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

Suozzi dismissed the rumors. "I'm focused exclusively on being county executive," he said.

Critics also dispute Suozzi's main claim to fame - that he restored fiscal stability to Nassau while holding down property taxes after a 19.4 percent hike his first year in office.

Although Suozzi says he saved the county from bankruptcy, Nassau's financial meltdown actually occurred in 1999 - two years before he was first elected. Democratic county lawmakers began re-balancing the books with the help of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state fiscal monitoring board created in 2000. Over five years, NIFA gave $105 million in direct state aid to the county and provided nearly $400 million in budgetary relief by restructuring the county's debt.

Mangano complains that Suozzi spends more than he takes in, and then papers over the difference with one-shot revenue and borrowing.

NIFA's latest report notes the difference between expenses and revenue, called a structural deficit, is larger today at $170 million than it was in 2001, at $144 million.

"Regardless of what I say and regardless of what my opponents say," Suozzi responded, "the independent financial rating agencies have upgraded the bond rating of Nassau County 13 times since I've been in office. That's more than any municipality in the nation."

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He acknowledged that Nassau's A2 credit rating is still two notches below Suffolk's Aa3 rating. "If we didn't start at such a huge deficit our rating would be even higher," he said.

Points to record

Suozzi said he is proud of improving services to the needy by putting all county agencies that work with them under one roof, preserving open space and restoring the county courthouse.

His touted achievements don't impress Andreaus 13, a Nassau rapper and activist who contends Suozzi has done little for the minority community. "Tom Suozzi is full of Tom Suozzi," said the rapper, who hosts "African-American News" on public-service cable TV.

The rapper contends Suozzi has hired only a few black Democrats while giving lesser services to minority communities by eliminating programs such as the gang suppression unit in the First District.

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Suozzi replied, "I have a solid record of making the county government look like the people it serves and of bringing investment in public works and private sector investment to minority communities."

STATS: Thomas Suozzi, Democrat

Age: 47
Home: Glen Cove
Party: Democrat

Marital status: Married with three children

Education: Chaminade High School, Boston College, Fordham Law School

Occupation: CPA and lawyer

Elected positions: Glen Cove mayor, 1994-2001; Nassau County executive, 2002-present

Campaign finance: Since Jan. 15, when he had $2,014,051.85 in the bank, he has raised $1,815,126.20 and spent $1,418,824.60; leaving a balance of $2,410,353.45 balance as of Friday.

Endorsements: Long Island Federation of Labor, Nassau-Suffolk Building Trades Council, Long Island Environmental Voters Forum, Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters