County Executive Mangano signed legislation to allow a public referendum...

County Executive Mangano signed legislation to allow a public referendum on whether to borrow up to $400 million to build a new hockey arena at the site of the Nassau Coliseum and a minor league baseball field nearby. (May 31, 2011) Credit: Howard Schnapp

View the moment through an electoral lens, and the political reward for County Executive Edward Mangano becomes clear.

Consider what's at stake in having Nassau County residents vote "yes" on Aug. 1 to authorize borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars for a new Coliseum.

It offers Mangano, approaching the middle of his term, the fiscal-crisis version of a hat trick.

He'd be able to say that he is in sync with the will of the people. Goal!

He'd have fueled hopes for job creation. Goal!

He'd have laid a claim, alongside Islanders owner Charles Wang, toward saving his hometown's pro-hockey franchise. Goal!

Beyond the project's merits, a "yes" vote could be especially useful to an executive who endured the embarrassment of seeing a state oversight board take over his county's finances.

Mangano would be crazy to go around saying all this -- and doesn't. It is supposed to be about the development. You the buyer would be reasonably insulted if a salesman told you he's looking forward to collecting a commission.

"This is not about politics," the former GOP legislator from Bethpage declared after signing the bill authorizing a referendum, as approved 11-7 by the legislature minutes earlier. He'd been asked about his earlier battles with the Nassau Interim Finance Authority.

"This," he insisted, "is about whether the people of Nassau County want to invest in a new arena and keep the Islanders here, have an anchor tenant here in Nassau County, be able to continue economic development, create a sports entertainment destination here in Nassau County."

But wouldn't it also be a validation for Mangano?

"It's really not about me," he said. "I believe I'm doing the right thing here for the people of Nassau County, both for this generation and future generations."

Democrats who voted against holding the bond referendum on Aug. 1 cited what they deemed insufficient detail, plus the extra expense of $1.6 million to $2.2 million to carry out the vote, arguing it would better held during Election Day in November, or Primary Day in September.

But they were taking no broad shots at the project itself -- at least in principle.

Lawmakers are clearly aware, as they face election in November, that the campaign for a "yes" vote will have resources behind it, including labor and business support.

No equivalent movement -- grassroots, artificial-turf roots or otherwise -- has appeared so far in the name of getting out the "no" vote. The August date is strategic. If the referendum adorned the fall ballot, it might become a riskier plebiscite on Mangano or parties or the individual legislators. That is, a general election might produce more casual, secondary "nos" from voters who might not like what they've heard about the project at that point.

Mangano puts the separation of the Coliseum vote in terms of "keeping it out of the silly season."

"It's an important vote," he says -- one that shouldn't be melded into "nonsense" from other campaigns. People are smart enough to decide if and how they wish to turn out, he said.

Perhaps turnout will prove low because of the date. But once the counting is done, only the final results tend to be remembered. If, say, a mere 10 of 10,000 eligible voters showed up for an election, producing a final tally of 8 votes to 2, the winners would call it a "landslide" win of 80 percent.

For the moment, the ayes, and Mangano, have a clear edge.