Thomas Suozzi debuted as Nassau County executive in 2002 as if in a big, bold action thriller, rescuing a dying county. His performance won raves.
Suozzi's sequel to that extraordinary opening act started with an ambitious plot and the promise of "new suburbia." But the script remains unfinished, the drama unresolved. An unexpected villain came into the picture: a merciless recession. And it abruptly altered the expected story line for the county's next installment.
Now, upended and worried Nassau voters must decide whether they want to see Suozzi III. The mood of the electorate is raw, and incumbents face dangerous riptides. Residents are struggling to stay afloat, burdened by higher taxes, lower pay and diminished savings. Washington has created uncertainty with its rancorous health-care debate, and Albany is in denial about the shortfall in revenue.
There are legitimate reasons to be frustrated with federal and state government, but that angst has little to do with the day-to-day and long-term governing of Nassau County. Stick with Suozzi.
More than ever, the county needs a nimble and innovative chief executive to balance the books while driving economic development such as the Lighthouse Project. In the eight years since Suozzi, 47, took over a county pushed to the edge of bankruptcy by Republican officeholders, he's proven to be a good steward of the county's finances. School taxes, which represent almost 70 percent of the property tax bill, aren't under the jurisdiction of the county executive, but Suozzi took a leadership role in persuading some districts to share services and cut costs.
During his second term, Suozzi, a Democrat, was sometimes distracted by a quest for higher office. Ambition, however, is part of a talented politician's DNA. It's the same drive that spurred his successful effort to get Albany to cap the county's Medicaid costs and his statewide campaign to cap property tax increases.
And don't be fooled by Republican magical thinking that property taxes would be so much lower if the assessment system were better. Certainly speedier certification of the tax rolls and simplification of the process would reduce some of the county's borrowing costs to pay refunds. But there would be minimal difference in the roughly 16 percent of your tax bill that goes for county services.
Still, the assessment system has been in turmoil for too long. Now, a professional assessor is on the job, mainly because Suozzi pushed to abolish the post as an elected office last year. Suozzi now owns this problem, and it's his responsibility to fix it in his third term.
Republican challenger Edward Mangano, 47, is a lawyer who has spent 14 years as a county legislator. He has skillfully worked to spur development of the Northrop-Grumman property in his Bethpage district.
This race was to be his star turn, but unfortunately, he is using a tired, banal script: criticizing Suozzi's ambition and offering an illogical five-year freeze on assessments. Instead of aggressively taking the lead on how he would respond to the profound financial challenges facing the county, Mangano talks about "managerial and operational efficiencies." He focuses on cars for county commissioners and Suozzi's hiring of some staffers who live "outside the county" in those faraway places known as Suffolk and Queens. His is an idea-free campaign.
Meanwhile, Mangano, who touts his experiences as a businessperson, is also running on the line of a new Tax Revolt Party. Yet, Mangano has never successfully refuted charges by the Democrats that he is still connected to a troubled family printing business. Public records show that New Media Printing has federal and state liens that may have been as high as $900,000. Mangano says he hasn't had anything to do with the firm since 1998, yet his own disclosure forms filed with the legislature lists him as secretary of the company as recently as 2008.
There is much critical work to be done in the county's ongoing, unfinished story. This year, as it was in 2001 and 2005, the choice to lead Nassau is an easy one. The Newsday editorial board endorses Suozzi. hN