The swearing-in of Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano Thursday for a second term included pomp and circumstance, pop and opera performances, and a seemingly endless line of testimonials from political luminaries and lesser stars.
But a crucial element was forgotten. No one brought a Bible, so Mangano took the oath with his hand on an iPad showing biblical text. In the ceremony, as in Mangano's first four years, the optics took precedence over detail.
There's one thing every speaker at the event agreed on, and we've always agreed with it, too. Mangano is one heck of a nice guy: well-intentioned and almost always affable. But his own speech, mostly a list of first-term accomplishments, included some items on which we differ. And when it came to the challenges of his next term, county residents needed to hear a lot more.
Mangano touted some real successes: The privatization of Nassau's bus service has saved tens of millions of dollars. He has slashed the number of county employees by 20 percent. The unemployment rate in Nassau is, at 5.9 percent, comparatively low, and sales tax receipts are rising. The county did respond well immediately after superstorm Sandy.
The results are more mixed on some other items. Mangano thanked former police Commissioner Thomas Dale for everything he'd done to improve the department, but this came a few weeks after Mangano forced Dale to step down in the aftermath of a politically charged elections case.
Mangano said officials from all over the state have called to ask how you "close a $400-million deficit without raising taxes." He did not provide the answer: Have a state board seize control of your finances and freeze your employees' wages, borrow money and count it as income, use unacceptable accounting methods and stop paying some bills.
Mangano did save the county $30 million a year by settling residential property-tax refund claims before tax rolls were made final. But he didn't mention that with the rolls frozen since 2010, taxpayers who did not grieve have seen massive increases in their tax bills.
Absent from Mangano's speech was how he will tackle the next four years. He needs to hire a police commissioner who can truly reform the culture of the department. He needs to find a top-notch head for Nassau University Medical Center, to replace the much-respected, cynically ousted Art Gianelli. He needs to make sure the federal money the county gets for Sandy damage is used well, particularly to repair dilapidated sewage plants. And he needs to fix the county's assessments so that accurate values are affixed, the tax burden is fairly shared and the entire system is not just a feeding trough for tax refund lawyers.
Mangano's swearing-in was unusually long, over the top, and with the iPad ceremony, has the potential to go viral on the Internet. But for the next four years, what the county needs from this eminently likable man is simple, detail-oriented competence.