On a warm sunny day in February fit for a coronation or the Second Coming, a beaming Nassau Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Jacobs took to the podium set up on the steps of the Supreme Court in Mineola to announce what had already been obvious for quite a while: Tom Suozzi is running for Nassau County executive—again. Why? Because he says the county cannot endure another four years under Ed Mangano, the Republican who’d beaten Suozzi by 386 votes in 2009.
The official roll-out was choreographed with an “exclusive” in Wednesday’s Newsday that “Suozzi’s In” accompanied by a Kennedy-esque profile of the committee chairman’s favored candidate filling the front-page of Long Island’s daily paper owned by Cablevision—for which Suozzi did some consulting work after he lost the nail-biter and from whose owners he’s received nearly $200,000 in campaign contributions throughout the years.
Jacobs’ press conference, it turned out, was just a teaser.
“The party is behind Tom Suozzi,” said Jacobs.
But Suozzi wasn’t by Jacobs’ side. The former county executive’s time to shine in the public’s eye reportedly comes on Valentine’s Day when he officially hits the trail.
His absence, however, was conspicuously noted by the only other Nassau Democrat to declare his candidacy, Adam Haber, whose campaign fired back this salvo that read: “No-Show Suozzi once again takes voters for granted,” and it “slammed insider Tom Suozzi for failing to show up at his own press conference.”
When Haber announced weeks ago, he certainly didn’t have Newsday’s front page touting him.
Haber, 47, is an entrepreneurial businessman, a restaurateur (he owns Lula Trattoria in Mineola) and a former Wall Street investor who’s been on the Roslyn School Board—the only elected office he’s ever held. Haber—who, unlike Mangano and Suozzi, is not an attorney—recently got a master’s degree from C.W. Post in political science. He put together his team of political consultants in early February, hiring Red Horse Strategies, a Brooklyn-based firm, and loaning his campaign $2 million.
As of Jan. 15, Haber had almost $2.2 million on hand, compared to Suozzi’s war chest—left over from his 2009 race—which held less than $1.1 million. North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman, whose restlessness in town hall is well known in political circles, has made some waves recently by saying that he’s formed an “exploratory committee” about running for county executive, but that’s as far as it’s gotten.
Jacobs, no doubt, would love to clear the field for Suozzi, but it doesn’t look likely, given the sharp response of Haber’s campaign.
“Nassau Democrats remember career politician Tom Suozzi’s years of scandal, tax hikes, budget deficits and backroom deals,” Justin Myers, Haber’s campaign manager, said in a press release. “For over a decade, career politicians have mismanaged the county and Nassau needs a better future. Adam Haber is running to stop the waste and cronyism and make Nassau work again for middle class families.”
A Democratic Party insider said that the Nassau’s party faithful “are very excited about a Tom Suozzi candidacy, they’re excited about his comeback and they’re excited to hit the streets for him…. Haber’s not well known to the public at large or to the county committee.”
And without party support, Haber has to battle to appeal to the grassroots.
Jacobs says he plans to talk to Haber in the coming weeks and that the businessman “offers an awful lot to our party and he’ll be part of our future.” He doesn’t fault Haber “for the issues he’s fighting for,” but he’ll try to convince him to step aside.
“If there’s a primary to be had,” Jacobs said, “then a primary will be waged.”
Asked if Haber would drop out, his spokesman, Galen Alexander, tells the Press, “Adam Haber is in it to win it.”
Haber knew he’d have to face a primary. “You’ve got to win the playoffs to get to the World Series,” he says.
“I like Tom Suozzi personally,” Haber says. “I welcome him to the race because it’ll only bring out the issues more often. But he had eight years and he failed. The debt exploded. Manufacturing jobs have left. He’s had one foot out the door for a long time. He sees himself as president. I see myself as county executive.”
As for Suozzi’s name recognition, Haber scoffs, “Nothing that a million dollars won’t cure.”
He says he likes Jay Jacobs despite his supporting Suozzi.
“He wants to keep his job as county chair, which I respect, and he thinks that is by tying his future to Tom Suozzi.”
But he went on to say that “we don’t have a Democratic majority in Hempstead. We don’t have a single person in the Town of Oyster Bay [government]. We have a minority in the Legislature. We don’t have a county executive who’s a Democrat.” Referring to the “gerrymandering scheme” the Nassau Republicans are now pushing through the legislature, he warned that the new legislative districts “will institutionalize for the next 10 years no chance at all of any kind of majority control!”
Mangano, Haber says, won “by default,” but “he’s a career politician and that’s what we’ve had, and look where we are. I think it’s time for a fresh start.” He lamented the county’s near junk-bond rating, the closing of police precincts, the tax assessment “mess,” the sewage treatment plants “in disarray,” the departure of the Islanders and Mangano’s mishandling of the Nassau Hub, which he dubbed a “disaster.” He called it “bizarre” that Mangano would put Bruce Ratner, the man who lured the Islanders to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, on a committee to create a plan for the Nassau Coliseum.
“That’s like somebody having an affair with your wife,” says Haber, “and then you’re going to him and asking for marital advice!”
Speaking of marriage, Haber and his wife Renee, who used to be a teacher in Mineola and is an expert on bullying prevention, have a son and a daughter, both teenagers. One reason he wants to be county executive, he says, is to do all he can to ensure that his children can afford to live in Nassau in the future.
Driving the Democrats to make this contest competitive is their insistence that the Republican incumbent, Mangano, has done a bad job in Nassau.
“I think we’re pretty close to bottom,” Haber says, warning that if the county’s government—both in the executive office and in the divided legislature—continues to be so dysfunctional, then “we slowly slide into something in between what we have now and Detroit.”
“Most politicians think you either have to fire people or you raise taxes [to] get revenue,” he says. “And I’m saying, forget about that. That’s the last thing you do.” Instead, he says he’d scrutinize how services are delivered and find savings, same as the “millions of dollars” he says he saved the Roslyn School District by getting them to refinance their debt and economize on bus transportation.
“I’m an outsider. I’m a big community guy. I’m a businessman,” he says.
As for investing in his own campaign, he says, “How great would it be if this place just became a beacon for its quality of life…and all I did was cut a check for two million bucks and, in a non-partisan way, help my community thrive! For me, that’s exciting!”