If Nassau County taxpayers can believe them, both Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, the Republican incumbent, and his Democratic challenger, Tom Suozzi, have pledged not to raise property taxes next year.
The promise came at their recent debate held at the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury sponsored by the Long Island Association, the business lobbying group.
“I have zero plans to raise property taxes,” Mangano said. When it was his turn, Suozzi said he has “no plans” to raise them, either.
But the county—one of the wealthiest in the nation—is still in trouble financially, no matter who wins on Nov. 5. Indeed, the Republican-dominated county legislature just approved Mangano’s $2.79 billion budget that includes using $10 million in operating funds to pay property tax refunds and another $230 million in borrowing to pay more tax refunds. The budget also includes $50 million to pay for police overtime.
The politicians traded barbs over the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, which has oversight over the county’s budget. “The county has been taken over by the state!” said Suozzi.
In his defense, Mangano referred to Newsday columnist Joye Brown who critized Suozzi for “ramping up borrowing levels” against the advice of NIFA when he was county executive but, as Mangano put it, the authority let Suozzi “off the hook.”
NIFA itself is now chaired by Jon Kaiman, the former North Hempstead town supervisor, who was appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to replace Ron Stack, a highly regarded financial expert. A Sept. 23 New York Post column by Frederick Decker put a different spin on this move, citing unnamed Democrats who “claim that Cuomo, who has had tense relations with Suozzi for years, fired Ronald Stack, the independent and well-regarded head of the Nassau County financial-control board…to halt the board’s frequent criticisms of Mangano’s fiscal policies.”
According to a recent NIFA analysis of Mangano’s 2014 budget, the county faces a deficit of $122 million, and the imbalance would mean that NIFA’s oversight must continue. The county reportedly still owes about $300 million in tax refunds to property owners who successfully grieved their assessments. Adding to the pressure on whoever is the county executive come January is the contract agreement between the county and the Police Benevolent Association, Nassau’s largest police union. NIFA had frozen county wages, but a thaw could be on the table, if all parties can sign off on the deal.
With less than a week left, Mangano seems to be headed for re-election.
The Oct. 13 Newsday/News12/Sienna College poll that was conducted between Sept. 29 and Oct. 7 had Mangano ahead of Suozzi by 52 percent to 35 percent. Another survey is expected to be released Nov. 2. Four years ago, a poll conducted a month before the 2009 election had Suozzi leading Mangano, then a county legislator, 54 percent to 31 percent. Mangano ended up eking out a victory by 386 votes.
This election has a different dynamic, according to Sienna Research Institute Director Don Levy, because Suozzi’s negatives among his party’s base put him at a disadvantage compared to Mangano’s appeal to his base. Suozzi “doesn’t do as well among Democrats as Mangoes does with Republicans,” Levy told the Press. Tellingly, one in three Suozzi supporters in the survey reported that they think Mangano is better on taxes than Suozzi. “That’s a tough number to overcome,” Levy said.
The Democrats gathered at Leonard’s of Great Neck who heard former President Bill Clinton endorse Suozzi on Oct. 23 scoffed at the recent Sienna poll, citing how far off it was the last election. Some labor officials told the Press that they think Suozzi is only three or four points back and closing fast, whereas former Suffolk County Executive Pat Halpin went on the record with this reporter to say, “I think Tom’s ahead and he’s going to win.”
Of course, that’s not how the Mangano campaign predicts the outcome. They’ve exuded confidence, and it showed in Mangano’s demeanor at the recent LIA debate, when he belittled Suozzi’s recent endorsements in Newsday and The New York Times.
Nor did Mangano’s campaign seem rattled by Clinton’s endorsement, countering it with a couple of appearances at events in Bethpage and Syosset by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. After Cuomo called Suozzi “Nassau’s next county executive” at a rally for Democrats held in Albertson on Oct. 26, Mangano unveiled a TV commercial with a snippet of Cuomo from 2011 in Lynbrook praising Mangano because he “believes in putting politics aside for the good of this county.”
At the Crest Hollow Country Club, packed with partisans from both sides, Mangano said, “I respect Governor Cuomo…I work with every elected official.”
The two politicians were supposed to do a televised debate on News12 Long Island but Mangano refused, citing the station’s refusal to disclose that their parent company, Cablevision, hired Suozzi and along with its owners, the Dolans, contributed nearly $300,000 to his campaign. Collectively, through all Suozzi’s political endeavors over the years, the amount is closer to half a million dollars. In the recent county race, Cablevision contributed more than $11,000 to Mangano.
On Sunday WLNY 55 plans to air the last debate between Mangano and Suozzi, which was recorded on Halloween, from 8 to 9 a.m. CBS-TV Channel 2 and CBS 880 Radio will rebroadcast it from 1 to 2 p.m.
Then it’s up to the voters who show up at the polls.