Adam Haber is going door to door in his uphill battle to become the next Nassau County executive.
His first step is to win the Democratic primary on Sept. 10. Standing in his way is Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs, who wants to unify his party behind Tom Suozzi, the former Nassau County executive. Suozzi served eight years in Mineola before losing by 386 votes to Republican Ed Mangano, a then-county legislator, in 2009.
“I’m not part of the system,” says Haber as he strides down a sidewalk in Plainview on a sunny day last week with this reporter struggling to keep up. “I’m an outsider.”
He introduces himself to a middle-aged woman who just came home from her job in a school district, and she invites him into her living room as he explains why he is running.
“I believe that taxes are very high and services are being cut and the middle class is getting squeezed,” says Haber. “We could do better for our community. I’m a businessman. I’m also on the Roslyn School Board and I’m involved in charities. And I think I can do a better job.”
She nods appreciatively as he continues. “I own restaurants, commercial real estate, incubator start-ups. I’ve been in finance over 20 years. I know how to balance budgets and make payroll.”
This resident, a registered Democrat, supported Suozzi in the past, but she is open to persuasion, enjoying their banter as they discuss the deplorable state of the county.
“Nassau County has the highest debt of the 57 counties in New York State: $3 billion plus,” he claims. Then, in response to her comment about the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the state-appointed fiscal watchdog, Haber exclaims,“We’re the 12th richest county in the country and we have an oversight committee! It’s embarrassing!”
In a serious vein, he tells her that he wants to restore fiscal sanity to the county without pandering or spewing rhetoric.
“No one is going to lower your taxes!” Haber says in earnest. “But to stop the progression of them going up, you look for savings in the infrastructure. And there’s a lot you can do—and a lot we don’t do—in Nassau….
“We had Suozzi,” he says. “I’m not going to disparage him because he’s not here to defend himself. But he had eight years. Mangano’s had four years. And [their predecessor, Republican Tom] Gulotta’s had…I don’t know how many years. Twenty years and nothing’s been built!”
The woman chimes in, “A hundred years of the Republican Party machine!”
“And nothing gets done in Nassau County!” says Haber. “We are losing businesses. We lost the Islanders. Social services are getting whacked.”
But Haber’s chances of winning the hearts and minds of Nassau’s Democratic voters have taken a beating as well. With Jacobs’ backing, the Nassau County Democratic Party’s Executive Committee, comprised of the vice chairs, the town and city leaders, the legislative district leaders, zone leaders and committee officers unanimously endorsed Suozzi’s repeat run by a vote of 72-0 on March 19 .
“Tom Suozzi is the candidate in this race with the vision and experience to turn our county around and stop the reckless borrowing and fiscal mismanagement of the Mangano administration,” said Jacobs in a statement. He was equally profuse in his praise of Suozzi at the Nassau County Democrats’ annual spring dinner last month at the Crest Hollow Country Club. Suozzi was the keynote speaker. Haber only stayed for cocktails and left to go campaigning.
Haber says he loves knocking on doors, which he’s been doing since he announced in February, and judging from an unscientific sampling the other day in Plainview, the feeling is shared—at least by the Democrats who greeted him at their homes.
A woman in a purple T-shirt of Alfred Hithcock’s famous profile answers the door and asks Haber a question. “You’re running against Suozzi?”
“I am,” he says with a broad smile. “He’s running against me, actually. I declared first!”
She chuckles and they engage in a conversation that ranges from the political to the personal. When it’s time to move on, he asks her, “Can I count on your support in September?” And without a moment’s hesitation, she looks him in the eye and replies, “Yes, you will!”
Before the afternoon is through, Haber has spoken with a handful of Democrats who are home when he comes calling. One woman says she’d read about him. Every resident seems to take his candidacy seriously. Haber says the response fits the pattern he sees on Sundays when he puts in three to four hours at a time: about a third are neutral, a third are “a little above neutral for me” and “a third are, like, wildly pro for me. Five percent are pro-Suozzi, and those are the people who somehow work for him or are connected to him through some kind of job that they got.”
Without the endorsements of well-known Democrats like New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, whose announcement on April 26 makes him the state’s top Democrat to back Suozzi, Haber has to have a successful ground game to be competitive.
“I plan on knocking on thousands of doors,” Haber says. “I’ve done well over a thousand already…. I usually walk very fast because the faster you walk the more doors you can knock!”
When the day began, Haber was greeting morning commuters at the Freeport train station.
“I’ve been up since six this morning,” he says. As for his Democratic opponent, Haber says, “I’ve been outworking him, clearly…because I know I’ve got to work harder!”