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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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Nassau Voters Deserve Real Choices

For a long time, I cut County Executive Ed Mangano a lot of slack, partly because he was the first countywide elected official we’ve had in a long time who didn’t quickly begin jockeying for another office. There was something refreshing about that.

Mangano was largely left to wither by the Republicans until the last 20 days of the 2009 campaign. He was opposed by the Conservative Party. Only when State Senate district polling tipped off party leaders that there was a chance to embarrass the ambitious incumbent, Tom Suozzi, by holding him to a smaller-than-expected victory, did the G.O.P. invest modest financial support in the Mangano campaign. Mangano should have recognized that he was elected with little political debt, with freedom to act independently, to step outside the circle and mine the wealth of managerial talent that resides in this county, to make hard choices and appeals to reason.    

Instead, he immediately heaped praise on party leaders and allowed some partisans around him to practically run wild in the streets, even before he took the oath of office.

There would be no breathe of fresh air or break from hyper-partisanship. We have only escapes from reality.

Late last November, in the midst of a natural disaster, the County Executive mailed yet another taxpayer-funded brochure featuring a small child “thanking” him for not raising property taxes and for reforming the tax assessment system. On the same day it hit mailboxes, county legislators blocked Mangano’s request to borrow $165 million to pay commercial and property tax refunds, a practice which raises taxes in ultra-slow motion. This $100,000 mailing was answered in mailings by some legislative Democrats: “Under Democratic control, Nassau County had 10 straight years with a budget surplus…”

At what point will someone at the state level step in and issue guidelines about what partisan propaganda can be paid for with public money?

Now, former County Executive Suozzi has declared his candidacy for re-election. There are hard feelings among some Democrats left out on a limb or unexpectedly shut out. By the time you read this, the extent to which Suozzi will face opposition will be clearer.

We don’t yet know which Tom Suozzi is running.

When Suozzi reigns himself in, when he dials it down and shows some restraint, he can be very effective. Really the best in the county. But Suozzi was also not well-served by his party, which provided almost no oversight or boundaries, denying valuable opportunities to hone messages or practice subtle maneuvering. His campaign for Governor in 2006, to put it briefly, and kindly, was named the second-worst campaign in America by a national political blog.

People get worn down. Lessons were not learned. Three weeks before Election Day 2009, his county campaign materials had the theme, “Let’s Fix Albany.”

The 2009 results show that Suozzi’s problem was not merely low turnout among Democrats, or “Obama voters” or “self interest” or some of the other tortured explanations he or his supporters offered. There were Democrats in Democratic strongholds who wanted to rebuke Suozzi and did so by voting for the underdog, Mangano.

Three out of four Nassau County voters, including four out of five Democrats, did not feel that voting was worth their time in the 2009 county elections. If we are to have the same candidates again, we can’t just have another useless hissing match about who hates property taxes more. The people of Nassau County deserve big, meaningful choices. They deserve to be engaged, to be shown a way. If the last two county executives cannot do that, other choices may appear.

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net