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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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R-E-S-P-E-C-T: It’s What Nassau Voters Want

Well over 300,000 Nassau Democrats, fully nine out of 10, voted with their feet last week. They stayed away from their party’s primary for Nassau County Executive in a stunning rebuke to what has probably been the most expensive county primary race in New York history, even accounting for inflation.

Under New York’s dated and inadequate campaign finance reporting laws, it will be weeks before we can put a final number on how much these candidates spent in the primary. Based on the late-August filings, it is likely that the final total between the two will hover around six million dollars. Former County Executive Tom Suozzi will probably have spent about $126 for each vote received. His challenger, Adam Haber, will have spent about about $259 per vote. In 2012, President Obama’s campaign spent $10.37 per vote and Governor Romney spent $7.11.

This was the fifth contested Democratic primary for Nassau County Executive since the position was first put on the ballot in 1937. Even taking into consideration Democratic enrollees who have likely moved or died and haven’t been removed yet from the voter rolls, this was the lowest turnout by percentage of those primaries. There was a slashing Disconnect between voters and candidates, even more stunning because this is a year in which, on paper, being nominated by the Democratic Party should be almost tantamount to election.

After his upset victory in the 2001 county executive primary, Tom Suozzi said, “We won this race because we had the better message.” There were some other things going on, but that statement is essentially correct. In 2013, we had two “grasstops” campaigns that never offered a clear rationale, and never answered the underlying Master Question that all candidates must answer for the voters. The universe asks, “Why?” The universe prefers the answer to be in 10-12 words or less.

Why should you be County Executive? Why should I vote for you? Why?

A political campaign should be a connected series of events that bring the candidate closer to answering these questions in the minds of voters. This is how candidates grow trust and credibility.

And stepping into politics almost stone cold, Adam Haber needed objectivity around him. I can easily imagine how exciting and new and fresh everything probably seemed to a first-time candidate, unaware that much of it has been seen and heard before, or has already been called into question.

From the outside, it seems so obvious that you just walk up and down halls of the Caso Office Building in Mineola, maybe in a black hooded robe and holding a scythe, handing pink slips to all the “hacks” eating sandwiches.

We’re 20 years past this. More than two decades ago, uncoordinated mass layoffs crippled park and infrastructure maintenance. An executive pay cut? County Executive Gulotta took one. Didn’t fix things. We’ve gone past these generic drops in the bucket, as a county and as an electorate.

Nassau County voters are ready for something different from what they have, opening a huge opportunity for Democrats. However, if Tom Suozzi, a most political county executive, keeps insisting that the only thing that went wrong for him in 2009 was that he “didn’t play politics enough,” he is very possibly going to lose.

Until last week, I was quite confident that former Executive Suozzi would run the table against present Executive Mangano. Until I saw the nine percent turnout among Democrats.

In August, State Senators Marcellino and Martins participated in a public hearing on the possibility of municipal bankruptcies in New York. We’re entering The Undiscovered Country. We have no time for another campaign about bond ratings moving up and down. No time for “Me, Me, Me” from leaders.

Nine percent turnout. Talk to us like adults.

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