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Suozzi Redux?

(Editor’s note: All candidates for the position of Nassau County Executive will be invited to meet with the entire editorial staff at Anton News. Thomas Suozzi was the first to respond and was interviewed on Feb. 14.)

From one day to the next, the race for leading Nassau County out of a fiscal swamp has become super-charged as the possibility of three Democrats fighting for the county executive hot spot to oppose incumbent Republican Edward Mangano in the general election takes shape.

The first Democratic candidate who filed, Adam Haber, has already charged that former county executive Thomas Suozzi, in for a rematch, failed the county due to “his tax hikes, budget deficits or back-room deals... no-show Suozzi will keep failing to lead on the issues that matter to middle class families.” The Great Neck Record reached out to Mr. Haber’s press secretary, but at press time had not yet received a response.

Jon Kaiman, the Supervisor of the Town of North Hempstead who has set up an exploratory committee issued the following statement: “It’s an ongoing process and how we proceed will depend on what happens over the coming weeks.”

Thomas Suozzi in an hour-long interview with editorial staff from Anton News said, “I’m very proud of what I did governmentally, but I blew the politics...If I’m elected again, I will be a lot better politically.” Responding to a question about consolidation and his earlier efforts to eliminate some special districts, he acknowledged that “while I believe that consolidation sometimes works, it didn’t fly politically...I wouldn’t go that way again.” 

Instead Suozzi pointed to his love for the job of county executive, solving problems and having a vision for the future. And skipping over potential Democratic rivals, his remarks focused on critiquing the current administration.

He said that a number of factors came together in making the decision to run again. First, he had just watched. “ I kept my mouth shut to give Mangano a chance to do his job,” but his concerns grew as the county continued “runaway borrowing,” increased police overtime due to force cuts, bond downgrades by Wall Street, and lack of follow-though on numerous projects. Then, when his daughter went away to college, he began to wonder if she would ever come back to Long Island, not just because of the high cost of living, but whether there would be areas that would appeal to a young adult. “Suddenly, young people leaving the Island became very real to me.” He also reflected that at the funeral of Ed Koch, a politician whom he greatly admired, he was reminded of how much he loved public service in general and the job of county executive in particular.

He scoffs at those who claim he left the county in bad shape, reminding his listeners that even in those days, he grasped the untenable situation of New York State government’s proclivity for passing mandates while not taking on any of the financial burden...passing the buck to local municipalities, school districts and special districts.

He emphasizes that, “I was always about property tax relief and so I was asked by Governor (Eliot) Spitzer and then Governor (David) Paterson to chair a commission about tax relief. Now we have the property tax cap in place.... Why are property taxes so high in NewYork State? We spend more per student than any other state in the U.S. despite the fact that our results aren’t any better than other places ... we’re in the middle or below in some cases.”

He also laid much blame for high property taxes at New York State’s door saying, “They mandate what local governments have to do, but don’t fund any of it... I worked harder than anybody to fix property taxes. We only have three alternatives to deal with the tax burden...raise state aid, cut expenses or raise property taxes.”

“Borrowing, borrowing is the issue...Instead, we need revitalization,” Suozzi said. “We need cool downtowns like Garden City, Rockville Centre and Great Neck. People live there in walkable communities with shops, restaurants and a train station...Let’s preserve open space, but let’s develop downtowns ... take derelict areas and rebuild them.” He pointed to Hempstead saying, “It was never properly planned ... I would try to work more with local governments...Hempstead is too spread out. Build the center into a downtown and change the zoning on the outskirts.” 

Asked about Mangano’s police precinct consolidation, Suozzi commented, “It was poorly communicated with the public and it was awfully implemented and hasn’t been done fully. They make grand pronouncements and then they don’t do it. I’m not against the idea if they keep the buildings staffed and there’s a police presence in neighborhoods.” 

He added that he favored the privatization of the county bus system, but thought that Mangano’s plan to consolidate sewers was a terrible plan because “it would raise rates by 3 percent every year for the next 25 years. You’d have double the sewer rates. Why is it OK to let the private guys raise rates?”

Warming to the topic of the current administration he added, “I’m supposed to be the big spender, but look at their spending. Since I left office on 12/31/09, from those actuals to the 2013 budget, they’ve raised the budget by 11.9 percent, an increase above the rate of inflation.” 

On the topic of labor costs, Suozzi stated that “It still burns me up at what happened after Sept. 15, 2008 when Lehman Brothers went bust, the whole economy went south and our sales tax revenues went down the tubes. The budget we had just adopted didn’t make sense anymore ... I was looking for 7 percent concessions from the cops, the CSEA, and corrections officers and said I would close the county down for 26 days and was negotiating with all the different unions. Mangano said from the dais of the legislature, ‘Now is not the time to worry about the bond ratings. Now is the time to support the hard working employees of Nassau County.’ He wouldn’t support layoffs. I was completely undercut in my negotiations.”

When asked how he would work with the Republican dominated legislature now, he said, “We’re in a desperate situation now with a negative credit rating. A judge has just ruled against the wage freeze.. It could be an overnight $120 million hit to the county. We’re in such bad shape that people are going to have to start working with each other. What’s your solution? If someone has a creative idea, I don’t care if they’re Republican or Democrat.”

And then he veered into the contentious HUB situation.  For starters, “It’s a disgrace we lost the Islanders.” Then moving on, Suozzi said, “It’s a valuable piece of property, some 70 acres. It’s accessible, but it’s un-walkable...Create development that connects Hofstra University, the community college, Omni Building up to Roosevelt Field Mall ... Let the developer make the money, but demand that he create an environment where a corporate office would want to be ... When I was younger, I wanted the best deal. Now, I say, let’s transform this place.”

He described the area as “little islands that could be connected by high speed busses ... A private developer needs to be doing this. It’s an opportunity for office buildings, housing … we have to create places where people want to be. It’s not just about affordability.”

And for the record, he is opposed to a casino for Nassau County. “In the old days, I supported a casino at the Belmont Racetrack and the people in Elmont wanted it, but I hear rumblings that the people there don’t want it now, that they’re rather have a soccer arena.” 

Regarding freezing tax assessments for Sandy homes, he is concerned that a 4-year freeze while they’re being redeveloped yet staying at a frozen level would affect the assessments and cause the property tax burden to shift to other homes in the area creating an imbalance and a greater burden. He added, “ I have no confidence in the current county administration’s competence to implement this.”

As to the idea for requiring school districts to pay certiorari claims, he said, “That’s the wrong approach. It’s just shifting the burden from the county to the school districts. I will be coming out with a detailed plan on that.”

Suozzi concluded, “If I’m the guy who helps change the direction of Nassau County... that will be enough. I would be very satisfied if I got that opportunity.”