Nassau County Executive candidate Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) unveiled a development policy targeted at attracting young residents back to Nassau, as he discussed his campaign’s first major economic proposal at a press conference Monday.
Suozzi, the former county executive who is in a primary race against Roslyn school board member Adam Haber to retake his seat following his narrow loss to Republican Edward Mangano (Bethpage) in 2009, laid out a plan that called for more extensive development of the Nassau Hub and for a competitive grant program to assist communities in developing commercial space and transit-friendly housing.
Nassau’s 25-to-34 year old population has dropped by 60,000 since 1990, and that decline has serious implications for the county’s economic future, Suozzi said.
“It’s a major, long-term problem for the county,” said Suozzi. It’s a problem that needs fixing.
Suozzi said his plan was intended to bolster Nassau’s tax base and ease the financial burden on current residents.
“We do not seek growth for growth’s sake,” Suozzi said. “We seek young people for their energy, creativity and entrepreneurship. We seek new construction to expand the commercial tax base and to create new environments attractive to young college graduates.”
One of the Democratic hopeful’s proposed fixes for Nassau’s youth exodus is what he termed his “new suburbia trailblazers” program - a Race to the Top-style competition where towns and villages would submit proposals to develop mixed-use and multi-story buildings near train stations to create walkable downtown areas and attract commuters and businesses. The program would start with one community in 2014 and expand to ten by 2017, and the county would provide a total of $10 million in Industrial Development Agency funds and federal and state grants to the selected municipalities.
The county would also try to steer high-tech firms towards participating communities and consult with municipalities and businesses to work through the red tape, Suozzi said.
“It’s not going to just happen on its own. A lot of these small villages... and the towns don’t necessarily have the resources to do this on their own,” Suozzi said. “I believe the county can play a role in helping them to develop these long term visions - to be a catalyst to encourage this kind of development.”
Suozzi acknowledged that Nassau’s slowing rate of growth was also a problem during his administration from 2002 through 2009, and that his new plan represented a different approach from his first term.
The new plan, Suozzi said, is a “bottom-up” proposal that recognizes the need for buy-in from local communities.
Suozzi said he did work to address the same concerns during his first term, but was more focused on stabilizing the county’s finances.
“The problem was that I was trying to direct it myself, and this is really something that I’ve learned from being in public office throughout my life,” he said. “I can’t get these municipalities to do something they don’t want to do. We can’t say you should do this, you should do that.”
“It’s more of a bottom-up approach instead of a top-down approach, and that is a very big difference from the way I looked at this in the past,” Suozzi added.
Haber, whose is running a largely self-funded outsider campaign for the Democratic nomination against the establishment-favored Suozzi, has been harshly critical of Suozzi’s record as county executive. Haber’s campaign spokesman Galen Alexander continued on that tack when reached for comment about Suozzi’s proposal, arguing that Suozzi’s did not fix Nassau’s problems during his first terms in office.
“Suozzi had an opportunity to push economic growth, but instead he lost thousands of jobs, laid the groundwork for the loss of the Lighthouse project and set the stage for the loss of the [New York] Islanders,” Alexander said. “It is the height of irony for a candidate with that record to tout his economic growth plan. Adam knows how to get this done, he has actually developed property, helped raise property values and created jobs.”
In his press conference, Suozzi pushed Mangano to adjust the terms of pending proposals to redevelop the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Any proposal, Suozzi said, should also revamp the entire Nassau Hub and connect the Coliseum to surrounding buildings and infrastructure; the current bids from Barclays Center developer Bruce Ratner, Madison Square Garden, Blumenfeld Development and New York Sports LLC focus solely on the Coliseum and its grounds.
Mangano has given no indications that he is likely to change the terms of the county’s request for proposal, and the Coliseum plans have thus far met with much less political pushback than previous efforts during Mangano and Suozzi’s administrations. But Suozzi said that, if elected, he would push developers to redevelop the Nassau Hub.
“If they don’t do it then, I’ll do it when I’m county executive,” Suozzi said.
The Mangano administration rejected Suozzi’s criticism in a statement.
“These are the same old multi-million dollar plans to build high density public housing that the residents rejected years ago. He had eight years, spent millions in taxpayer money and never built a single thing,” said Deputy County Executive Ed Ward. “Mangano’s plan for the Hub has attracted first-class respondents, using no taxpayer funds, who will rebuild the Coliseum property. Mangano’s countywide smart growth initiatives have already built walkways, bike routes and improved public transportation while saving taxpayers millions.”
Suozzi laid some of the blame for Nassau’s economic situation on Mangano’s administration, arguing that bond downgrades and fiscal problems had deterred developers from investing in the county.
“I think that all the bad press this administration has gotten discourages people from moving here and from investing here,” Suozzi said. “People don’t want to move to a place that is constantly getting bad news, that is getting downgraded in its bond rating, that has all these crises going on on a regular basis.”
Suozzi also featured a note of optimism in his remarks - contingent on a “change in leadership.”
“We can make this the best, most attractive place in America,” Suozzi said.