Democratic Nassau County Executive candidates Tom Suozzi (Glen Cove) and Adam Haber (Roslyn) clashed in their first and only televised debate Tuesday night, one week ahead of the Sept. 10 primary.
The half-hour debate, moderated by News 12 Long Island anchor Lea Tyrrell, largely matched the tenor of the summer’s campaign, with former County Executive and party favorite Suozzi focusing his attacks on incumbent County Executive Edward Mangano (R-Bethpage) and outsider candidate Haber blaming both the Suozzi and Mangano administrations for the county’s fiscal and economic problems.
The only of Haber’s barbs to draw direct rebuttal from Suozzi were the Roslyn businessman’s criticisms of Suozzi’s financial record during his tenure in office from 2002 through 2009.
Haber portrayed both Mangano and Suozzi as borrowing beyond the county’s means and failing to help Nassau’s working residents, while Suozzi cited a series of bond upgrades while in office and accused Haber of playing loose with the facts.
Suozzi opened the debate with an appeal to Nassau’s past, describing a county that had lost its way as a successful suburban center due to mismanagement by Republican administrations.
“Every candidate in this race agrees that we’re in trouble, but I’m the only candidate with a proven record of turning around the county finances with eight proven surpluses and 13 bond upgrades,” Suozzi said. “Ed Mangano’s policy of spend and borrow is bankrupting our children’s future.”
Haber’s opening statement described the primary as a race of contrasts and portrayed Suozzi as an career politician who had not fixed the county’s problems during his term in office.
“We’re on a path laid out by Tom Suozzi and Ed Mangano that clearly is not working,” Haber said.
Haber and Suozzi sparred for the first time last week when Suozzi made a surprise appearance at a Lakeville forum hosted by the Long Island chapter of Blacks in Law Enforcement of America, among other groups.
On Tuesday night the candidates offered different takes on a range of fiscal issues, from county borrowing to fixing the tax assessment system.
But the candidates were briefly united in their criticism of Mangano’s recently announced deal with developer Bruce Ratner to revamp the aging Nassau Memorial Coliseum.
That agreement, which Mangano has described as a victory for the county after the New York Islanders announced they would be moving to Ratner’s Barclays Center in Brooklyn, would see more than $200 million in private investment into the Nassau Hub and a revenue sharing agreement with the county.
But both Democrats attacked the plan, with Haber saying the county had undervalued the property and Suozzi calling the proposal unambitious.
The candidates sparred over Suozzi’s financial record, with Haber attempting to paint the Suozzi and Mangano administrations as an continuing era of excessive borrowing.
“He had an opportunity for eight years and the voters kicked him out,” Haber said.
The criticism sparked a rare direct rebuttal from Suozzi, who said his administration had decreased the county’s debt and cited bond upgrades by outside rating agencies.
“I know that Haber is desperate to be elected, but he’s got to start telling the truth,” Suozzi said.
Tyrrell read a question from a county employee concerned about the ongoing wage freeze imposed by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the state body charged with overseeing the county’s finances.
Suozzi said the county would need to shore up its finances to end NIFA oversight and the wage freeze, and Haber said the wage freeze could likely be struck down in a court challenge.
Both candidates took Mangano to task for his tax policy.
Mangano has touted a record of holding down property taxes, but Haber criticized the incumbent for raising fees.
Suozzi, who has described his raising of property taxes shortly after taking office as a necessity to stabilize county finances, attacked Mangano for high county spending.
Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin responded to the criticism with a statement that targeted Suozzi’s record.
“Tom Suozzi spent the entire debate dodging his double-digit tax hike record and lying about the enormous debt accumulated on his watch,” wrote Nevin in an e-mail. “Ed Mangano froze property taxes his entire term and reduced Nassau’s debt from the record high it reached under Tom Suozzi’s watch.”
Democratic voters will head to the polls Tuesday, Sept. 10 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.