The day after officially announcing his bid to run for Nassau County Executive, he held a press availability in his office at Harris Beach law offices, Uniondale, within spitting distance of the Nassau Coliseum. He outlined why he wanted to run for the office again, and his vision for Cool Downtowns and reinvigorating a New Suburbia.
His office is filled with mementoes of his political career: a coffee table is made from a plaque from a boondoggle police headquarters building in Glen Cove that his predecessor, who he defeated, never finished (when Suozzi became Mayor, he sold off the property and a bank donated a building which the city purchased for $10 that became the police headquarters); his desk is a round table made out of a brass window frame from the Theodore Roosevelt Courthouse, "a symbol of the decline of the county when I came to office, now a symbol of its rejuvenation"); there is an eagle that was presented to him when he first became Nassau County Executive. There is a print of a pencil drawing of John F. Kennedy which the family had commissioned from a Glen Cove printer to be given as Christmas presents in 1963, then Kennedy was shot and they canceled the order; photos of Robert F. Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, and a Time Magazine cover of Martin Luther King, Jr., and a photo from Suozzi's honeymoon meeting Pope John Paul.
I asked Tom Suozzi about my theory that he lost - only by a few hundred votes - because Great Neck Democrats did not turn out for him because they were angry about his hard stance to force Great Neck to shut down its own sewage treatment plant and divert to the county's plant at Cedar Creek.
The main reason I didn’t win in 2009, was a combination that people in country were angry at all incumbents - the President was unpopular, Paterson was unpopular, there were all kinds of scandals going on in government. I didn’t realize the depth of people’s anger. People were out of work - there is high unemployment now but it was worse then. I didn’t realize the depth of anger and I didn’t work hard enough, not realizing."
What got a lot of people angry was your obsessive interest in consolidating local governments. Would you still be focused on local districts?
I think [consolidation] is a good idea that is not going to happen because people don’t want it. [Consolidation] would reduce the cost of government, I believe, but not politically palatable. The price of perfection is bankruptcy – you try to get it exactly as you want it and get nothing. You have to understand all the parties.
Why have you come back in the race for Nassau County Executive?
Three months ago people started to lobby me – when I ran before, ran against the entire Democratic organization - [Tom] DiNapoli (now we're friends); then FixAlbany, then against Spitzer. I was running against everybody, now I'm being solicited to run – so I came back. People were saying 'Only you can do this.' I was flattered, but not totally convinced.
Then I went to [former New York City Mayor] Ed Koch’s funeral two weeks ago. I was moved. I used to be on TV with Ed Koch; very fond of him. He devoted his life to public service and it reminded me that I devoted my life to public service – my father too...
I took my daughter to college and realized that when she goes to college, she may not come back home. Young people are not coming back, because it's not affordable. They say they can’t find people, there are no downtown areas to meet people and do things – all these things jumped together - I couldn’t take it anymore – no one would stand up and fix problems.
The biggest problem [in Nassau leadership] is that there is no vision. No one is talking about how this is where we should go for the long term, this is what we need to do.
Personally, I suspect that the spark that reignited his interest was coming to Hofstra University for the Presidential Debate.
You speak of vision. What ideas are you bringing to table?
[Nassau County's[ financial problems are very difficult to solve. I will do the same things [as did when first came to office[: cutting costs, department by department to find efficiencies and run things better. I will look at changing some of the things the county does. It has to stop doing some of the things. I will see what the county can do with towns, to help do things that the county does, to work together with them.
Most important, I would expand the property tax base, to build up downtown areas into what I used to call 'Cool Downtowns' – where young people would live, have rental apartment, jobs, restaurants, shops, places they want to hang out. New construction would expand the tax base.
In that vein, what about Nassau Hub, the problems Mangano has had and what you envision?
I was totally disappointed that we lost the Islanders and that there is no vision for the future of that property at this time, probably the most important development projects in the county.
My vision: high tech, office buildings, recreation, destination activities, housing for next generation – all this needs to be done. It is a beautiful piece of property, near parkway. We need to figure how to get enough building there that the Town of Hempstead would permit, to make it a destination, and if the Town of Hempstead won’t participate, when [when Suozzi was in office] Charles Wang agreed to build the entire new Coliseum which he would pay for in return for him developing, the town wouldn’t agree.
What about [Democrat] Adam Haber's outside run?
Debate is good, sharing ideas is good. I am not happy starting off with the tone he’s starting off with. We don’t know anything about him, but he is not starting with ideas, he is starting off attacking. I recommend he doesn’t, If he wants to run. Debates, primaries are good, if fighting over 'my idea is this,' 'my idea is better for this reason.' Give us a vision for future of county, instead of same tired old attacks that people are sick of.
People are sick of that..the' blah, blah, you’re a bum, you raised taxes, I’m going to cut'. Tell us you vision for future.
Nassau County took off in 1947 and now is 66 years old. Its starting to show age, and we need a vision for future.
What are your specific, Day One priorities?
I laid out a lot of things for a New Suburbia and new downtowns. I would focus more aggressively to implement relationships with towns and villages - like what is happening in Suffolk County.
We need transit oriented development in downtowns. This is the wave of future for not only for suburbia in Long Island but throughout America.
We need Democrats and Republicans and primary and election opponents talking about this.
County Executive Mangano closed four police precincts. What do you think of that idea?
It was poorly executed, a bad idea poorly executed. It wasn’t properly communicated to public. Now it is put off, they haven’t even implemented it. That’s what we've seen in this administration – broad pronouncements that don't get done.
One day he says he would get $60 million in concessions from unions - that was two years ago. It never happened.
Suozzi says he will put up his record against Mangano's:
I am proud of my record: eight balanced budgets, eight surpluses, 13 bond upgrades.
This administration's record is one of deficits, phony surplus, two bond downgrades and borrowing. Most upsetting thing of this administration is their desire to borrow, borrow and not pay off other expenses, and put these costs on future generations.
They say you did the same?
Look at the records: I had 13 upgrades versus two downgrades. He’s borrowed irresponsibly. Borrowing isn’t necessarily bad – there is good borrowing, where, when you borrow, it is supposed to match the life of the project.
Mangano is proposing to privatize Nassau County Sewage treatment. What is your view?
I am not opposed to privatization per se. But the way they propose – borrowing money at higher interest rate, proposing the operator will raise rates by 3% a year. he’s the guy who says he is opposed to raising taxes, but he permits a private company to raise, which would double the rate in 15 years – irresponsible.
The devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy is also an opportunity to rebuild better than ever before, stronger, smarter and safer than ever before. That’s what need to do, and sewage treatment is example.
What is your position on consolidating school districts?
School districts are separate governments from county. I brought superintendent leadership together and worked for over a year on how we could get school districts to work together more, so they could do shared services. Why can’t they share the cost of IT, natural gas, paper? There needs to be more intense effort. Now, the property tax cap will [force] more of that.
The property tax cap was the reason I ran for governor. I got beaten up, but ultimately the property tax cap became law. It is a great thing for us, but fraught. We need state laws to make more efficient and more cooperation.
People are talking about a rematch between you and Mangano?
Rematch ? I like that expression: Thrilla in Mineola…
Let’s talk about how when I came into office, Nassau was rated the worst run county in America, on brink of bankruptcy, and that was when the nation's economy was booming – Clinton was still president. When the economy was booming, Nassau was on brink of bankruptcy, one step above junk bond status, a control board threatening to take over. I came in, and the control board never tried to take over –we managed things. We had a tax increase but I cut 1000 jobs, negotiated with unions. I am happy to compare my record.
What is your view of Governor Cuomo's offer to buy out property owners in areas affected by Sandy?
That’s a great idea – the governor has a lot of great ideas, and that’s one – but you can’t force people to sell. If people want, they should do it, put sand dunes and grasses and what’s necessary to protect the coastline, but if they don’t want, I don’t believe government should do a taking.
What do you think of the current idea for the Nassau Hub - biotech, with retail, but no housing?
I would support it if there were a link with housing and an easy way to get back-forth between the two. There is talk about having housing in downtown Hempstead and biotech at Coliseum, but let’s see a plan, that people can start to debate about how to do the right way.
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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