A unified Nassau County Democratic Party nominated Tom Suozzi to make a repeat run for Nassau County Executive and Howard Weitzman to redux as County Comptroller, setting the themes of the races, “Now You Know,” and proudly standing for a progressive agenda.
Suozzi and Weitzman made it clear they will contrast their record of turning the County from the brink of bankruptcy to solvency, while the Republicans under County Executive Ed Mangano have reversed that progress and brought Nassau again to fiscal instability.
The Democrats also nominated Kathleen Rice for reelection to District Attorney, and Laura Gillen, a woman who literally worked for Mother Theresa in Calcutta, for County Clerk.
New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, giving a stirring nominating speech for Suozzi, reminded the crowd of their previous rivalry for the party’s nomination for that very position, joking, “I would not be here today as State Comptroller were it not for Tom Suozzi.” (DiNapoli spoke after Nassau County Legislator Carrie Solages, in his nominating speech, credited Tom Suozzi for giving him his opportunity.)
A party deal that pushed Wayne Wink out of the running for the party’s nomination for County Comptroller, backing him for North Hempstead Town Clerk (a snub to Leslie Gross who switched parties to run for re-election as a Republican), ended that rivalry, and earned Wink, presently a County Legislator who was gerrymandered out of his district, a shout-out from Weitzman.
North Hempstead will see big changes: Judi Bosworth, a popular County Legislator and former Great Neck School Board President, is the Democratic nominee for North Hempstead Town Supervisor, since the 10-year incumbent, Jon Kaiman, decided not to run again but instead seek the office of District Judge. Kaiman had widely been expected to move on – he was in contention to head up LIPA before Hurricane Sandy and the move to privatize the utility, and also had been in consideration to make a run for County Executive until Suozzi stepped in and became the clear party favorite.
Nominated to run for Bosworth’s seat on the County Legislature is Ellen Birnbaum, North Hempstead’s Intermunicipal Coordination Director.
In another interesting twist, the Democrats nominated Denise Ford to hold her seat as Legislator for the 4th District. A registered Democrat, she caucused with the Republicans, giving the Republicans the Majority control over the County Legislature, which then went on to squeeze out any input from the Democratic Minority over matters ranging from the budget, to employee cutbacks, to the disastrous special election and bond referendum for the Nassau Coliseum. Her vote enabled the Republican redistricting plan to be adopted. She ran as a Republican in 2011, fending off Democratic challenger Darlene Tangney.
Tom DiNapoli: Compare Records, Leadership
“This race this year will be about more than credentials, though he certainly has those – it’s about leadership, and the reality that Nassau needs new leadership starting with the office of county executive,” said New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, in his nominating speech for Tom Suozzi.
“To suggest our candidate has the record is to look at that record – his record was extraordinary at similarly challenging time. Transformative for county.
“It wasn’t so long ago: 13 consecutive upgrades from credit rating agencies- wouldn’t we like to see that again.
“Spending below rate of inflation 8 years in a row, conservative with taxpayer dollars.
“Smart about not wasting resources on expensive outside contracts.”
DiNapoli noted that Governing Magazine named Suozzi “the Public Official of the Year, the man who spearheaded Nassau’s remarkable turnaround from the brink of financial disaster.”
“Don’t we need a county executive again to spearhead a turnaround from brink of financial disaster?” he prompted.
“Tom’s leadership was about smart government choices, but more than that – having a progressive agenda, and a view with the future.”
He recalled the reforms Suozzi instituted: he created the Office of Emergency Management which proved so vital during Hurricane sandy; the Medicaid fraud unit, so only those entitled to benefits would get them. Under Suozzi, the Section 8 housing program was restarted, and he created the “No Wrong Door” program, a nationally recognized social service program, so people wouldn’t be turned away.
Suozzi championed the Environmental Bond Act – “We cherish the environment here” – worked with the labor community, and signed the Nassau County Living Wage Law. “Important, progressive.”
“All this is about fiscally responsibility and having a progressive vision. That’s what Tom Suozzi’s candidacy offers: a proven track record on delivering services even in a challenging environment and all with a view to the future, understanding the core values of the Democratic Party, that we want to move the community forward.
“Nassau County needs leadership, Democratic, progressive leadership. Nassau County needs Tom.”
Tom Suozzi: ‘Now We Know’
Accepting the nomination, Tom Suozzi gave one of his signature rallying speeches, and sounding the refrain for his campaign, “Now we know,” proudly comparing his record against Ed Mangano’s, and adeptly contrasting the environments in which both had to lead – Suozzi, taking over a County near bankruptcy in the midst of a boom economy nationally, and Mangano unable to address the economic problems of the national recession and collapse in housing.
“Now we know the difference between Democratic and Republican rule, the difference between Suozzi and Mangano, the difference between fighting for the people and fighting to take care of your buddies. Now we know.
“When I was first elected, I was not well known; the county was a wreck, not because of the economy, not because something happened beyond our borders, but because of mismanagment of Gulotta and GOP. They drove the county into the ground.
“Bill Clinton was president, we had federal surpluses, a boom economy, the internet revolution, but it couldn’t save us from havoc wreaked on Nassau County by its government.
“The State of New York took extraordinary measure in 1999 of putting in a state control board to oversee Nassau’s finances, not because of the economy but because the government was so awfully and terribly run,
“Now we know.
“I took office three months after 9/11 ….People were desperate ….Every part of the county in disrepair – sewage treatment, parks, potholes in streets, whole place falling apart…I inherited tough situation, but now we know what happened: we fixed it… we went in and rolled up sleeves and fixed it.
“I had eight consecutive balanced budgets, surpluses, 13 bond upgrades, more than any other municipality in the US – state, localities, school districts, more than any municipality in the USA.
“I modernized operations – went around to every department, consolidated, found 76 different storerooms for different supplies, sold off excess equipment, implemented inventory controls, more efficiently and effectively, and as result, did the job, cut borrowing in half, cut spending to below the rate of inflation.
“Now we stand here, endorsed by Tom DiNapoli (adding, “People know our history which is why this is all the more meaningful.. He is standard bearer for our party”), labor unions, progressive groups, Democratic officials, clubs, every progressive organization you could hope for.
“Why? Because now we know – we know what needs to be done to turn Nassau County around and move forward to make Nassau County the best place it can be – by winning election in November.
“In 2010 came Ed Mangano. No one really knew the guy except the people in his legislative district. His name recognition was low, his record of accomplishment not significant, no one knew what he had done in his district… No one knew him. But now we know him, we know what he’s done.
“The challenges he faced in 2010 was not like what we faced in 2002. It wasn’t caused by mismanagement in government, but a national recession, the world economy had tanked. And what did he do? He made it worse.
“Now we know.
“For years we listened to him say how tough things were, ‘I’m trying really hard.’ We listened to him blame me, the Democrats, unions, NIFA, the president, the courts, everybody he possibly could but never accepted blame himself, not for him or the cronies he put into office.
“Now we know what he did in office.
“We listened to his bold promises: ‘$60 million in union concessions’ –but never did. ‘Fix the assessment system,’ but he made it worse. ‘Close the police precincts and save money’ but he never did. ‘Cut the spending,’ but he doubled spending above inflation every year in office. ‘Build a taxpayer funded new Coliseum,’ but he never did.
“He said he wouldn’t increase taxes, but he did try to go to Albany for sales tax increase; he borrowed over $1 billion; he increased fees equivalent to a 19% property tax increase. And he simply stopped paying county bills.
“I watch him drive the County into debt and deficit, undo the progress we had made. Now we know.
“Irresponsible borrowing, millions on failed referendum, and still he lost the Islanders. He lost the lawsuit on school districts, a lot of them. He broke the assessment system so that some are seeing school taxes up 29%. Now we know….
“So let’s compare: We had 13 bond upgrades, he had 2 bond downgrades. We had 8 surpluses, he had 2 deficits. We worked with NIFA, he sued NIFA and was taken over.
“We should be the Number One county in the US, we just have to fix this government. Government is a wreck, it’s terrible, make sure we reelect someone – preferably me – who is focused on fixing the finances of Nassau County, focused on smart government initiatives, working with school districts, towns, special districts to figure how to collaborate more, to share costs, work together to lay out a vision for this place we call home, to make it a place where young people want to live, exciting, expand the tax base, create job opportunities, live in Cool Downtowns and make this the destination place it should be so when they graduate college so they don’t move to Brooklyn or South Carolina, but back to their hometown…
“We can do it. It happens in other places, we just need to wake up to the reality we have to change the way we do business… you know who will do that, Democratic party …
“I believe in the future of Nassau County, I believe that working together we can make this the place we know it should be.”
Suozzi told his fellow county Democrats, “We face a terribly hard race ahead. This will be a battle like never has been seen before.
“Back in 2001 when we won, it was clear as day Democrats would win. This time, Republicans are energized like never before, taking care of everybody– contractors, their buddies, the Republican machine…
“We have to fight for the people. That’s why we do it – not for banners, for parties, but because we want to make the world better place, and Dem party the banner to do that, I’m going to work as hard as I can in this election, give it all I’ve got.”
Kathleen Rice: ‘Why this Campaign Matters’
Kathleen Rice, Nassau County’s first woman District Attorney, gave an speech you might not expect, but could stand as a party credo:
“Why this campaign matters: It’s easy with the gamesmanship to lose sight of what binds us as a party – so focused on polls, rhetoric, blogs, battle, don’t focus on the values we share, the morals, the ethics, the principles that have made every person in this room a Democrat – first and foremost because we care about other people, not just our own families having health care, but other families also, not just our own kids finding a job, we want to grow the economy, so our neighbor’s kids, can find a job, too.
“We don’t just care about people who look, like, love like we do, but also for those who don’t.
“We don’t just see policies and mechanisms to help the rich get richer, but see them as moral statements that as a society, we need to give all a shot to achieving the American Dream.
“We care about the quality of schools, the safety of neighborhoods, but we also care about the quality of schools down the road from us, and the safety of families we don’t know and may never meet.
“Our party is about this simple understanding, that we are all in this world together, and while there is shared responsibility there is also shared opportunity.
“That’s what we are fighting for as Democrats. That’s why we are here. If we don’t pound the pavement, we will be left to be governed by a party that doesn’t share our values, by elected of county legislator and former school board president officials who don’t believe in principle of shared opportunity that are so central to our party’s core.
“Not only would electoral defeat mean setbacks for party, but real, consequences for families who rely most on our party’s vision of social and economic justice…
“The impact of letting county slide into mediocrity won’t always be felt by rich and economically mobile, but will be felt almost entirely by vulnerable families, seniors, young people..
“All of this is bigger than us. These races have real impacts, not only on our lives, but the lives of people we don’t know and need our help. This race, in no uncertain terms, is to prevent this slide into mediocrity, to fight for a County we know can harness opportunity for everybody.”
Howard Weitzman: Restore Professionalism, Independence
Howard Weitzman gave a full-throated argument for being returned to the office of County Comptroller and casting out the guy who narrowly defeated him, George Maragos, based on the key requirements of the office: professionalism and independence.
“Any observer of my terms in office know that when necessary, I wasn’t afraid to speak out when I thought [Suozzi’s] financial plan could be improved or modified.
“Maragos has done nothing but parrot administration’s line, losing any credibility. He dropped all pretense of independence when he stood by the County Executive and swore the 2011 budget was balanced in face of widespread disbelief – and then was forced to admit to a $45 million deficit at the end of year… that forever stained his term in office.
“During my time in office, I saved millions in fraud and abuse – I was the first to audit special districts, pointing out waste and abuse.
“I got a $500 million rollback in government health insurance, saving taxpayers $100 million, created Nassau RX health card, a model for nation.
“Maragos done nothing other than run in vain for higher office..There is not one accomplishment he can point to that has had major impact on the lives or wallets of Nassau residents.
“He admitted his office could not prepare the county financial statement – his most important responsibility – and would have to contract out.
“He campaigned to address assessment, now he tells everyone to challenge their assessment. Our assessment system is the equivalent of a lottery – you have to be in it to win it. Challenges are almost always granted, forcing taxpayers to pay for their neighbors successful challenges…. All Maragos can say is to challenge.
“By any metric used to evaluate, Maragos has failed- independence, professionalism, the state and quality of his reports, loss of credibility in the financial community.
“An inept review of outside work done during Sandy resulted in investigations by the Nassau attorney, New York State attorney and New York State Department of Labor.”
Weitzman noted, “Many have asked why I am running again for public office – my health has returned, I don’t need to prove anything after a narrow loss. It is because county again in financial freefall and taxpayers deserve independent comptroller with proper background, experience.”
The Democrats also nominated Laura Gillen for County Clerk, “a remarkable combination of intellect, accomplishment, public service and humanitarianism. A Nassau County native who has practiced law for 12 years, she has “an uncommon commitment to public service and caring for needs of the less fortunate – from volunteering to care for AIDS sufferers, to a mission in Calcutta where she worked for Mother Theresa’s home for the dying, to assisting victims of domestic violence in US,”said Nassau County Democratic Chair Jay Jacobs.
Haber: Vows to Fight On
Meanwhile, Adam Haber withdrew his nomination but vowed to continue his fight independently, in a primary for the County Executive slot.
“I believe in this race, Nassau will be best served by letting voters decide,” Haber told the nominating convention which listened politely. “I will petition my way onto the ballot I am withdrawing name from consideration of nomination. I will run a vigorous campaign.”
He took a shot at Suozzi and the Democrats for holding their nominating convention at Chateau Briand, which is one of the caterers pushing for a state law to enable employers to withhold tips from their workers (republican State Senator Jack Martins, who received $38,000 in campaign donations from the catering industry is pushing a bill to squash lawsuits from restaurant workers who claim they were cheated out of millions in tips; the bill passed the State Senate last year but died in the Assembly.)
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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