In photo, former County Executive Tom Suozzi seeks to regain that office.
by Sharon G. Jonas
Meet the Candidates night sponsored by four civic associations representing The Bellmores and The Merricks drew over 20 political hopefuls to the Merrick Golf Course Clubhouse on Tuesday, the first anniversary of superstorm Sandy.
The event, jointly organized by the North and Central Merrick Civic Association, South Merrick Community Civic Association, North Bellmore Civic Association and the South Bellmore Civic Association, attracted a roomful of attentive residents.
Only five invited candidates – Kate Murray, Kathleen Rice, Norma Gonsalves, Gary Hudes and Hon. David Ayeres – were unable to attend.
Past rivals Edward Mangano, Republican, and Tom Suozzi, Democrat, competing for the county executive position, took their five-minute turns to voice their strengths and criticisms.
As a preface to his talk incumbent Ed Mangano stated, “I took a different approach to government.”
He said his accomplishments include assisting small businesses and attracting companies who left Nassau back to the area, creating housing options in the form of four affordable apartment buildings under construction, creating public-private partnerships and “breaking the log jam” over the Nassau Coliseum.
The new coliseum, which will be a privately-owned enterprise, will spare taxpayers the expense of capital improvements as well as benefit from $4.4 million in revenue, Mangano told the residents.
His evidence of building a “stronger economy” included Nassau County now having the lowest unemployment and largest growth of sales tax in the region. Responding to a question regarding gambling, he stated, “No casinos will be in Nassau County. I want to make that very clear.”
Tom Suozzi, who has been endorsed by both Newsday and The New York Times, said we need to fix the county’s finances, which are “an absolute wreck.” He said NIFA (Nassau Interim Finance Authority) took over county finances in 2010 when Mangano “blew a hole in the budget.”
“ I had 13 bond upgrades and he’s had three downgrades. I had eight surpluses. He’s had two deficits. I reduced the debt. He increased the debt.”
Suozzi said he was the Chairman of the New York State Commission of Property Tax Relief and helped arrange the tax cap now in effect. “The county portion of your property taxes when I was in office went from 22-½ % of your overall bill, to 16%…” he reminded the residents.
He blamed Mangano for school taxes rising over the 2-3% cap (see Your NewsMag print magazine, page 3) because he granted too many requested property grievance reductions because of superstorm Sandy, which lowered the overall assessment and made raising rates necessary.
No Thank You, Ed Mangano
“If you didn’t grieve your property assessment, your taxes went up 19%. All this talk about thanking Ed Mangano for not raising taxes, just look at your tax bill.” Fees under Mangano, he said, also went up $100 million a year.
Regarding Suozzi’s pay raise to $65,000 a year, which Mangano criticizes in attack ads, Suozzi said a bi-partisan commission made this decision and when the fiscal crisis hit he gave $12,000 back to the county. “If he’s so against the salary, why doesn’t he give [it] back?”
Felix Procacci, a Republican running on the Democratic ticket, said the fiscal accomplishments Kate Murray touts on her numerous mailings are not factual. He said the town’s budget contains too many unexplained anomalies, and when he has questioned salaries and filed ethical complaints he has be stonewalled.
Felix Procacci, candidate
Using a chart to outline his claims, he said since 2003, when Murray was appointed, the property tax levy has increased 44.9%, the bond debt is up 33% and the town has had three consecutive deficits from 2010-2013.
A regular attendee of town board meetings, he has closely followed the issues and believes that “transparency is how we solve [waste and abuse] issues.” Procacci said town meetings should be broadcast online, and town contracts along with budgeted costs need to be online the day after they are ratified.
Incumbent Democrat David Denenberg, said being “responsive, accessible and effective” as possible were his goals when first elected, and his commitment to these ideas remain and are the reasons he runs public meetings. He said he has always worked well across party lines, getting bills passed whether in the majority or minority.
“But I can’t vote for a budget that has a deficit. I can’t vote for a budget that raises fees 100% and says you didn’t raise taxes, because you did raise taxes.”
Challenger Steve Rhoads, Republican, a lawyer and a captain of an engine company in Wantagh, said he chose to run because of concerns for young people in Nassau County. “Even if they can find a job, they can’t buy a house.”
“My disagreement with [Denenberg] is how government should be run.” Rhoads said, “We should be investing in business and industry…so we can expand our commercial tax base and make it possible for our families to stay.”
A question from resident Audrey Ciuffo about a “negative letter” left at a Bellmore residence stating the Denenberg campaign posted signs on lawns without permission of the homeowners, created the night’s only moment of friction. The audience reacted with angry outbursts when Rhoads reiterated the letter’s message aloud.
5th District: (Includes a small portion of Merrick)
Democrat Laura Curran – looking to fill the seat being vacated by Baldwin Democrat Joe Scannell – expressed her desire to be “part of the team to put Nassau County back on track financially.”
She said that the county portion of taxes is quite small, but the Legislature has the ability to “make the financial climate more affordable.” This includes fixing the “broken assessment system” and having a “laser-like focus” on county responsibilities, which include public health and safety, infrastructure and social services.
Baldwin resident Debra Pugliese, Republican, is running for the office for the first time after being active in community issues for over 20 years. “It’s a natural thing in my life,” she said, to be active and working to create positive change. “We need to keep taxes down because we can’t afford to keep living here.”
13th District: (Includes parts of North Bellmore and North Merrick)
Challenger and Democrat Ed Kraus, the youngest fire commissioner in Nassau County, said he is an experienced “problem solver.” “We invented the idea of suburbia here in Nassau” but now it is unsustainable and both the young and old are leaving.
He said what is needed are “independent, objective thinkers” and “cross- party thinking and teamwork,” and he expressed the ability and desire to work with other legislators to focus on the major roadways, building up businesses and infrastructure, downtowns and train stations to make it possible for our young to finish college and stay here.
Town Council – Sixth District:
Democrat Diane Madden, vying for Town Councilman Gary Hudes’s seat, said if elected she will ask for a town audit and for video cameras in town board meetings to create an atmosphere of transparency. She said, “This government isn’t going to be repaired until the public is aware of what’s taking place.”
After helping to clean up the town’s animal shelter by requesting an audit and ridding it of what she termed “Republican club” politics that caused the animals to be neglected, she turned her attention to town residents.
She said the same unjust concepts are being applied to residents. After attending town hall meetings for three years she said she is “appalled at how money is wasted and the public is mistreated.”
Her opponent, Gary Hudes, Republican, did not attend.
Also squaring off were Republican George Maragos and Democrat Howard Weitzman for County Comptroller, Republican Nasrin Ahmad and Democrat Jasmine Garcia-Vieux for Town Clerk, and Republican Maureen O’Connell and Democrat Laura Gillen for County Clerk.
Republican Howard Sturim, running for District Attorney, spoke although his opponent, Democrat Kathleen Rice, did not attend.
Patricia Harrington, David Levine and David Sullivan, running for two available spots as County Court Judge along with Anna Grimaldi and Joy Watson running against each other for the Second District Court Judge, also spoke.
Supreme Court Judge Hope Zimmerman was unable to attend, but was represented by her husband, Daniel Zimmerman.
Representatives from the League of Women Voters, a non-partisan political organization that encourages informed participation in government, provided a 2013 Voters Guide. Their pamphlet explained the six ballot proposals voters can choose in the November 5 election. For more information visit www.vote411.org.