By Larry Gordon
Adam Haber of Roslyn is hoping to be given the opportunity to save Nassau County from itself. Haber wants to be elected Nassau County Executive in November but will first have to prevail in a Democratic primary on September 10 against former county executive Tom Suozzi.
I met with Haber last week and we discussed a broad range of issues, including his vision for restoring the economics of Nassau County–one of the wealthiest counties in the United States–back to health. If Haber manages to best Suozzi in September, he will then have to face Republican incumbent Ed Mangano at the polls in November. For now, it is basically an uphill battle for Haber, who is working hard to secure some name recognition and try to at least pull even in that area with Suozzi and Mangano.
Haber seems to be a no-nonsense businessman who achieved success as a commodities trader and in commercial real estate and today is an owner of two New York City restaurants. In his estimation, there is a great deal of waste and oversized government in the county. But while his idea is to cut whatever is superfluous, he feels that today’s county officials suffer from a serious lack of vision on how to generate much-needed revenue for Nassau County.
“We are not attracting business to the county or even drawing people to come to our shopping centers and spend money the way they should,” Haber says. He points out that 40% of the tax revenue for the county comes from sales tax, and so long as there is no effort being made to attract shoppers from around the tri-state area, we are not capitalizing on a vital and important potential source of income for the county.
Haber believes that, amongst other things, this part of Long Island can produce significant income by prompting tourism and attracting people to vacation and spend money here. “We have great scenic areas and fantastic beaches and other resorts,” Haber says. He adds that the county does next to nothing to encourage or attract people to vacation on Long Island. He acknowledges that there has been plenty of waste in local government, both under Suozzi and currently under the Republican administration. He says that the overspending for nonessential services needs to be addressed, but just as importantly, Nassau has to search for other streams of income from both business and the tourist industry.
If Haber’s dreams come to reality, he will be making history by being the first Jew to hold the position of county executive since it was created in 1938. Adam describes himself as a social liberal and a fiscal conservative, which is a fascinating mesh that in its own right would be quite a challenge to translate and turn into policy. He is exuberant and excited about the possibilities. He feels that Nassau County residents desperately want a change that can work toward straightening out the always twisting out-of-control financial situation in the county.
Adam Haber was sitting here in my office in Cedarhurst on the day we met because he believes that the Five Towns will be the key to his victory over Mr. Suozzi on September 10. While foreign policy has little to do with governing Nassau County, Haber understands that every elected official in a place like New York needs one, and that is especially true on the matter of Israel. So we depart from our dollars-and-cents discussion to deal with those issues.
“I am wildly pro-Israel,” he says and goes on to say that this translates into his belief that Israel definitely has the right to independently defend itself. This usually means that he does not favor the U.S. restraining Israel from destroying Iran’s nuclear bomb facilities if Israel deems that move strategically necessary. We did not delve too deeply into other policy matters, but I was interested to know where he stood on the release of Jonathan Pollard after 29 years in an American prison for spying for Israel. Haber hesitated just a little, as this is for some reason a difficult issue for many. After a couple of minutes, he acceded, saying that Pollard has certainly served more than an ample sentence and that he should finally be released and be allowed to go live in Israel.
At least two things are certain when it comes to Adam Haber. The first is that he is indeed a departure from politics as usual in Nassau County. And the second is that if he is going to be successful, it will have to be in a come-from-behind, underdog fashion. The political facts of life here and just about everywhere else are that name recognition is the name of the game. And that’s why Mr. Haber is out there working hard, going door to door, speaking with and engaging potential voters.
An additional fact of political life is that the Haber campaign is a two-pronged process. First he has to be able to beat Suozzi on September 10, and then there is a two-month campaign to try to unseat the Republican incumbent, Mr. Mangano.
Can Haber defeat Suozzi? Mr. Haber’s political consultant, Cindy Darrison, says that Suozzi at this point in time is certainly beatable. While certainly a well-spoken and intelligent candidate, Suozzi was defeated by Mangano in his last election, and he suffered a significant defeat when he mounted a primary run against Eliot Spitzer for governor in 2006. Ms. Darrison also points out that in 2001, Tom Suozzi was an outsider who defeated Tom DiNapoli, the current New York State Comptroller.
An additional dynamic to this race is that with four weeks left until the primary election, so far Mr. Suozzi has refused Mr. Haber’s request to a public debate on the issues confronting Nassau County. Mr. Haber left a small yellow duck on my desk after our meeting with a sign hung around its neck that asks, “Why is Tom Suozzi ducking the opportunity to debate Adam Haber?”
Haber is the consummate outsider who, as we mentioned above, is working with the disadvantage of the lack of name recognition. Obviously Mr. Suozzi does not want to afford his opponent a platform from which he helps promote his candidacy, hence the refusal to debate.
Haber held a press conference earlier this week in which he took both Mr. Suozzi and Mr. Mangano to task for campaigning for reelection while they were or are supposed to be managing the affairs of the county. An aide to Mr. Haber pointed out to the 5TJT that in 2006, when Tom Suozzi ran for the Democratic nomination for governor against Mr. Spitzer, the then county executive spent 250 days out of the county campaigning around New York State. Mr. Haber has a similar complaint about Mr. Mangano, that he is spending an inordinate amount of time running for reelection rather than running the county.
Perhaps the most looming issue in the November election, and that is regardless of who wins the September primary, is the way in which the county was ravaged during Hurricane Sandy ten months ago, and the inadequate government response. Mr. Haber says that no matter how you dice or slice it, the county failed to respond properly or in a timely fashion to the havoc wreaked by last year’s storm. To that end, he is calling for the establishment of an Emergency Management Response Plan and a team that will function all year round and be prepared to act in case of a repeat of just such an emergency.
Ms. Darrison concludes, “The voters in Nassau County are certainly ready to elect an outsider to take a fresh look at making things right for the people that live here.” v
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