Ed Mangano sits behind his desk on the second floor of the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola and fields questions from reporters about his life, the lengthy rollercoaster-ride of an election recount that ended the night before and the concession of his rival, two-term Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi, which just took place down the hall.
The seven-term Republican county legislator from Bethpage smiles a lot. Rightfully so. Mangano just unseated a man many in the Democratic Party revered as a type of political messiah. Suozzi, who was viewed as an underdog in the 2001 Democratic primary and decades-long rule of the Republican machine, had been the Dems’ shining star. He slew the GOP dragon, becoming the first Democratic county executive in 30 years. He faced off against his own party, helping oust a sitting Democratic Assemblyman. He ran for governor and told the world he wanted to be president. Until Suozzi’s Dec. 1 concession, there was speculation he may be a viable contender for the U.S. Senate in 2010.
But the sea changed yet again. The tables turned. Mangano and the Republicans became the underdogs as a global recession pinched the pockets of angry Nassau voters burdened with paying the second-highest property taxes in the nation and saddled with more and more debt. They demanded change, first ousting two incumbent Dems from the county Legislature to give the Republicans a majority, and then, after a long, heated recount, disposed of Suozzi.
Now, it’s Mangano who will take the reins of the county’s $2.6 billion budget, its 1.3 million residents and ultimately, its future. Yes, the 47-year-old father of two is smiling, even laughing at times, as he recalls many of the twists and turns that led him to his new status as—says one reporter here in the room, “the most powerful man in Nassau.” Yet Mangano’s grin levels off when he speaks of Nassau’s current and near-future financial situation.
“Nassau County’s finances require immediate attention,” he tells the Press, mentioning foreboding analyses from the county’s independent state fiscal watchdog, the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority, NIFA. “There’s some very significant issues that are out there, as they were pointed out by NIFA. And we need to get started right away on a plan to fix Nassau County.”
In fact, the only documents on Mangano’s desk—actually, the only documents visible in his entire office—are two recent NIFA reports. Perhaps prophetically, they’re featured prominently beneath a crystal ball paperweight front-and-center before him.
Those reports paint a dismal portrait of the county’s finances and are highly critical of the Suozzi administration’s lack of long-term fiscal planning, reliance on one-shots to close budget gaps and depletion of $220 million in emergency reserves during “good times,” among other practices. They also foretell of fiscal reckoning headed for Nassau beginning in 2011 [“Nassau’s Balancing Act,” Oct. 15, 2009].
The NIFA reports might as well be Mangano’s Holy Bible. He preached their warnings throughout his campaign, and takes their message seriously. Arguably, so did voters. Yet where Mangano sounds the alarm about the oncoming “financial tsunami,” Suozzi, even a day before his concession speech, touted to media outlets that all three major credit rating agencies—Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch—recently affirmed Nassau’s credit rating as “stable.” Almost flying in the face of Mangano’s cautioning, Suozzi declared that: “The financial status of Nassau County is the best that it’s been in 20 years.”
Mangano described the claim as “fiction,” stressing that Suozzi shouldn’t have judged his ability based on a bond rating, but rather, the county’s balance sheet.
“The balance sheet in Nassau County is in dismal condition,” he says. “We’re paying for it and future generations are going to pay for it unless it gets addressed immediately.”
The items decorating Mangano’s office tell a story. There are framed photographs of his family—wife Linda and sons Salvatore and Alexander. There’s a framed aerial view of the Northrop-Grumman Property in Bethpage. There are photos with various politicians lining the small office’s windowsill: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), among others. Awards adorn the walls. Several hardhats consume a back shelf. Each component offers a glimpse into just who Nassau’s new county executive is.
Mangano grew up in Bethpage. His father, John, is a Korean War veteran and former union ironworker. His mother, Rachel, was a homemaker throughout most his childhood. His grandfather, Salvatore, fought fires and welded for a living. He became a courtroom buff in retirement.
Mangano tells the Press his family’s strong work ethic rubbed off on him. His first job was as a newspaper “red-bag delivery guy,” tossing Pennysavers. Next he delivered Newsday. Mangano worked as a janitor throughout high school to put himself through college. He graduated Bethpage High School in 1980, Hofstra University in ’84, and Hofstra Law in ’87. He was admitted to the New York State Bar the following year. While earning his degrees, Mangano also worked in printing and publishing, climbing his way up the ladder at a printing plant, he says, from inserter to cameraman, night manager to manager, vice president to president, eventually owning the company. He stayed in printing for 20 years, starting general practice after law school. He became general counsel of Briarcliffe College, then its dean of continuing education. He joined Uniondale-based Rivkin Radler LLP in 2001, specializing in intellectual property.
But by that time, Mangano had already been bitten by politics. Environmental and health concerns over the deteriorating former U.S. Navy and Grumman property in his community, once LI’s economic engine, became his launch pad.
“Its effect on the community I grew up in and the community I was intending to raise a family in, that’s simply it,” he explains as the spark for his political career. “I got very involved in those issues.”