So when, in 1995, out of the ashes of the old Board of Supervisors—Nassau’s first form of government, which was ruled unconstitutional in the mid-’90s—emerged the county Legislature, Mangano ran. He was elected and has been re-elected ever since, currently finishing his 14th year. The two achievements he’s most proud of, he says, are: the revitalization of the Grumman property, and his role in the acquisition and preservation of an 81-acre tract of open space in Jericho, known as the Underhill Property, to protect LI’s subterranean drinking water supply.
His platform against Suozzi featured promises to repeal the county executive’s newly enacted 2.5 percent Home Energy Tax, freeze and fix Nassau’s “broken” property tax assessment system, cease the practice of borrowing and paying current expenses with more debt, and cut wasteful spending.
Suozzi and the Dems did their best to convince voters that a vote for Mangano would be a vote for Suozzi’s predecessor, former County Executive Tom Gulotta, a Republican, whose administration left Nassau on the brink of bankruptcy, with a nearly half-billion-dollar budget gap, a tax grievance backlog of $400 million and a bond rating just shy of junk bond status.
Mangano, on the contrary, pledges: “This administration clearly is going to put the people first, period. People before politics.
“Quite frankly, my mind is: Good government is good politics,” he adds. “And we will be practicing what we preach.”
ROLLER COASTER RIDE
Mangano does not underestimate the “monumental” task facing his administration. Yet throughout three interviews, he exudes an almost contagious sense of optimism and confidence about meeting those challenges. It’s this hopeful attitude that perhaps best defined his ascent.
In the war room of his campaign headquarters on Election Night, as the results trickled in—initially handing Suozzi a 237-vote lead—Mangano remained confident, expressing faith in his grassroots operation, which fought through with a modest $500,000 budget, dwarfing Suozzi’s multi-million dollar war chest.
“We’re going to do it,” he told the Press, amid balloons and hurried glances at election district maps plastering the walls. Mangano erased that lead the over the following days and weeks, first inching ahead by 24 votes then 497, peaking at 554, finishing just about 400 votes ahead.
As dozens of attorneys, elections workers and volunteers for both sides continued with the lengthy process of counting more than 8,000 paper ballots and that lead dropped to just 122 votes, Mangano again remained steadfast, walking among the fray at Board of Elections headquarters on a daily basis, staying until the end of each day’s count, still confident. This was despite hundreds of ballots challenged by Dems and rumors the party was planning to seek a complete election re-do citing voting irregularities.
Even now, “starting way, way behind the eight ball” with a full month lost from crucial transition time due to the count, Mangano continues to express certainty that his administration will be up to the task at hand.
“I look forward to meeting it,” he says. “I truly believe that we’ll put forth a plan that will make a positive change in Nassau County.
“Reform is coming,” he vows.
As of press time, Mangano is assembling the transition team that will be so critical in quelling Nassau’s current and future bleeding. That team, and the access provided by outgoing County Executive Suozzi’s administration, will be instrumental in formulating Mangano’s detailed strategy and solutions for Nassau. In the meantime, however, he has developed a list of broadstroke plans, programs and initiatives that will be a part of that remedy.
His administration’s No. 1 goal, he tells the Press, is to “attack” and fix the county’s ballooning structural deficit—the difference between recurring revenues and expenditures. Or as Mangano describes, “It’s like selling the furniture to pay the mortgage…It’s going to be an empty house.”
“Nassau County continues to spend more money than it takes in and we need to fix that,” he insists. “For us, our generation, for future generations, we have to find a way to correct the structural deficit.”
That imbalance has grown from $36.8 million in fiscal year 2005 to an estimated $170 million for 2009, according to NIFA.
Another major priority of the Mangano administration will be tackling Nassau’s property tax assessment system and grievance process, he vows, which hemorrhages roughly $100 million annually. Some remedies can be implemented rapidly, Mangano explains, such as the way commercial grievances are handled by the county attorney’s office—begging the question why it hasn’t been corrected already. Mangano plans to reassess the entire system. He also plans to use a frozen tax roll that has been corrected for more than one year so that taxpayers will reap that fiscal benefit while errant values are corrected.
“It does not make sense that there would be a resistance to stop this amount of errors,” he says. “It doesn’t make sense to me as a legislator and as a taxpayer and as a resident. On any level it doesn’t make sense.”
Another initiative is a Green Energy Fund, which Mangano says will provide homeowners and businesses the opportunity to borrow needed funds to convert to solar energy through a loan program whereby the improvement costs are repaid over the course of 15 years through annual property tax bills. The fund will save residents money, revitalize the home improvement industry, while cutting down CO2 emissions, he says.
Mangano also envisions the launch of an Office of Local Opportunity, intended to help people understand how to do business with the county government through training and education. This would help ensure that county contracts get awarded to local businesses rather than going to out-of-state companies, he explains.
Fulfilling his campaign promise, Mangano’s administration will also be repealing Suozzi’s Energy Tax, he assures—the equivalent of a 4.9 percent hike in property taxes, says NIFA, which brings in an estimated $39 million annually. He dispels rumors that the tax would be phased out, and addresses criticisms from Suozzi about the hole such a rescinding would create, explaining that much of the savings would result from: a reduction in his own staff, increased efficiency in government operations and changes to the tax grievance process.
The road ahead for Mangano is long and steep, with Nassau taxpayers along for the ride. Just how long—and how deep—the current economic downturn will cut remains anybody’s guess. How Mangano will ultimately fare against the pressing challenges facing the fiscal stability of the county waits to be seen. One thing is for certain, however: The course Nassau’s new top-elected official sets for us will chart our way of living for years and years to come.
Mangano, from his desk in the small office he’ll soon be trading in for Suozzi’s plush, penthouse-like grandmaster suite, explains to reporters that it’s overwhelming challenges that have always fueled him to beat the odds.
“Any time everyone’s told me I can’t do something I’ve done it,” Mangano says. “Now in this election, they told me, ‘You’re the underdog, you’re not going to win’… Now we’re here. And we’re going to do a good job here.
“We have a monumental task, there’s no doubt about it,” he continues. “There’s very serious challenges here, this is far from a cakewalk, this is probably as close to a nightmare as you can get, with respect to the job at hand. But look, I want to do it.”
Besides, he’s still smiling.