The political tide in 2009 was changing. Fresh off the historic victory of Barack Obama, Democrats, confident that they could win any contest at any level of government, fell asleep, allowing the nascent Tea Party to gain steam and captivate the Republican base. That summer, Tom Suozzi, a popular incumbent Nassau County executive, was focusing on the 2010 statewide election, anticipating a possible run for governor. He expected to coast to victory and win reelection without any serious competition.
Suozzi didn’t pay much attention to his challenger Ed Mangano, a virtually unknown county legislator, and it wasn’t until about two weeks before the election that Suozzi began to mount a serious campaign. Even with more than $1 million in his campaign account it was too late to resuscitate the contest. The race went on well after Election Day, with recounts and court challenges, and Mangano was eventually declared the winner several weeks later.
Now, after three years to reflect on his loss and the campaign mistakes he made, Suozzi is eager for a rematch and recently announced that he’s running for his old job again. This time around the stakes are incredibly high for the GOP.
It’s no secret that the New York State Republican Party is in a state of crisis. The last time the GOP won statewide office was in 2002 when Gov. George Pataki cruised into his third term. Now, with 2014 on the horizon, it’s unclear if anyone can run a viable campaign against the widely popular Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo.
Part of the problem has been candidate selection. In recent years the GOP has run Wendy Long, Joseph DioGuardi, Jay Townsend and Carl Paladino—people who lack name recognition and who were part of the party shift to the right in statewide races. (Harry Wilson, who ran a very strong campaign for state comptroller in 2010, may resurface again but it is unclear in what capacity.)
In order to rebuild the party the GOP must hold onto some of the gains they have made in recent years—particularly the badly needed county executive position in Nassau, with Ed Mangano, and Rob Astorino’s county executive seat in Westchester. For Republicans, these seats are great springboards for runs for higher office. But holding the suburban executive positions is going to be tough this time.
Suozzi is a proven vote getter and is capable of raising substantial cash. He starts out his election with at least $1 million in the bank and pledges of substantial future support. He may be facing a significant challenge in the Democratic primary from newcomer Adam Haber. The financier and restaurant owner has pledged $2 million of his own money for the campaign. With seven months until the primary, Haber has an opportunity to distinguish himself among the party faithful in Nassau.
Further complicating matters is the possibility of North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman throwing his hat into the ring, though I strongly believe he will step aside and run for his current position. The prospect of a Democratic primary in Nassau is not too palatable to party leaders and they will do everything they can to avoid a nasty intraparty contest.
Democrats clearly underestimated Mangano in 2009, but this time they are eager to reclaim the seat and they sense that he is vulnerable. Despite record high approval ratings after his handling of Hurricane Sandy, Mangano is going to need to motivate Republican and independent voters to support him. In the last ten years Democrats have seen their enrollment swell in Nassau and the growing African-American community in western Nassau is likely to support the Democratic candidate. If Mangano is capable of holding onto his seat then he will no doubt get the attention of state Republican leaders.
Westchester is also incredibly important for Republicans to hold. County Democrats, in an effort to avoid a messy and costly three-way primary, have now cut a deal to allow local district leaders to choose at their upcoming party convention who will run against County Executive Rob Astorino.
Democrats will have extra incentive to take the seat from Astorino as he has been an outspoken critic of Andrew Cuomo and mentioned as a possible candidate for governor in 2014. Knocking Astorino out of office will inevitably hurt his chances of running for higher office in the future.
The New York City mayoral race will gain a lot of media attention, but the Nassau and Westchester races will be just as unpredictable.
Jerry Kremer represented Long Island in the New York State Assembly for 23 years.
Tags: Adam Haber, Andrew Cuomo, Carl Paladino, Ed Mangano, George Pataki, Harry Wilson, jay-townsend, Jerry Kremer, Joesph DioGuardi, Jon Kaiman, Nassau County Executive, Rob Astorino, Tom Suozzi, Wendy Long, Westchester County Executive