In the cab ride over from the train station to the debate site, it became clear this was Cuomo territory – at least for the night. Cuomo signs helped an army of trade union supporters find their way to the gates of Hoffstra.
It was a festive sight with bag pipes playing. Cops, carpenters, masons and a dozen other trades milled about in a kind of political ”shape-up.” The Port Authority Policeman’s Benevolent Association brought their hospitality wagon and served strong coffee.
There was not a Paladino sign anywhere to be seen. This had been Lazio country during the Republican primary.
Cuomo booster Bobby Bonanza one of the building trade members who turned out. He said this election is all about getting people back to work. "The labourers, the trades are all out here to support Andrew Cuomo for the debate tonight,” he said. “We want to get him pumped up for the debate tonight because we believe he is the man who is going to get it done for us in the state."
Inside the packed auditorium, local residents like Karen Amper also talked about their economic anxiety. She said prolonged unemployment for people she knows and ever-escalating property taxes have everyone on edge.
"We're not happy with the property taxes going up,” complained Amper. “It is really putting a tremendous squeeze on the middle class."
The fact that in 2010 the “grand” Gubernatorial debate was held in Nassau County is just one indication of the increasing political importance of suburban battlegrounds like Hempstead. Historically this was GOP territory, but in 2006 Democrat Elliot Spitzer did well here carrying it by almost a two to one margin. Two years later President Obama also won easily. In 2009 Democrats were stunned when a relatively unknown Republican County legislator Ed Mangano beat the much better known incumbent, Democratic County Executive Tom Suozzi, by just a few hundred votes.
Perhaps most distressing for Democrats, Suozzi spent $1.6 million, while Manganai made better use of just $643,000. Mangano did not have much in the way of coat tails, but his effort no doubt helped Nassau Republicans recapture their county legislature.