Volume 76, Number 14 | August 23 - 29, 2006

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

Tom Suozzi at a town hall meeting at the Sol Goldman 14th St. Y earlier this month

Governor candidate Suozzi says he’s in it to win it

By Jefferson Siegel

Tom Suozzi, Nassau County’s executive, brought his campaign for governor to the Village earlier this month. Suozzi strode into the second-floor meeting room at the Sol Goldman 14th St. Y dressed in a gray suit and wearing a Twin Towers American flag pin. He spoke confidently for half an hour, then fielded questions for almost another hour.

The Aug. 10 town hall meeting drew a crowd of 60 locals, including several housing activists from Stuyvesant Town and Loisaida.

Suozzi has been Nassau County executive since 2001; before that he was mayor of Glen Cove for eight years.

He had a ready answer for almost every question from audience members. But one issue continues to stump him: in his Democratic primary race against Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, he’s polling at just 9 percent.

Suozzi acknowledged the dismal poll numbers but didn’t dwell on them.

“I want to try to convince you I can win this election,” he stated.

Suozzi asked if anyone had ever heard of “Governor Koch?”

“He [Koch] ran for governor of New York State and he was endorsed by every Democratic elected official and every traditional Democratic interest group,” Suozzi recalled. “He had a tremendous amount of money and he ran against a nobody. That guy’s name was Mario Cuomo.” Suozzi then recounted other underdog candidates who came from behind, including former Governor Hugh Carey. And he noted that in last year’s mayoral election, Anthony Weiner gained 30 points in the last few weeks of the primary campaign.

“Any race is winnable if you’ve got a good message,” Suozzi said.

In a curious development, earlier in the day, several New York Democratic politicians gathered in front of City Hall and called on Suozzi to abandon his campaign. In a scenario more suited to a challenger running neck and neck with an incumbent, the group described Suozzi as a long shot and called on him to redirect his energies to helping other Democrats get elected. Suozzi laughed off the suggestion.

Recently released filings show Spitzer has $14 million in available campaign funds compared to Suozzi’s $1.8 million.
At the 14th St. Y, Suozzi spoke about education, affordable housing, the state’s business climate and, especially, taxes.

“Local taxes in New York State are 72 percent above the national average,” he said, “the highest local taxes in America.” Suozzi warned that the state leads the nation in another dubious distinction, ranking first as the state people are leaving because of high taxes.

Suozzi said the problem is a dysfunctional state government run by a small group of people, including power brokers, lobbyists, trial lawyers and the Legislature.

As for his qualifications, Suozzi said being a county executive was like being a corporate C.E.O., while Spitzer, on the other hand, was like the company lawyer.

“You can’t rule by subpoena,” he declared.

Another cause of government paralysis, he continued, is voter apathy.

“Less than 14 percent of voters will vote” this year, he claimed. Voter disinterest is epidemic, he said, because “more people in our state have seen a debate on ‘The West Wing’ than they’ve seen in real life.” He called on Spitzer to meet him in more debates. To date, the two have had only one televised debate.

“I want to invest $21/2 billion in New York City schools,” Suozzi said. In just five years, he said, he turned Nassau County from a deficit-plagued to a fiscally sound municipality, while the county bonds were upgraded from junk status to grade A. Suozzi said he would carry that momentum into state government by cutting 71/2 percent of the waste in the Medicaid system, cutting property taxes, cutting the state debt and reforming the pension system for state employees.

Suozzi also proved to be fluent in city issues. He’s against urban sprawl, specifically the proposed Brooklyn Atlantic Yards development, opposes Columbia University’s growth by eminent domain and objects to privatizing the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper housing complex. Since MetLife began converting the previously affordable East Side apartments into market-rate housing, more than 25 percent of units in the complex have been removed from rent regulation.

Suozzi said that, if elected, rent regulation would strengthen because he would work to repeal the Urstadt Law, which now gives control of city rent laws to state government.

In response to audience member’s questions, he said he supports using paper ballots and optical scanners, reform of the Rockefeller drug laws and helping stimulate the Upstate economy so that more money can flow back to New York City. He supports charter schools if the local governments support them and he champions the idea of universal healthcare for the whole country.

Suozzi described similar reforms he already put into effect in Nassau County, including the elimination of millions of dollars of waste from corruption and the bond upgrades.

“I get it in my gut,” he said of his experiences fixing government. “I don’t think he [Spitzer] gets it in his gut.

“There’s no reason we can’t be the Empire State again,” Suozzi concluded. “We can be a model of protecting the environment, a model for fighting against racism, a model for creating jobs, for providing education for our children.”

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