July 12, 2006
Suozzi Sounds Off On Race
Some politicians have earned a reputation for smooth talking and spin doctoring, for party lines and scripted responses.
But it's hard to maintain a fast-talking, untouchable façade while conducting an interview over a bacon cheeseburger with fries and a vanilla milkshake, surrounded by doting constituents and your own sister, who just happens to be a Unitarian reverend.
Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi took a break from the campaign whirlwind when he stopped for lunch at Star Confectionary on East Main Street before a scheduled appearance at the Riverhead Blues Festival last Saturday.
And, over a surprisingly regular-guy lunch, the former mayor of Glen Cove outlined why he's founded his political career on fighting for the people.
From the get-go, Suozzi is a straight shooter. Ask him why he's chosen to attend the blues festival and he does not profess to a longtime penchant for B.B. King: "I go to places where there are people," he said. "Put 10 people in a room and I show up."
The candidate, who is lagging behind his opponent, New York State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, is working the campaign trail hard, his days booked with appearances and visits to his 18 campaign headquarters.
Riverhead was a stop Suozzi had been looking forward to — his wife Helene is Polish, and the young Democrat said the blues festival was the perfect opportunity to stoke those Polish connections; next, he's gearing up for the Polish Festival.
Suozzi is candid about the campaign so far: "I'm losing the race, and I'm not happy." But, wherever he goes, the candidate is pleased to get the chance to meet the people, who, he maintained, are the fuel that sparks his drive for success.
His key campaign issues are cutting property taxes in New York State, the highest in the nation, while also providing tax relief for families and seniors."Property tax reduction is the number one issue for Long Island," he said.
Also crucial are the creation of jobs and affordable housing, so New Yorkers will cease their mass migrations to out of state places, such as North Carolina, because they can't afford to live in their hometowns. "I've seen people get depressed, actually crying, because they can't afford to live here any longer," he noted.
Suozzi admitted his goals are not unique: "Every politician is going to end up saying the same thing. The difference is who we are and what we've done. I can do it because we've already done it."
He questioned Spitzer's political propensity for change, based on his experience as attorney general: "You can't reduce taxes by filing a subpoena."
As the Nassau County Executive, Suozzi has laid claim to a dramatic financial turnaround and the elimination of $100 million in waste, fraud and abuse by a crackdown on corruption. Plagued by mass deficits and a pitiful bond rating "Nassau County was the worst-run county in America," he said. Under Suozzi's watch, however, the county has received 11 bond upgrades from Moody's and now has the highest A ranking.
Suozzi also boasted about having brought New York's Republican machine to its knees as the first Democrat to hold the position in the county since 1917. He has continued to fight for political reform and address exorbitant raises for county police.
The first year after he was elected, Suozzi told his constituents he was going to raise property taxes but,"I said I wouldn't do it again. I haven't done it in three years."
Suozzi called his opponent "the sheriff of Wall Street. What does Wall Street have to do with high property taxes?" He alleged Spitzer's proposals are not substantiated by specifics, citing an event last week when the attorney general spoke about his affordable housing platform:
"He doesn't give you the numbers. His plan is full of holes. If it was a Wall Street firm, he would have indicted it already. It's bogus," he said.
Suozzi maintained that his hands-on experience in county government will enable him to affect change and address issues, such as zoning, which has to be created by local governments.
The problem with state government right now is that "there is no competition. The system is broken," said Suozzi. And it will not be fixed by reelecting the same individuals who have held their posts for years, he added.
Suozzi's sister Reverend Rosemary Suozzi Lloyd has taken time off from ministering to her congregation to help her brother spread the word. "Tom has framed the issues," she said. "He's speaking specifically, with real plans."
His sister said she's chosen to campaign for her brother because he is on a mission. "Tom is himself. He's got brains, passion and the heart that calls him to serve the poor, feed the hungry and help the homeless. He wants to create a better world and is using politics to do it."
Her brother, she added, pays less attention to "the sexy stuff" and more to the nuts-and-bolts business of running a municipality.
Suozzi said his Italian grandfather had an expression: "Watch the hands, don't listen to the mouth." And it's that hands-on approach to helping the people that has motivated Suozzi since he was a young boy. "I know how to make government work and provide better services in the process," he explained.
He credits his parents and four siblings with imbuing him with rock-solid values. "Everything I've done in my life has prepared me for this particular job at this particular time."
Last week, Suozzi responded publicly to remarks made by Judy Jacobs, Nassau County presiding officer, about his lack of presence in the office and campaigning by saying, "It's about the people." His constituents, he said, are supportive.
"I don't expect to win this race," said Suozzi. "But if I do win, it will send a clear message: Government is about serving the people."