This is the second in a three-part series examining the major candidates running in New York’s Democratic primary for governor. The first, on Jumaane Williams, can be read here† Primary Day is June 28.
Rep. Tom Suozzi has taken his share of grief in his long-shot effort to topple Gov. Hochul in the Democratic race for governor.
Suozzi, a centrist Long Island Democrat, has been told to stand down by Hillary Clinton and rejected by the state Democratic Party.
He has faced criticism about a series of perceived gaffes, including a declaration in a Penn Station news conference that the hub is “scary,” and a call with journalists in which he tied the Buffalo massacre to bail reform before clarifying that his preferred bail changes “wouldn’t have helped.”
And without a clear lane against the relatively moderate Hochul, Suozzi has struggled to find major backers. His campaign website does not even bother listing his collection of endorsers.
But to hear Suozzi tell it, his straight-talking commonsense campaign represents the last defense against electoral ruin for Democrats in the general election.
“Everybody should look at the public polling that says that Kathy Hochul has a 37% job approval rating,” Suozzi said, referencing an April Siena College survey that found 36% of New Yorkers viewed her performance as good or excellent.
“So if the Democrats want to win in November, they should elect Tom Suozzi, because the Republicans can’t beat me,” he said. “Because I’ll win on Long Island. And because I’m talking about what people care about, which is crime and taxes.”
Hochul holds prodigious polling leads about Suozzi and the progressive in the primary race, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. And whoever wins the race will hold a clear advantage in the general election: Democrats outnumber Republicans in New York by more than two to one.
But Suozzi, the former four-term mayor of Glen Cove, does have Long Island bona fides. And he has brought more than a little Long Island attitude to the Democratic primary.
While Williams has banked his campaign on progressive promises to enhance funding for social services, and Hochul has hoped voters will reward her work to drive back COVID, take on crime and tweak the 2019 bail reform law, Suozzi has served as the fearless attack dog in the race.
Suozzi lashes “political correctness.” He talks passionately about slashing taxes. He delivers lines like “more money is not the answer to things.”
In his ads and campaign literature, he hammers Hochul about crime rates that have climbed in her nine-month tenure, and for long-discarded support she once carried from the National Rifle Association.
“It’s a negative campaign,” said Sid Davidoff, a longtime lobbyist and fixture in New York politics. “I don’t think that’s working today. She doesn’t have an achilles heel that he’s been able to find.”
But Suozzi said he is simply trying to hold Hochul accountable.
“If people think I’m being tough on Kathy Hochul, how do they think Lee Zeldin or Andrew Giuliani will treat Kathy Hochul?” Suozzi said, referencing Republican primary candidates for governor. Kathy Hochul has not addressed crime. She has not addressed taxes. She has not helped our kids who are left behind.”
His antidotes include a 10% cut to state income tax, an intensified rollback of the bail reform law and a push to transform the state’s office buildings into affordable housing.
The 59-year-old congressman’s tone, more conservative than one might expect from a Democratic candidate in New York, can get him into trouble.
In April, one of his former campaign staffers, Matt Albert, wrote a column in the Daily News headlined, “I’m gay, and my old boss Tom Suozzi let me down,” after the candidate said on a radio show that he thought Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law was a “very reasonable law.”
Suozzi later described his remark as “inartful” and declared his opposition to the Florida law, which limits discussion of gender and sexual identity in Florida classrooms.
But his overarching argument — beyond his PC-free persona — is a claim that he would manage the state more ably than Hochul, and speak more directly to New Yorkers’ needs.
“Things need to be run better,” he told the Daily News. “I’m a lifelong Democrat. I have a heart for the people, but I use common sense and a skill set that I’ve developed over a lifetime.”
Suozzi grew up at Glen Cove, a suburb on the shore of the Long Island Sound about 25 miles from Midtown Manhattan.
His dad, an immigrant from Italy, served as mayor of Glen Cove, campaigned for John F. Kennedy during his 1960 presidential run and became a justice of the State Supreme Court.
The young Suozzi attended Boston College and Fordham Law School in the city. Along the way, he became enamored of former Gov. Mario Cuomo, perhaps planting the seeds of his own push for governor.
From 1993 to 2001, he served as Glen Cove mayor, and after that became the Nassau County executive, earning plaudits for his stewardship of the county’s finances.
And then in 2006 she ran for governor. It didn’t go well. He lost in the Democratic primary by more than 60 percentage points to Eliot Spitzer, then the state attorney general. Suozzi did not even win on his home turf in Nassau County.
After his loss, Suozzi returned to Nassau and worked to rebuild his relationships in Albany, taking some time away from politics after losing a 2009 reelection bid for county executive to a Republican, Edward Mangano.
The gubernatorial dream simmered as Mario Cuomo’s son, Andrew, took the reins in Albany.
In 2016, when Rep. Steve Israel, a Democrat, decided to retire from the House seat representing Glen Cove, Suozzi took his shot and won. He bested a state senator, Jack Martins, by about six percentage points in the general election.
He has stayed in the seat since, but Mayor Adams attempted to woo him from Washington last year, offering him a deputy mayor post. Suozzi declined, setting his sights on the Executive Mansion and announcing his candidacy in November.
“He’s always wanted to be governor,” Davidoff said. “He’s taking his best and probably last shot at something that he really wants.”
But the state Democratic Party quickly consolidated its support behind Hochul. In February, at the state party’s nomination convention in Manhattan, Suozzi said Clinton had tried to get him to drop from the race, telling him he was doing well in Congress.
He shrugged her off.
“A lot of people have tried to talk me out of running,” he told reporters covering the convention. “It’s been a big refrain.”