BY LYNN EDMONDS
Congressional Candidate Tom Suozzi smacked his palm against his thigh on each word for emphasis.
“I have a proven record of standing up to powerful interests,” the Democrat said. It was the third time he said it, the thing he wanted to drill home as his office visit with the Queens Tribune came to an end.
Even as he wholeheartedly embodied the message, he smiled a little as if to briefly break character and acknowledge that he knew we had gotten the message already, but he was going to do this anyway.
Ideologically, the former Nassau County Executive is a moderate Democrat like his fellow contestants in the primary race for New York’s 3rd Congressional District. But his energy and ambition, which is not raw or steely as much as it seems to be an outgrowth of enthusiasm, are memorable. Upon meeting him it is entirely possible to envision famous 2006 gubernatorial debate where he and former Gov. Eliot Spitzer were both asked if they had presidential aspirations and Suozzi immediately said “yes.”
“I’m really happy to be doing this. I’m enjoying myself and this is what I’m meant to be doing. My life was easier being in the private sector; you make money, spend time with my family, but this makes me happy,” Suozzi said about politics.
Before becoming Nassau County Executive, he served as Mayor of Glen Cove, as his father did in the 1950s.
When asked his top issues, Suozzi admitted “one of my big flaws, is that I get interested in just about every single issue that’s out there.”
But he said his campaign platform is centered around jobs and the economy, the environment, reform of the federal government, and combatting drug, alcohol and mental health issues.
Addiction to opiates including heroine and pain killers has become an epidemic on Long Island.
Suozzi said he believed the way to tackle the problem was a structural change, in the form of getting law enforcement, social services, schools and other agencies that deal with affected individuals to “talk better” and become more “interoperable” with each other.
He also said he wanted to see federal resources deployed earlier on, in education, to prevent substance abuse – rather than concentrating the money to such a great extent in treatment and management of existing substance abuse and mental health issues.
“We have to figure out how to shift the existing resources we have, the trillions of dollars that we spend, especially in this area of health and human services, and push it down into the schools,” Suozzi said.
Showing a glimmer of fiscal conservatism, he emphasized that he wasn’t looking to spend any extra money, just shift existing resources.
“There is no more money to do any more programs,” he said.
But Suozzi’s big sell was what he called his “proven track record” of creating reform.
It’s probably fortuitous for Suozzi, who started a Fix Albany campaign over a decade ago, that two of the three “men-in-a-room” have currently been convicted for corruption charges.
Long before that power trio was dismantled, Suozzi’s campaign got him in the hot seat when he advocated for the defeat of certain democratic incumbents in the State Assembly through primary challenges.
“I had Shelly Silver disinvite me from the Democratic National Convention, because I said we have to blame the Democrats as much as the Republicans,” Suozzi said.
He also made enemies with the Nassau county Police Benevolent Association for attempting to negotiate for lower salaries for the police – something that led to his defeat for re-election as Nassau County Executive in 2009.
But for him that was all part of pushing for reform.
He said that to push reform, one of the things “you need is the guts.”
“Because they’re going to do everything they can to squash you.”
He mentioned a cap on Medicaid contributions from local government and property tax rates as successful campaigns he waged, and consolidation of local government as a failed one.
“I got the crap kicked out of me,” he said. “I got killed on that issue. I lost thousands of votes because I attacked that.”
But he hasn’t alienated too many Queens politicians.
Suozzi touted his endorsements from Borough President Melinda Katz and Councilman Paul Vallone.
“I am the Queens candidate,” he said, pledging to open an office in the county if he was elected.
Reach Lynn Edmonds at (718) 357-7400 x127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Ellinoamerikana