BY JAMES FARRELL
Hours after opening his Queens district office on Northern Boulevard in Little Neck on April 19, U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Little Neck) hosted a town hall at the Samuel Field Y to answer constituents’ questions.
At a crowded meeting, Suozzi addressed local issues, such as excessive airplane noise, but he also faced tough questions about his willingness to vote alongside Republicans, foreign policy and more. Some called on Suozzi to dampen his bipartisan efforts in order to strengthen Democratic resistance to President Donald Trump’s policies—effectively asking him to rethink his signature campaign promise of working across party lines.
Suozzi began the meeting by offering key areas where he would not compromise— investigating Russia’s meddling in the election and Trump’s potential ties with Russia; protecting immigrants from Trump’s immigration policies, including the proposed travel restrictions on several Muslim-majority countries; maintaining environmental protections; and reforming, not repealing, the Affordable Care Act
“There are problems with the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “But what I campaigned on was that we need to mend it, don’t end it.”
Suozzi also said he would support a single-payer health care system and had previously signed a pledge to do so.
In terms of immigration, Suozzi said that he supports border protection, but believes there should be a path to citizenship for law-abiding undocumented immigrants. He added that it was crucial that immigrants make an effort to learn English in order to become citizens.
One constituent thanked Suozzi for his work on the issue of excessive airplane noise in Queens—Suozzi is the co-chairman of the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus and sits on the New York City Aviation Roundtable, which brings local stakeholders together to discuss solutions to airplane noise related problems. Earlier that day, he had a meeting with Delta Airlines at LaGuardia to discuss mitigation strategies.
“It’s a very complex issue, much more complex than I thought it would be,” Suozzi said. “The answer is either technology—we have to invest in planes that are quieter—or in changing the routes.”
Doreen DiLeonardo, a Bellerose resident and activist from the group Indivisible, which was formed after President Trump’s election to organize grassroots resistance against his policies, hit Suozzi with tougher questions about his young voting record.
DiLeonardo and other attendees, some fellow members of Indivisible, were disappointed that Suozzi voted alongside Republicans on a pair of laws related to regulatory reform. One, known as the “SCRUB Act,” aims to put in place a commission that would review and reduce “unnecessarily burdensome” federal regulations. Suozzi was one of only 10 other Democrats to vote in favor of the bill.
“Some regulations are bad,” Suozzi argued, and added that having a commission to look at burdensome regulations was not inherently bad. He vowed to fight against any proposal to cut regulations that he believed were important. He stood by his vote and, throughout the meeting, emphasized his belief in cooperation wherever possible.
“As a general rule, I’m not going to always vote on party lines,” he said. “It’s just not going to happen.”
Glen Oaks’ Penny Laforest said she hoped that Suozzi would convince Republicans to occasionally vote with Democrats and wanted more unity against a Trump agenda that many Democrats believe is dangerous.
“We’ve seen you walk to their side, we’ve yet to see them come to our side— and that is very discouraging,” Laforest told Suozzi. “You want to look at regulations? You want to see if there are abuses in regulations? You don’t do it under Trump.”
Another constituent asked Suozzi if he would submit a bill, “the Suozzi Act,” to protect the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from being gutted by Republican leadership. Suozzi touted his record as mayor of Glen Cove and Nassau County Executive, where he received numerous awards and recognitions for his environmental work.
“I’m not going to say I’d do a bill, the Suozzi Act, to keep the EPA—I don’t even know if I’m legally permitted to do a bill that says keep the status quo,” he said. “But I will always fight for the environment and I will always fight for responsible regulation to make sure that it’s done properly.”
Suozzi, a member of the Armed Services Committee who is fresh off a tour of Afghanistan and other countries in the region, was also questioned heavily on foreign policy. A few attendees criticized his and other Democrats’ praise of Trump’s recent air strikes in Syria. They cited fears of further involvement in Middle Eastern conflicts.
Suozzi reiterated that he thought the air strikes, in response to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons on his own citizens, was an “appropriate” response, but added that U.S. policy was to train local people to “build nations of their own.”
“I support that policy,” he said. “Because we can’t be an occupying force.”
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.