‘Common Sense Democrat’ Suozzi Makes His Bid for Governor

tom suozzi
Tom Suozzi in the Hamodia office. (All photos by Reuvain Borchardt/Hamodia)

Tom Suozzi is running for governor of New York. And he doesn’t want you to believe the polls, which show incumbent Gov. Kathy Hochul leading him by 40 points.

“Nobody knows who I am,” says the man who has spent most of the last three decades in local and national politics, but has never held statewide office. “Six out of 10 primary voters in New York State don’t know who Tom Suozzi is. And I think that the governor’s support is very wide, but it’s not very deep. And I think that when people learn about me and they learn about her, my numbers are going to go up dramatically, and hers are going to go down dramatically.”

Suozzi was first elected to public office at the age of 31, as mayor of Glen Cove, Long Island. A scion of a mini political dynasty in the area, Tom’s father and uncle also served as mayors of Glen Cove, and his father was later a state judge. Tom was elected four times to a two-year mayoral term, then won two terms as Nassau County executive, the first Democrat to hold that position in 30 years. He has represented New York’s 3rd Congressional District — much of Long Island’s North Shore, and a sliver of Queens — since 2017. There were some losses in between: a failed gubernatorial run against Eliot Spitzer in 2006, and losses in the Nassau County executive race to Republican Ed Mangano in 2009 and 2013.

Suozzi is known as a moderate, though he prefers the term “common-sense Democrat,” employing that phrase frequently during his interview in the Hamodia office, over slices of fresh mozzarella pizza from a local eatery.

He is vice-chair of the Congressional Bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. He is critical of the ascendant progressive wing of his party, opposing their positions of taxing the wealthy and defunding the police. And he is among the staunchest defenders of the Jewish State, calling himself “the most reliable non-Jewish Democrat on the issue of Israel” and vowing that as governor, he would not only fight the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, but deepen the ties between the Empire State and Israel.

“BDS is inherently antisemitic; it seeks to undermine and ultimately destroy the only Jewish state in the world,” he says. “I would work with the comptroller to make sure we divest from any companies that support the BDS movement. I would work to build New York state’s economic ties with Israel. I think it’s a great opportunity for New York State to play a major role where it would benefit New York State and it would benefit Israel by encouraging economic development.”

Suozzi, who touts his ties with Chabad rabbis in Long Island and frequently sprinkles Hebrew and Yiddish expressions into his speech — “Mensch tracht uhn Gat lacht” is a particular favorite — has tapped Jacob Scheiner, a former AIPAC official who previously managed his 2018 congressional campaign, as his Jewish outreach advisor.

 

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Suozzi says he’s “the only one with proven executive experience” in the race, dismissing the brief gubernatorial term of Hochul, the former lieutenant governor who took office when her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, resigned amid scandal.

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Suozzi meeting with Crown Heights community activists.

The main planks of his campaign, he says, are lowering taxes, fighting crime, and helping failing schools.

Suozzi made a national name for himself by successfully pushing for a partial restoration of the state and local tax (SALT) deduction in the Build Back Better bill.

As governor, he says he would lower taxes — and is prepared to take on the progressives who argue for high taxes on the wealthy.

“In New York State we have some of the highest taxes in America,” the candidate says. “Three-hundred thousand people left our state in the past year.”

“We can’t sustain New York State with the high taxes we have,” he continues. “When the wealthy people leave New York State … they’re taking their money with them. And when we lose those people, who gets left behind holding the bag, but the middle class and lower-income people.”

Suozzi believes the 2019 bail reform is causing rising crime, and, while he wouldn’t seek to undo the reforms completely, he says he “would give judges more discretion to look at the records of the people coming before them to determine whether or not they were a threat to public safety and whether they should keep them behind bars.”

Suozzi also criticized newly elected Manhattan District Attorney Attorney Bragg, who is aiming to reduce incarceration and told his assistant district attorneys not to prosecute certain low-level offenses.

“Bragg can’t pick and choose what laws not to enforce,” Suozzi said. “His policy sends a very bad message. This is a green light for chaos.”

And while Suozzi said he seeks to improve failing public schools, to “help lift these kids out of poverty that [are] destined to a life of misery because they don’t get a good education,” when it comes to private schools, Suozzi says the curriculum should not be imposed by the state, but “should be up to the parents and the schools.”

At a recent meeting with Crown Heights community activists, Suozzi noted that he attended Catholic schools all his life, and said, “I have a great fondness for parochial schools and for private schools, and I understand what you’re trying to accomplish as part of your mission. And so I’m not going to have people go targeting the yeshivas in my administration. Simple as that. Now, if it turns out that there’s some schools, it’s obvious that they’re just like, terrible, everything’s a mess, you’ve got to send people in to help them, clean up their act. But it’s got to be more of a guidance thing as opposed to a mandating thing.”

 

 

The issue of containing COVID has dominated Hochul’s governorship — and become a focus of Suozzi’s criticisms of her.

“She hasn’t had a comprehensive plan. She’s kind of just said things piecemeal, do a press conference here a press conference there,” Suozzi says. “She came out on a Friday and said we’re going to do a mask mandate, and it’s going to take place on Monday. Thirty of the 62 counties in New York state said we’re not going to enforce it. Why? Because it wasn’t part of a plan, and she didn’t sell it to people. I don’t think you can mandate things in this political climate right now, to say you have to do it a certain way. Because we’re so fractured, based upon the politics of masks and vaccines and everything else, that you can’t make people do stuff, or you’re going to have a breakup of society. You’ve got to try and persuade people that, ‘Listen, I’m your leader, and I have a plan, and if you follow my plan, we’ll get through this together.’ And you need to sell the people that this will work.”

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Suozzi in the Hamodia office for pizza and interview.

But while he has denounced Hochul’s mandates and says he would do things differently if he were in office now, Suozzi also doesn’t definitively say he wouldn’t impose mandates if COVID were a serious threat when he took office next January.

“I don’t want to talk about a year from now,” he responds, when asked what he would do in 2023.

“But you’d be governor in a year from now,” the Hamodia reporter says.

“I’ll talk about right now, okay,” the candidate answers. “If I was the governor right now, I would not mandate it, because I think it’s too fractured an environment. But I don’t know what the world’s going to be like tomorrow.”

When the reporter replies, “It’s easier for a person to say what they would do now, when you’re not in office but your opponent is in office, [but] when the voters go to the polls, they want to know what you would do as governor,” Suozzi responds, “I said [what I would do] if I were in office now.”

“What you will do if you take office in 2023?” Hamodia asks again.

“We don’t know what the circumstances are going to be,” he responds.

After several minutes of declining to directly answer what he would do as governor, saying it’s impossible to predict what a future pandemic or outbreak may look like, Suozzi ultimately says he would focus primarily on persuasion, but could not rule out mandates.

Referencing the first wave of the virus, Suozzi says, “If we [once again] had refrigerator trucks full of bodies, and we had a vaccine, I would very seriously consider a vaccine mandate.”

Mandates may be necessary, he says, “If we face cataclysmic circumstances again. And it depends on what the environment is,” but he emphasizes this would not be ideal. “If you try and mandate things on people that are just going to revolt against you, you have a breakdown in society.”

He also notes that at the recent swearing-in ceremony of new Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, “There must have been 500, 600 people in the room. I’d say like 10 people had masks on,” including Suozzi. “I think it was not smart of them not to be wearing masks,” but “this is the United States of America; people can choose to do what they want to do.’

As for whether he’d ever consider adding the COVID shot to the list of mandated vaccines for schoolchildren, the candidate says, “If we knew that [the vaccine were] safe and that they wouldn’t have harmful effects, I’d consider it. But we don’t see COVID as being a deadly disease [for kids] right now; children are not dying,” so “I don’t see us doing that.”

Suozzi said he would like the state to return to a color-coded zone system based on infection rates — somewhat like previous Gov. Andrew Cuomo did, though Suozzi would do it on a county basis, rather than on Cuomo’s “microcluster” system. And he says that in the high-infection zones, the focus would be to “put resources in those areas,” and “not necessarily” restrictions.

 

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Suozzi has generally been far more publicly positive of Cuomo — one of the most disgraced politicians in the nation — than just about anyone in his party.

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Suozzi visiting Crown Heights.

On March 12, 2021, amid a torrent of Democrats trashing Cuomo and calling on him to resign, Suozzi issued a milder statement: “The Governor is entitled to due process on the many serious and disturbing allegations that have been made against him … I believe the Governor must seriously consider whether he can effectively continue to govern in the midst of these unfolding allegations. If he cannot effectively govern with all of the controversy surrounding him, he must put the interests of all New Yorkers first and he should resign.”

On August 10, when Cuomo resigned amid scandal, Suozzi’s statement cast the former governor in a largely positive light: “The Governor has done the right thing by resigning. There is no doubt that Andrew Cuomo has accomplished much for our state, from the property tax cap, to rebuilding our infrastructure, to instituting a $15 min wage and battling COVID. It is imperative that our next governor continue the positive achievements of the Cuomo administration and help once again make New York the Empire State.”

In his first press conference after announcing his gubernatorial run in late November, Suozzi said of Cuomo, as reported by the New York Post: “He did accomplish a tremendous amount … He’s got his flaws. He’s got problems. He’s got very serious allegations about his conduct, which should be very concerning to all of us … But you can’t take away from the fact that during COVID he was there every single day laying out a comprehensive plan and coordinating the state on these issues. I do think he accomplished a lot of good things for the state.”

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Suozzi visiting the beis medrash at Chabad headquarters.

An article in City & State shortly after that press conference suggested that Suozzi was seeking to appeal to the former governor’s voters as a “Cuomo-style pragmatist.”

Asked now by Hamodia why he stuck with Cuomo longer than just about any other Democrat, Suozzi replies, “I wasn’t sticking with Andrew Cuomo. He and I had a very difficult relationship. But I believe in due process. And just because allegations were made, there wasn’t enough basis on which to say that somebody should leave office based upon that.” As for his positive comments on Cuomo’s job performance, Suozzi says, “He accomplished a great deal as governor.”

Pressed further on why he was so un-critical of Cuomo, and whether he is hoping to get the latter’s supporters, Suozzi replies, “I am not focused on yesterday. I am focused on moving forward. I am running on my record and experience, my common-sense approach and my vision of fighting crime, lowering taxes and helping our troubled schools. It’s not about what’s wrong with anyone else, it’s about what is wrong with New York State and how to fix it.”

 

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Tom Suozzi is running for governor. And he doesn’t want you to believe the polls or the pundits.

The most recent poll by Siena College shows Hochul with support of 46% of Democrats, while Suozzi has just 6 percent, also trailing Bill de Blasio, who has not yet joined the race but it expected to do so, at 12%, and Jumaane Williams at 11%. Twenty-four percent of respondents were unsure or named another candidate.

But polls don’t tell the story with months to go before the June 28 primary, Suozzi says.

“Look at the poll numbers of Andrew Yang, who was supposed to be the next mayor of New York City,” he says. “Katherine Garcia had 1% in the polls; she came very close to winning the race.

“The previous mayoral election before that — Christine Quinn was supposed to be the mayor. Billy Thompson was supposed to be the mayor. Anthony Weiner was supposed to be the mayor. But de Blasio ended up winning the race. I believe that when people learn about me, that I’m a proven executive, that I’m a common-sense Democrat, and that my platform is to lower taxes, fight crime, and help our troubled schools, people are going to be very attracted to my message. When they hear about me, and they hear about my opponents, my numbers are going to go up, and their numbers are going to go down. And I’m going to win the race.”

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Suozzi receiving his first endorsement, from Crown Heights activist Rabbi Shea Hecht.

New York Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs, speaking last week on WCNY, said he believed Suozzi will drop out of the race before the party’s convention next month, and that Suozzi is “not going to have raised much more than $2 million above what he’s had [previously in his campaign account]. It’s really not a sufficient showing. So I would hope that he would decide to use his better judgment, for unity and for our efforts to keep the congressional Democratic majority, I hope he’d go back to running for reelection as a member of Congress.”

But Suozzi tells Hamodia he is “absolutely not” running for Congress again.

So why, one wonders, would Suozzi risk what would seem to be a safer bet — running for reelection in Congress — on a longshot gubernatorial run? He says that Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, one of the Democratic House leaders, asked him the same question, trying to dissuade him from running.

“I feel like it’s almost my obligation to do it. I think our state’s in a lot of trouble. And I think I have a unique set of skills. Everything I’ve done in my life has prepared me for this particular job.”

Does it have anything to do with the fact that Democrats will likely be in the minority in the next Congress?

“No,” he says. “That’s irrelevant to me.”

As for Jacobs’ comments, Suozzi says, “I have raised significantly more than he projected and will continue to raise money, because my message of fighting crime and lowering taxes is resonating with New Yorkers. I am a common-sense Democrat who will work with Democrats and Republicans to get things done. I will stand up to the extremists.”

Fundraising numbers will be announced later Tuesday. A political insider told Hamodia that Suozzi will announce he raised $3 million since launching his gubernatorial campaign, in addition to the $2 million previously in his campaign account, for a total war chest of $5 million. The amount is respectable, though far less than what Hochul is expected to bring in.

Hochul is also considered a moderate, but Suozzi prefers to describe her as swinging between extremes.

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“I’m a common-sense Democrat,” he says. “In the old days [Hochul] was far on the right, endorsed by the NRA, said she wanted to turn undocumented people over to ICE, and had a 50% rating from the League of Conservation Voters. Now she’s on the far left, she has a ‘defund the police’ lieutenant governor running along with her. She endorsed a democratic socialist in Queens,” referring to Hochul’s joining Council candidate Felicia Singh at a Get Out the Vote Event. “And she’s pandering to the far left all the time. I’m moving straight down the center of the road, trying to get things done as a common-sense Democrat. She’s on the right one day and then she’s over to the left. She’s crossing the double line.”

Suozzi is making a hard push for Orthodox Jewish voters, a politically conservative group who would appear to be a natural political allies.

At the meeting with Crown Heights activists, while the group as a whole made no endorsement, one participant, Rabbi Shea Hecht, was impressed with Suozzi and immediately announced he would give what amounted to the candidate’s first, and still virtually sole, endorsement. (Rabbi Hecht emphasized that his endorsement was for the Democratic primary, and he was withholding his general election choice.)

“I think that the last few months, the state of New York has gone down rather than going up,” Rabbi Hecht said. “Gov. Hochul is an extension of Gov. Cuomo. She was his choice and basically goes along with his philosophy. We see that New York State compared to other states is not doing great in the last two years. Suozzi would bring a change.”

But another Orthodox political observer believes this is Hochul’s race to lose.

“Kathy Hochul is the heavy favorite. Unless she really trips up, I don’t see her losing this race,” said the observer, who spoke to Hamodia on condition of anonymity. “And Suozzi won’t get endorsements — from the Orthodox or any community — unless he starts moving up in the polls.”

But the longshot candidate is looking for people who will change the race, not go along with what appears to be inevitable.

“You don’t need to back the winner,” he says. “You need to make the winner.”

rborchardt@hamodia.com

 

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