MULLING A RUN FOR CONGRESS, SUOZZI PRESENTS SELF AS A PRAGMATIC PROBLEMSOLVER AND BRIDGE BUILDER AT GLEN COVE TOWN MEETING
February 17, 2016 -- At a "Town Meeting" last Wednesday February 10 at the Polish National Hall in Glen Cove, former Nassau County Executive (2002-2010) and Glen Cove Mayor (1993-2001) Tom Suozzi, who is now mulling a bid to seek the Democratic nomination for the 3rd Congressional District seat being vacated by Representative Steve Israel, presented himself to the nearly 150 people in attendance as a pragmatic politician who can reach across the aisle and get things done. Mr. Suozzi, who has formed a committee to explore running for the office, said he would hold similar meetings around the District, and make a decision by March 7 as to whether he would in fact throw his hat in the ring.
Citing the gridlock in Washington and the corruption in Albany, "what's clear to me, " Mr. Suozzi explained, "is that people are sick of politics and sick of politicians."
"Why am I doing this?" he continued. "I still believe politics can be a noble profession and government can do good things to actually solve problems and make people's lives better."
To get things done, he explained, an effective elected official needs to first conduct the necessary research to find out what needs to be done; second, "to have the guts to stand up to the status quo, because there are always some who benefit from the status quo and don't want change"; and third, "to have the ability to win the fight, to understand how to galavanize."
As for his political philosophy, he said that it is a central role of government to "help those who cannot help themselves" but at the same time to live within its means and balance its budgets. He continued that he did not support raising income taxes for any income level and asserted that “the federal government has gotten way too big.” In foreign policy, he explained that it is important to “make new friends, but don’t forget about your old ones.”
Mr. Suozzi, throughout the one hour and 15 minute event, for the most part steered away from taking strong policy positions, but rather emphasized his ability to work with political rivals and adversaries to find solutions to problems. He cited working with Peter Schmitt, the late Republican leader of the Nassau County Legislature during his two terms as Nassau County Executive, and his appointment by Governor Eliot Spitzer to head a property tax relief commission, not long after Mr. Spitzer had defeated Mr. Suozzi in the then County Executive's long-shot bid for the Democratic gubnertorial nomination in 2006. His work on the commmission, he said, "laid the groundwork for the 2% property tax cap law" - a proposal that Mr. Suozzi had championed when seeking the nomination. He later said that his creation of the website "Fix Albany.com" in 2004 along with former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, and former Conservative Party leader Mike Long, through which the group sought to lessen the impact of state mandates on local governments and worked to defeat entrenched lawmakers - both Democrat and Republican, eventually helped lead the state to pass legislation capping counties' medicaid payment obligations.
During the question and answer period, the high cost of higher education and wealth inequality dominated the discussion.
Asked what he thought about the proposal promoted by one of the candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for President to guarantee free college tuition for students who attend state universities, Mr. Suozzi replied that in principle it is something that anyone would support, but "we've got to have a way to afford it. We can't afford to do every good idea."
Reprising his presentation's theme, Mr. Suozzi continued, "It's not just what you want to do - it's how do you get other guys to work with you to get something done. Everybody wants to make college more affordable. It's how you get it done."
The questioner said that she had received a CUNY education at a time when that was free and that her generation and society had benefitted tremendously as a result.
"We're not as competitive with other countries because we don't provide free education beyond high school," commented another resident who said he was a small businessman. He connected the lack of affordability of higher education to the issue of wealth inequality. "The reason this is that wealth has been redistributed in a very unfair way over the last few decades. . . Wealth has been redistributed in the wrong direction. It has not trickled down - it has been pushed up."
"I don't think it is a 'rigged' system," replied Mr. Suozzi. "If anything, it is rigged against the small businesses with all the regulations they have to follow. I don't buy the whole rich versus poor thing."
He did however cite examples of unfairness in the federal tax code. "The carried interest rule for hedge funds is unfair," he said. "There are all sorts of rules that subsidize industries like oil, gas and lumber."
Ultimately, Mr. Suozzi said, solving the problem of a shrinking middle class "will not be done through income tax redistribution." The problems facing the middle class he continued are "because of global competition and technological change."
Bringing the discussion back to the orginal question, Mr. Suozzi continued, "the solution to the problem is that college has to be more affordable."
After a resident mentioned the GI Bill, which subsidized World War II veterans' college educations, Mr. Suozzi suggested that perhaps students could pay for their education through volunteer service during and after college. He said that the GI bill allowed his father to go to college which eventually led to a degree from Harvard Law School. "It just needs to make sense how you do it," Mr. Suozzi said.
"The GI Bill gave us a big economic boost," a resident said, "creating engineers and other professionals. We've gone backwards with wealth inequality. We have to organize our priorities - what the role of government is."
"It is a failure of people who are unable to work together," Mr. Suozzi replied.
Offering a reason for that failure, he explained that he believed that the primary system that political parties use to nominate candidates has contributed to the polarization in American politics. With low voter turnout in such elections and only the most enthusiastic party members, often with the most extreme views, participating, candidates are pushed further to the left or the right. He said the large crowd there that evening reassured him that perhaps that was not the case in this particular district.
The electoral process then dominated the discussion for the next few minutes.
A resident asked whether he believed Election Day ought to be an actual federal holiday which would give more people the opportunity to vote (or less of an excuse not to vote). Mr. Suozzi replied that voting on Tuesday and the registration process in New York State is difficult to change because "it is designed to protect incumbents. There are people who benefit."
Later, continuing in a similar vein, he said that the current campaign finance system, especially with the rise of SuperPACS in the wake of the Citizens United decision, was sorely needed. "The campaign finance system," he said, "is rigged to protect status quo interests."
As for uniquely local issues, only one came up - the Garvies Point waterfront development project on Glen Cove Creek.
The former Glen Cove Mayor explained that during his term he had worked to "clean up the waterfront" by among other things, upgrading the sewage treatment center, reseeding shellfish beds, and securing $50 million in Federal aid to remediate two superfund sites. The plan he had laid out for the Glen Cove Creek development was commercial and non-residential, he explained - "to make it the sort of South Street Seaport of Long Island."
Developers, he continued, wanted to do residential development, as it would be a less risky investment, and that position was also accepted by his successors as mayor - Mary Ann Holzkamp, Ralph Suozzi and most recently Reginald Spinello.
He was not critical of that positon however, and returning to his theme of being a bridge builder, Mr. Suozzi continued, "it is not my role to come in and say what you are doing is wrong. . . . I would love to see the waterfront developed, and that it is done in a way that all the community sees it as a benefit to the people of the entire region. I can play a role in bringing people together, but I'm certainly not going to tell them what to do."
If Mr. Suozzi ultimately decides to run for the Democratic nomination for Mr. Israel's seat, he would be joining four other candidates. They include lobbyist Brad Gerstman, former North Hempstead Supervisor and Nassau Interim Finance Authoirty (NIFA) chairman Jon Kaiman, North Hempstead Town Councilwoman Anna Kaplan, and Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern of Dix Hills .
Article by Northwordnews
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