Tom Suozzi outside a debate (photo: @Tom_Suozzi)
U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi is pitching himself as a “common sense Democrat” as he runs for his party’s gubernatorial nomination in this month’s primary election.
The third-term Congressman from Long Island, whose district is mostly in Nassau County but includes part of eastern Queens, has been on the attack against his chief rival, Governor Kathy Hochul, as he attempts to corner much of the same moderate Democratic base and overcome the governor's formidable advantages, namely holding the position of governor and an immense fundraising lead. The choice for Democratic voters is among Suozzi, Hochul, and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who is running to their left.
Suozzi's positions align with Hochul's more often than not, so he is campaigning on his track record as a “proven executive,” having once served as a town mayor and county executive during his 30 years in politics. He has framed Hochul, who also held local office and, briefly, a seat in Congress, as unprepared or unwilling to take the necessary steps to improve the state in essential ways.
Suozzi is running on his experience and accomplishments, but also a few proposals unique in the field, including on tightening the state’s bail laws and reducing taxes and government spending.
“If Democrats want to keep New York state in Democratic hands, they should elect Tom Suozzi in the Democratic primary,” he said in a recent podcast interview with Gotham Gazette. “I’ll run [New York State] better, more effectively, more efficiently, and better for the taxpayers, with the people’s interest at heart.”
On issues like abortion, Suozzi has argued there's not much daylight between himself and Hochul, while on gun control, he’s pitched a much stronger record than the formerly NRA A-rated governor, who represented a conservative area of Western New York. In the interview, he said he agreed with Hochul's embrace of abortion protections but would have put more stress on preventing unwanted pregnancies with education and contraception.
A former mayor of Glen Cove, Long Island, Suozzi said he was “running on the issues that people care about": crime, taxes and affordability, and education. He added government corruption to that list when Hochul's first lieutenant governor, Brian Benjamin, resigned after a federal indictment. Hochul, in office less than a year after taking over for the disgraced former Governor Andrew Cuomo upon his resignation, has already had two lieutenant governors.
Suozzi himself has been dogged by allegations that he hid stock trading activity while serving in Congress, which he attributed to a "paperwork error" at a recent debate. “The reality is we've corrected it and we're moving forward,” he said. In a previous debate stage appearance, Suozzi – who made more than $360,000 in taxable income last year from his Congressional salary and investments, according to tax returns – said he was in favor of banning state elected officials from trading stocks.
For Suozzi, a combination of crime and affordability are stifling the economy and driving residents out of state.
"People are not coming back to their office buildings in New York City because they don't feel safe. They don't feel safe to take the subway…and it's not COVID, it's crime,” he said at the first debate. New York's high taxes of all kinds have made the state "uncompetitive," Suozzi’s platform states.
Suozzi and Williams have both been harsh critics of Hochul's handling of the opaque state budget process and, in particular, a massive stadium development project for the Buffalo Bills funded by taxpayers to the tune of $850 million and pushed through behind closed doors in the final days of negotiation. (Hochul's husband is general counsel of the company that holds the Bill's current concessions contract, a relationship Suozzi and others have been quick to point out.)
Some differences of position have emerged during the campaign. Suozzi is against the right to vote for noncitizens, while Hochul believes it should be up to localities to decide and Williams supports it. On a two-year moratorium on fossil fuel-burning crypto-mining that Hochul has refused to opine on as she reviews a bill passed by the Legislature, Suozzi said he supports a shorter moratorium while Williams wants the bill signed right away. And Suozzi said he would delay Manhattan congestion pricing to ease the burden on commuters and businesses after Hochul revealed the program had stalled amid federal questions. Williams said congestion pricing should be advanced as quickly as possible.
Suozzi's platform focuses on policing and gun violence, tax relief, economic revitalization, education, housing, infrastructure, and government ethics, though he offers limited policy detail on several fronts. He has said relatively little on the campaign trail about the climate, healthcare, childcare, or the MTA -- when pressed in the interview with Gotham Gazette about what changes he would make to run the regional transit authority better, he said he would first need to become governor in order to get under the hood and formulate a plan.
Asked for more on some of these topics, his campaign pointed to his track record in Congress co-sponsoring the Green New Deal and negotiating $10 billion for New York public transit in the $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure legislation passed last year. Campaign spokesperson Jason Elan said Suozzi supports federal childcare legislation and creating universal healthcare through a federal option. The campaign did not respond to questions about state level proposals that he would push for if elected governor, including whether Suozzi supports the New York Health Act for state-run single-payer health care.
While he has proposed the state uses federal aid from the American Rescue Plan and higher than forecasted tax revenues to ease the burden on taxpayers, Suozzi has said climate solutions are a federal project. “[We] can't do it all by ourselves here in New York state where we're pushing our utility rates through the roof and it's hurting the people that can least afford to pay their utility rates,” he said in a debate.
Tax Relief and Affordability
Suozzi sees affordability as one of the most serious threats to the state's vitality. He wants to increase state local education aid upon the condition that localities reduce the property taxes that often fund education and he pledges to replace education mandates with "guidelines," giving localities flexibility in spending tax dollars. He also wants to place permanent "circuit-breakers" or caps on residential property taxes while incentivizing counties to reduce Medicaid costs.
Suozzi wants to cut regulations for small businesses and establish a New York State Public Bank to support small business loans and homeownership.
Infrastructure and Economic Development
Suozzi, like Hochul and Williams, supports the development of renewable energy hubs in a corridor from offshore Long Island through New York City and the Hudson Valley.
He wants to dedicate a state agency to oversee all infrastructure projects under the roughly $30 billion New York received in the federal infrastructure act. He has called for the state Department of Transportation to swiftly spend billions of those dollars on needed highway and bridge repair. He also wants to see major repairs to Penn Station. Suozzi supports the expansion of Community Development Corporations, to steer public and private investment in upstate communities.
He's also proposed using federal funds to develop a high-speed rail system throughout the state.
Gun Violence and Crime
Suozzi's policing plan, which tops his platform, is divided into interventions (changing bail and discovery laws to give more leeway to judges and prosecutors, and more funding for the NYPD's gun suppression units) and preventions ("universal community policing," social services and education investments, expanding Kendra's Law, and pairing social workers with parole officers).
Like Hochul and New York City Mayor Eric Adams, Suozzi backs a multi-state commission to target gun trafficking, fund gun-buybacks, strengthen the Red Flag Law, and push for federal gun control legislation. At the same time he has repeatedly criticized Hochul for receiving endorsements from the National Rifle Association in the past (an association she has sought to distance herself from citing her evolving stances on gun control).
“She used to be on the far right and now she's on the far left. I don't know what she stands for,” he said at a primary debate that Hochul skipped earlier this month.
On policing and more Suozzi often sounds a lot like Mayor Adams, whom he supported from early in last year’s mayoral race. Adams asked Suozzi to become a deputy mayor, but Suozzi turned him down, leaving his congressional seat for the run at governor. It’s his second gubernatorial bid after losing the 2006 primary to Eliot Spitzer. Given Hochul is the sitting governor, Suozzi told Gotham Gazette that the best he could hope for was that Adams would not make an endorsement in the gubernatorial primary, but that didn’t happen as the mayor backed Hochul leading up to the vote.
Suozzi still employs Adams’ “intervention and prevention” model as well as other sayings.
He also frequently employs a refrain from the new mayor and a parade of recent NYPD commissioners, that the state should implement "precision policing models," which would use "a systematic, proactive approach using all available data, statistics, and information to prevent crime before it happens," according to his website. He has given nods to the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network and Adams' "neighborhood safety teams," which replaced the notorious anti-crime units targeting guns that then Mayor Bill de Blasio shuttered in 2020.
Suozzi wants to increase the use of ShotSpotter, Inc. products, which detect the sound of gunfire, and perhaps other policing tech. On his campaign website, he promises to "employ state-of-the-art technology to find street criminals with illegal handguns."
Suozzi pledges more state aid for education and looser restrictions on local education funding. He supports specialized high schools in New York City and wants to keep and expand gifted and talented programs, something Adams announced earlier this year. In public appearances, Suozzi has called for maintaining the statewide cap on charter schools while lifting the New York City sub-cap, which has been hit.
Suozzi’s "No Wrong Door" plan, modeled after work he did in Nassau, would place service providers in school buildings to identify students in need and make it easier for teachers to make referrals to social workers.
He has talked about increasing funding for SUNY and CUNY and expanding career placement programs. He wants to see more job training and workforce development programs across the state.
Suozzi has released few details about his purported plan to build affordable housing. His campaign website calls for an unspecified "billions" on affordable housing production and "transit-oriented development," while promising, if elected, to craft a comprehensive housing plan.
He opposed Hochul's unsuccessful bid to legalize so-called "accessory dwelling units" while supporting commercial-to-residential conversions of vacant hotels and office buildings with affordable set-asides. He supports a tax incentive and abatement for developers of affordable housing that would replace the 421-a program that expired this year. He also wants to expand the New York State Homes and Community Renewal program.
In response to the $850 million stadium deal with the Buffalo Bills that Hochul pushed through the state budget in the final weeks of negotiation, Suozzi called for a more public process around major spending. Any expenditure over $10 million that was not included in the executive or one-house budget proposals should trigger a public hearing, he says.
He embraces lower legal contribution limits to campaign accounts and a ban on corporate donations to state offices (though he is currently taking that money). He also believes elected officials should not be allowed to include their name or likeness on official mass communications within 90 days of an election (Hochul's name figures prominently on a property tax rebate check sent to homeowners a week before primary polls close). Like virtually everyone in Albany, he criticized the state's dysfunctional ethics watchdog, JCOPE, which Hochul and the Legislature are replacing this year with a new body.
He came out in opposition to term limits for state officials, when asked recently on the debate stage. Hochul said she supports two-term limits for statewide officials and Williams the same, while arguing that legislators should also have term limits but more time in office than statewide officials.
[LISTEN: Max Politics Podcast: Tom Suozzi on His Campaign for Governor]
by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette