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In Bid to Become Democratic Candidate for NYS Governor, Suozzi’s Attacks Seem Desperate

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Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) holds town hall

Tom Suozzi shows his folksy style at a town hall early in his tenure as a Long Island Congressman. He is running to be the Democratic candidate for Governor of New York © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, News-Photos-Features.com

There was much I admired about Tom Suozzi when he was Nassau County executive, especially his Downtown Revitalization plan. He has been fairly disappointing as a congressman, with the exception of his work on the Long Island Sound (his membership in the so-called Problem-Solvers Caucus has yielded few solved problems). I was furious that he turned obstructionist to passing the Build Back Better legislation, giving an ultimatum that unless the cap on the SALT deduction was ended, he wouldn’t support it. That is hardly being a “common sense Democrat,” as he presents himself.

But I’ve lost respect for him as he has focused vicious attacks against Kathy Hochul that show his own desperation to become the Democratic candidate for Governor. Rather, it serves to clear a path for a Republican to win the governor’s house and overturn any progress that has been made in women’s rights, voting rights, environmental protection, climate action, sustainable economic development, gun violence prevention, public education, health care – basically everything good that has happened in New York since Democrats won control and Kathy Hochul has continued in her 10 months since stepping into the office.

Hochul has continued the progress set into motion by Andrew Cuomo – which wasn’t a sure thing since she comes from conservative upstate New York – especially on women’s reproductive rights and gun violence prevention. But Suozzi pummeled her for earning an A rating from the NRA 10 years ago when she was in Congress (voting to adopt legislation which would allow people to take their guns from other states into New York). She zinged back that she has evolved.

Suozzi sounds more like a Republican, parroting the three hot-button issues that have proved so winning for them: crime and the state’s bail reform (which he conveniently forgets has already been addressed), taxes and public education. He chides Democrats for leaning too far left in the quest for economic, social, political, environmental and criminal justice – he even went to Buffalo to campaign against a progressive candidate for mayor, instead of helping Nassau County Democrats win their elections.

Now New York’s crime rate has not gone up more than any other place and has little to do with bail reform – the notion that if you are a millionaire and you murder somebody, you can pay whatever cash bail is required to stay out of jail pending trial, but if you are too poor to pay bail if you are accused of stealing a backpack, despite not having been actually convicted of anything, you can be jailed for years, lose your job, your home, your family and even your life. Suozzi neglects to mention that Hochul is on the same page as supporting discretion to judges to consider the suspect’s record and the seriousness of the alleged crime.

His attack on public education arises from the same source as his “promise” to reduce taxes. Indeed, in the Spitzer administration, Suozzi headed a tax reform commission. The big idea? Consolidating or eliminating school districts, villages and special districts. His zeal as county executive in shutting down the Great Neck Water Pollution Control District (piping the Peninsula’s sewage over the hump in mid-island to Cedar Creek on the south shore) so that Great Neck’s taxpayers would pretty much subsidize the rest of the county, I believe is what cost him his re-election as Nassau County Executive to Republican Ed Mangano (who subsequently was found guilty of bribery and sentenced to prison).

“As governor I will work to reduce property taxes and level funding,” he told Publisher Steve Blank during a Blank Slate virtual town hall. What does that mean?

He said he would use the property tax cap (that harms school districts), would tie state aid to property tax reduction (great, that means school districts will have even less money to function), would change mandates to “guidelines” (“If administrators are doing a good job, leave them alone”) and “protect seniors who are house rich but cash poor” (who already benefit from senior rebates and income-based reductions). What would that mean for the quality of education? Does “leveling” mean Great Neck’s schools should not function better than the worst functioning schools? Should Great Neck have to shut down its music, art and theater programs or not offer as many AP classes because Roosevelt can’t afford such programs, even if Great Neck’s taxpayers move here for our quality public schools and vote in support of our budgets?

State aid is already based on the community’s tax base – Great Neck’s property taxes (65 percent of which go to school taxes) are high because it gets only 5% of school operating expense funded through state aid, while 50% of Uniondale, Roosevelt and New York City’s school budgets are paid for from state aid. (He deliberately uses a miscalculation of per-pupil spending and misrepresentation of “tax rate” – of course, there is a lower tax rate in Great Neck because home values are higher (there are more $100s to multiply the tax rate against) and the school district only raises from taxes exactly what it needs, down to the dollar, to support its operating budget which goes before voters for approval, unlike state budget).

Despite his attack on local control with the property tax cap and desire to consolidate localities, he criticized Hochul for proposing Accessory Housing as one means to address the intractable affordable housing problem.

His zealous support of the property tax cap contradicts his criticism of Hochul for proposing Accessory Housing as one means to address the affordable housing problem in the state (while also giving seniors who might be taxed out of their homes a way to stay). He doesn’t have an alternative, but he criticized her, using the same attack as the Republicans, that mandating a municipality allow accessory housing would undermine local control and destroy suburbia. As far as I can tell, she wouldn’t propose a “mandate” to have accessory housing, only that a municipality could prevent a homeowner who wants to offer it if it proved unsafe.  As for “destroying suburbia” – you have to look at how municipalities are allowing real estate developers to build ever larger buildings, meanwhile, it is unlikely that so many homeowners would want to offer accessory housing on their property as to “destroy” suburbia.

Suozzi’s response to “affordable housing” is to push for transit-oriented development in suburban “downtowns” (the best part of his tenure as county executive), incentivized with the Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant program, awarding $10 million to 10 communities each year in a statewide competition, that Hochul has continued.

Suozzi calls himself the “commonsense Democrat” (as opposed to a “practical progressive”) but in response to how he would address climate action (change federal tax structure so the state depends more on block grants) and meet the state’s energy needs (nuclear), seem more pie-in-the-sky than anything proposed by the most leftist Democrat he derides.

“I want to raise taxes at the federal level so no matter wherever you go, you are paying the same [doesn’t everyone pay the same federal tax rates now?]. We have really high taxes but none in Florida or Texas, so raise taxes at the federal level and do revenue sharing back to states. We should address climate change through the federal level, through tax credits – part of Build Back Better, which I supported.”

How commonsensical is that, when history has shown you can’t depend on the Congress to give back to New York, California, or any of the Blue States, not even for disaster relief (Superstorm Sandy, 9/11). New York, a creditor state, sends more to Washington ($26 billion in 2018 or 90 cents on the dollar) than it receives back; red, low-tax states like Kentucky, New Mexico, West Virginia, Mississippi are debtors, getting $1.35 back for every $1 sent. New York’s high taxes subsidize their low state taxes.

Indeed, Suozzi was chided by Assemblymember Kevin A. Cahill (D-Ulster, Dutchess), state Senator Kevin Parker (D-Kings) and Environmental Advocates New York for saying he would oppose the Climate and Community Investment Act if elected governor.

“Thomas Suozzi is dead wrong when he perpetuates the ‘guns or butter’ argument about carbon taxes,” Cahill said. “As a society, the people of New York are already paying dearly for the damage caused by carbon pollution. What is missing is the resource to create new, good-paying, economy-building green jobs on the scale necessary to rescue our environment. The CCIA is the path to 21st century success. Congressman Suozzi needs to stop pulling false alarms just to stake out a role in the upcoming governor’s race.”

Another attack on Hochul – and the odd suggestion, by proximity – that New York State politicians are corrupt (though her selection of Brian Benjamin as Lt. Governor is upsetting) or that her husband is legal counsel for the Delaware North company – is also dizzying. In fact, he has made “ending corruption,” one of his three campaign pillars (taxes and crime the other two). Frankly, I would suggest New York seems to have more corrupt politicians because the state and county actually prosecute elected officials who abuse their office and violate law, not that there isn’t the same (or more) political corruption in other states. But this seems an odd attack by Suozzi since he has been cited for ethics violations for failing to report hundreds of stock trades. He says it was a paperwork error and has been fixed. He seems to be employing the campaign strategy, elevated to high art by Trump and Republicans, to accuse the other side of the act you would be accused of.

Suozzi also attacks Hochul’s leadership style, which frankly is one of her selling points after Andrew Cuomo – that is, except when he accuses her of bullying the Legislature into approving the $850 million in funding for the new $1.4 billion Buffalo Bills stadium. Asked how he would get legislators to do what he wanted, Suozzi said he would first try to persuade and if that didn’t work, run people against them. That approach could backfire if it suggests to voters he would rule in the style of Cuomo, widely criticized as a bully.

The third contender in the Democratic primary for Governor is Jumaane Williams, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.  More like a local activist that someone who can helm a state the size of a country, he is much too narrowly focused (angry), zeroing in on redressing wrongs (while giving absolutely no credit for the last five years in which equity and justice was fundamental, or the fact that both the Assembly and Senate are not just controlled by Democrats but by Blacks) and doesn’t seem to have a plan or vision for the state to grow sustainably or equitably.

Early voting is underway until June 26; the New York primary election for Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, State Assembly, Judges and party positions is Tuesday, June 28.

You can locate your early voting site as well as your Election Day poll site (which are likely different), here: https://voterlookup.elections.ny.gov/

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