Congressman regroups after primary loss
Does Thomas R. Suozzi’s disappointing third place in the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial primary mean the end of his political career?
The run was a culmination of a long career in New York politics. Although his campaign was able to advertise widely, Suozzi finished with only 96,270 votes, behind both the winner, Governor Kathy Hochul, and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. Hochul easily won the right to represent the party in the November election, gaining 67 percent of the vote. Williams received 152,583 votes or 20 percent. Suozzi’s numbers gave him 12.6 percent.
“We lost the campaign, but we ran a campaign that was true to who I am and I am proud of the issues we talked about,” Suozzi said. “I have no regrets and am grateful for so much—the wonderful New Yorkers I met; everyone who supported our efforts; and the best campaign team I’ve worked with.”
The campaign was the second time that Suozzi has run for governor. In 2006, he ran in the primary, finishing behind the eventual winner, Elliot Spitzer, who later resigned from office following a prostitution ring scandal.
In his ads, Suozzi raised the stakes in his primary run, claiming that “…everything I’ve done in my career has prepared me for this particular job at this particular time.” A native of Glen Cove, Suozzi was heir to a political dynasty. Both his father, Joseph, and uncle, Vincent, served as Glen Cove mayors. Suozzi graduated from both Boston College and Fordham University. Within a decade, he was mayor of Glen Cove.
The city couldn’t hold him. In 2001, he ran for the Democratic nomination for Nassau County executive. Suozzi bucked the party establishment. That year, Nassau County Democrats backed Thomas DiNapoli, a New York State Assemblyman and current State Comptroller. When Nassau County was forced to create a county legislature, DiNapoli spearheaded the Democrats’ uphill climb to win a majority in that body. It fell short, but county Democrats felt that DiNapoli had earned the right to become the party’s standard bearer for county executive.
While the party formally endorsed DiNapoli, Suozzi upset their plans by defeating the Mineola native in the primary. It was a good year to run for county executive. Republican Party mismanagement had devastated the county’s finances so much so that the budget process was placed under independent control. Whoever won the Democratic Party nomination that year was favored to win the general election. Suozzi ended up winning the primary and the general election, becoming the county’s first Democratic chief executive in 30 years.
Suozzi’s first term won praise for fixing the county’s budget, cutting spending and reducing borrowing and debt, resulting in accumulated surpluses. In 2005, Governing Magazine named Suozzi one of its Public Officials of the Year, calling him “…the man who spearheaded Nassau County, New York’s remarkable turnaround from the brink of fiscal disaster.” The Glen Cove native was re-elected in 2005 and promptly ran for governor the next year.
In 2009, Suozzi ran for a third term as county executive, but was defeated by Edward P. Mangano. In 2013, Suozzi was persuaded to challenge Mangano in a rematch, which the incumbent won.
It appeared that Suozzi’s career was over. But the man has always enjoyed politics. As luck would have it, Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) decided not to run for re-election in 2016. Suozzi saw his opening and was elected to Congress that year, winning re-election in both 2018 and 2020.
The statehouse again beckoned. Suozzi would forgo a run for a fourth term, opting again for the governor’s race. The year 2022 is likely to be a Republican year. However, Suozzi’s old Fourth Congressional seat still retains a Democratic Party edge. Either way, the man wasn’t alone. Two other Nassau County representatives, Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) also retired from that body. As with Suozzi, Zeldin ran for governor, winning the Republican Party’s primary to challenge Hochul.
When Suozzi first made noises about running for governor, New York Post columnist Frederick Dicker reported on the ambitions of the mayor of “little Glen Cove.” Was that it? Is Glen Cove too small and too isolated to create a base from which to run for governor? Zeldin is a Long Islander who won his party’s nomination. However, he is an underdog in the fall campaign.
In recent years, Long Islanders have won for statewide office: Rick Lazio took on Hillary Clinton in the latter’s successful 2000 senate race. Kathleen Rice ran for attorney general in 2010. That year, Lazio ran for the GOP’s governor’s nomination. Both lost, even though Lazio was favored in his contest against Carl Paladino.
Jerry Kremer, who writes the “Inside Politics” column for Anton Media Group, analyzed Suozzi’s campaign.
“I don’t attribute Tom’s loss to his being from Long Island per se,” Kremer said. “He is bright and energetic, but he failed to carve out a road to winning. His emphasis on crime didn’t really play to his talents of being able to govern. I also think that there was no connect with the average person on the street. I think he should have been the [Bill] Clinton type candidate saying, ‘I feel your pain.’ Being up against a person who has moved quickly to establish her credentials as a person who can govern made it more uphill plus having over $30 million in the bank was big advantage. Tom’s potential going forward is very limited. There will be a primary for U.S. Senator in two years is an option. I know he worked hard and furiously but overall, his campaign just didn’t connect.”
For now, Suozzi will continue his work as the representative for New York’s Fourth Congressional District.