Nassau County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi is challenging the seemingly unstoppable Eliot Spitzer for this year's Democratic Party nomination to be governor of New York. As a way of admitting the difficulty of his task, he told his audience at the Queens Chamber of Commerce Installation Luncheon that Spitzer, the state's attorney general, is "a giant", while in contrast, "62 percent of the people don't even know me." To make himself better known, he is on a heavy speaking schedule between now and the date of the primary election, September 12. At the QCC luncheon in April, he was getting some attention in advance of Spitzer, who is to be the speaker at the QCC Business Expo and Luncheon, May 18 at Terrace on the Park.
The first time one hears it, one can recognize the challenger's campaign motto: "I can do it because I've done it"- and expect to hear it repeated often. Suozzi is 43, a lawyer and certified public accountant, and has been head of Nassau County government since the beginning of 2002, following eight years of being mayor of the North Shore town of Glen Cove. At the QCC luncheon, held at Antun's in Queens Village, he got to the "done it" part by saying that he came into office in the county seat of Mineola and cut the governmental work force, balanced the budget and raised the local bond rating from junk status to "A." He said a study by the Maxwell School of Government at Syracuse University called Nassau "the worstrun county in the United States" in 2001; now, he said, it is one of the bestrun. With such a record, he believes he can take on the larger problem of New York state, which he described as having bad schools, non-affordable housing and runaway insurance rates. North of Rockland County, he declared, New York must rank as one of the poorest states in the U.S., being carried, so to speak, by downstate counties and New York City, which aren't in the greatest shape themselves. Though the state tax rate is actually below the national average, the tax rate in New York's many localities is 72 percent above the national average, he said.
He touted his experience handling the health and human services bureau in Mineola as an example of what he could do facing the problems Albany would present. HHS, he said, had eight departments in five locations, and not one of them would communicate with any other. He said that in three years he had all eight in a single building, and the result of such consolidation was better service at lower cost. He said he was and is able to take on such knotty tasks because he is an able executive. And Eliot Spitzer? "He's a prosecutor," Suozzi said, the much-feared "sheriff of Wall Street", but could he take on the problem of the state's budget, when he's part of that problem? Suozzi called himself the solution to the problem, saying that he led a statewide "counties' revolt" that put pressure on the state legislature- which he said is the "most dysfunctional" in the U.S., citing a study by the Brennan Center of New York University as backup-to pass the budget on time in 2005, for the first time in nearly 20 years. But it's not that he accepts that budget; instead, he says that the state cannot be changed fundamentally until the budget is reformed. He believes Spitzer would not reform it, any more than he has thus far reformed Medicaid, whose budget he called 40 percent fraudulent. "We're financing health benefits for dead people," he said, while the attorney general does nothing about it, though reform is within his power. He would like to bring up these issues in a series of debates with Spitzer, but the attorney general ignores him, he said. He'll keep trying, from now until the September primary.
Suozzi was asked about New York City schools. He said he favored offering incentive pay to what he called the best teachers if they would teach in the worst schools to try to raise the high school graduation rate above its current level, 50 percent. He also said that in his first day as governor he would force a settlement of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, won by that reform group 14 years ago but stalled since then by the state's constant legal appeals.
It appeared that Suozzi would deliver his address and then depart for his next order of business, but QCC ran into an emergency. Queens District Attorney Richard Brown was supposed to swear in the slate of officers and directors, who would serve new terms beginning May 1, but he was unable to attend the luncheon. It therefore fell to the Nassau County Executive to do the job, and he did.
The officers, to serve from May 1 to April 30, 2007, are: President Raymond J. Irrera of Raymond Irrera + Associates, Architects; First Vice President Albert F. Pennisi of Pennisi Daniels & Norelli LLP, and Treasurer Gerard J. Thornton, Runway Tire Service Co.
Directors to serve from May 1 to April 30, 2008, are: Jon Postyn, AXA Advisors, and Mark Stroubos of Sterling National Bank. Directors to serve from May 1 to April 30, 2009, are: Hank Auffarth of Citibank N.A.; Joshua Bienstock of Resolve It, Inc.; William R. Blake II of Blake Agency, Inc.; Kenneth Buettner of York Scaffold Equipment Corp.; Carol Conslato of Con Edison of NY/Queens; Thomas Eagar, consultant; Joseph Farber of Farber, Rosen & Kaufman, P.C.; Benjamin Feinstein of Feinstein Ironworks, Inc.; Joseph Ficalora of New York Community Bank; Chuck Hoffman of State Bank of Long Island; Jeffrey Levine, of Levine Builders; Cheryl Miller, of Pre-Paid Legal; Vincent L. Petraro of Petraro & Jones LLP; George Rozansky of New York Hospital Queens; Caryn A. Schwab of Mount Sinai Hospital of Queens, and Betty Ann Tamberg of Independence Community Bank.