It was with great enthusiasm and support, albeit little surprise, that Nassau County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi stood before a crowd of more than 1,200 supporters on Saturday morning in front of the Glen Cove house where his grandparents lived to announce that yes, he is declaring his candidacy for governor of New York State.
"Now more than ever, New York needs a governor who is going to shake things up," he said. "New York needs a strong chief executive with a proven record of government reform and results.
"New York needs a skilled manager who knows how to balance budgets and tame bureaucracies. New York needs an independent leader who owes nothing to the insiders and the lobbyists and answers only to you," he said as folks cheered and waved banners reading "Tom Suozzi for Governor" and "Amigos de Tom Suozzi."
Most supporters have been following the former four-term mayor since his first political run as well as the careers of others in the Suozzi political family: the county executive's father Joseph A. Suozzi, a decorated World War II veteran who served as mayor of Glen Cove and sat on the New York State Supreme Court and Appellate Division, his uncle Vincent "Jimmy" Suozzi, who served 11 years as mayor of Glen Cove and cousin Ralph V. Suozzi, current mayor of the city.
In an animated speech Suozzi declared that he "launched Fix Albany in large part because the values my [family] taught me, and which have always defined the Democratic Party at its best, seem to have vanished from our State Capitol.
"Taking risks to do what's right? Gone. Making the hard choices necessary to solve hard problems? Gone. Standing up to powerful interests to advance the public interest? Gone. A commitment to make government work for people? Gone. And what are New Yorkers left with? The highest local taxes in the nation. An upstate economy on life support. A generation of low-income children denied a quality education. And not least of all, a crisis in confidence for our state's future."
Suozzi's solution? To stop playing it safe, he said.
Suozzi declared voters are "fed up...after more than a decade of dysfunction, of backroom deals and special favors, of no accountability, and, worst of all, no solutions to the serious problems that are killing our state's middle class and those aspiring to join the middle class."
The county executive summed up his major goals. "One: We can start to fund a settlement of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, and by giving schools in New York City and in low-income areas the funding they need and demanding more accountability and reform, we can give every child the quality education he or she deserves;
"Two: We can lower the property taxes that are crippling families and stifling the economy here on Long Island and throughout the State;
"Three: We can provide economic incentives, which, in conjunction with property tax relief and legislative reforms, can jumpstart a devastated upstate economy that, if taken alone, would make New York one of the poorest states in the country;
"And four: We can substantially increase our affordable housing stock, and relieve a huge strain on our state's working families."
Suozzi reminded New Yorkers that they pay the highest local taxes in the United States, 72 percent above the national average and stated that the only way to stop New Yorkers from getting shortchanged is "to change the culture of Albany. We must reform our government and fix our broken system," he stated. Suozzi said he has found that every inroad made in improving Nassau County government leads to Albany and that he cannot do his best for Nassau County, or any county in the state, without being in Albany.
That includes making progress in Medicaid reform, he said, which he calls the fastest growing, most expensive program in the New York State Budget. "In New York, Medicaid costs 250 percent more than the national average and there is estimated to be well over $5 billion in waste, fraud, and abuse in the program. Now imagine what $5 billion-the low end of what we're losing to Medicaid waste, fraud, and abuse each year-can get the people of New York," he stated.
Suozzi said the reason nothing has been done about Medicaid is that "taking on Medicaid fraud would involve upsetting a lot of powerful people." He followed by saying, "Well, let me tell you: I will take on Medicaid fraud and anyone who stands in the way of reform."
The words reform and reformer kept creeping into the county executive's speech. Speaking of Democrat Eliot Spitzer, who has been and is still considered the front runner in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, Suozzi said, "Everyone likes to call themselves a reformer, but here's the difference: I have the experience as a government reformer that my opponent does not have. I've stood up to powerful political interests, including those in my own party, and I have delivered major legislative victories and structural changes that have tangibly improved the lives of New Yorkers."
Continuing to cite the differences between himself and Spitzer, Suozzi said, "I've seen the polls. I'm the underdog. I'm the guy chasing the frontrunner. Few of the pundits are expecting me to win. And you know what? I like it that way. And you know why? Because, unlike my opponent, I don't owe anything to the establishment. We're both elected officials, but my opponent is a prosecutor and I'm a chief executive. I have managed a county with 8,500 employees. I have balanced a budget of $2.4 billion. I have negotiated union contracts. I have re-engineered a large, complex government. I have worked with legislators and others to deliver real results to the 1.3 million constituents I serve."
Suozzi went on to say, "My opponent will have the vote of almost every single Democratic Party boss. He'll have the support of almost every single Albany legislator, Albany lobbyist and Albany lawyer. He will be endorsed by most if not all of the special interest groups. And he will certainly have more money."
But, said the county executive, "My fight is not with Democrats. My fight is with the leaders of both parties who have failed to address the important issues we face. In this effort, I will follow the lead of a great New York Democrat, Governor Al Smith, the original 'Happy Warrior' who reminded us that 'all the ills of democracy can be cured by more democracy.'"
Mr. Suozzi concluded by promising that in the months ahead, he will share his record of government reform and results with the people of New York and will offer specific, substantive plans to address the serious problems facing the state.
In a call for unity in so diverse a state as New York, Suozzi declared, "Let's make New York a united state. Let's cast off the divisions of upstate vs. downstate, suburbs vs. cities, rich vs. poor, and black vs. white. Let's make New York the Empire State once again. A state brimming with opportunity for all who call it home. A state which promises all its children a chance to live the American dream.
"I invite all those who really want to do something-to fix Albany and to take back our government from the lobbyists and the insiders and the special interests and return it to the people of this state-to join me and to know that real change in New York is ours for the taking.
"New York was built by the risk-takers. Let us find strength in that tradition. I know we can succeed. I know we will succeed; I know we will fix Albany. Today, I tell New York: working together, we can, and we will, bring a better future to our state. I know we can do it, because we've done it."