The dog days of August are hardly a time to slow down when you're a candidate to be the next Nassau County Executive with a Sept. 11 primary on the horizon. Just ask Tom Suozzi. The Glen Cove mayor is getting his message out by doing interviews with local media, attending various events and meeting with residents as his campaign pushes full force into the home stretch.
In an interview at the end of August in his campaign headquarters, Mr. Suozzi spoke about the position of Nassau County Executive with a boyish enthusiasm and optimism.
He harks back to a time when, as a 31-year-old aspiring public servant, he became mayor of the city he grew up in. At the time, in January 1994, Glen Cove was in financial disarray, with a bond rating just above junk bond status.
Now, just days before he turns 39 years old, Mr. Suozzi received a special birthday gift from Moody's investor service, which improved Glen Cove's bond rating from A3 to A2.
Mr. Suozzi compared the situation Glen Cove was in to Nassau's current predicament. He exudes confidence in his ability to turn around the financial situation in Nassau County as he did in Glen Gove. "This is the exact same stuff I faced as mayor of Glen Cove. It's uncanny, really," he said.
It was about two years ago when Mr. Suozzi decided he would run for Nassau County Executive even though he was in the midst of a successful tenure as the Glen Cove mayor, having turned the city's bond rating from a Baa rating to an A3, a significant improvement. "A little over two years ago I decided that everything I've done in my professional life prepared me for this particular job," he said, referring to the county executive post. "Over the past two years when the [county's] wheels started falling off, and everybody started seeing all these scandals and the financial crisis, then I thought I really would be good for this job."
An attorney, auditor, law clerk, certified public accountant and now mayor, Mr. Suozzi has been running his campaign around one basic principle- "I can do it because I've done it," he said. "You don't want promises. You want proof and then you want to see the plans. I have the proof since I've done it before in Glen Cove and I have the plans."
During his campaign, Mr. Suozzi unveiled various phases of a taxpayers saving plan, which he believes would save residents $100 million dollars through such measures as streamlining the police department, consolidating county real estate holdings, and decreasing the workforce by eliminating positions in the county budget that currently are not filled, while increasing productivity by rewarding exceptional job performance. Mr. Suozzi also plans to disqualify political party committeemen from serving in any county position, and decrease the number of outside contracts the county awards.
Since Mr. Suozzi thinks of Glen Cove as a microcosm of Nassau County, he believes that although the size of Glen Cove's budget may pale in comparison, he can turn Nassau finances around just as he did Glen Cove, using the same management principles -creativity, innovation, hard work, bi-partisanship and technology. He also points out that Glen Cove's is a national model for cleaning up pollution and a statewide model for revitalizing its downtown. "I've never been fettered by all these political connections. I've worked across party lines. I've gotten Republicans and Democrats to help," he said. "My independence has helped me get it done in Glen Cove and it will help me get it done in Nassau County ... I have one loyalty and that's to the people I serve."
Facing the former head of the Nassau Democratic party in Tom DiNapoli could be a daunting task for a fellow Democrat, but Mr. Suozzi hasn't been intimidated nor has he been dissuaded from running for the post. He thinks of himself as an "outsider candidate," considering all of the major endorsements his opponent received.
Mr. Suozzi emphasized, however, that he is the only candidate who has experience balancing budgets and working with unions and a police force and skills necessary for county executive, which he says may prove to be more of an edge than any amount of political endorsements. "I'm the only one who can say I've done it already," he said.
Turning around Glen Cove's financial troubles was not easy. In his first year in office, Mr. Suozzi raised taxes significantly in the city. However, city residents have not seen a tax increase in the last six years and during that time the city has managed to pay down its debt. He is prepared to make tough decisions in Nassau, although he said he didn't think a significant tax increase was needed. "I've identified $100 million in savings just as an outsider looking in. I think we can save even more money than that. I think there's enough waste and patronage to cut," he said.
With the primary less than week away, Mr. Suozzi is hoping for one more birthday present - a primary win and a chance to run for the job for which he believes he is a perfect match.