The state Democratic Party machine and Democratic financial supporters have uniformly lined up behind Spitzer, and only Spitzer. Along the way, they’ve made it clear that they see Suozzi as a needless drain on their candidate’s time and campaign contributions. Even some of the Suozzi-simpatico think he should exit the race if only to save his own political hide.
When Suozzi launched his campaign in February, he trailed Spitzer by 64 points (72 percent to 8 percent) in the polls. Six months later, he’s closed that gap to 63 points. At the rate of two points a year, Suozzi will have whittled the lead down to nothing by 2037. Unfortunately, the primary is September 12. And things are about to get worse. On July 18, both candidates will release their latest fund-raising numbers. It’s expected that Spitzer will have $18 million on hand. Suozzi might have $2 million.
And yet Tom Suozzi persists, pointing toward July 25 and a Pace University debate with Spitzer, the only one the attorney general has agreed to, as his potential great turning point. Alas, the showdown is being aired on NY1, which is not available in 90 percent of the state, and its sister stations in Rochester, Syracuse, and Albany. All of this raises the obvious question: What the hell is Tom Suozzi thinking?
We’re sitting in Suozzi’s Crown Victoria on an idyllic Long Island summer afternoon. Suozzi dials up a friend of a friend at Merrill Lynch and begs for money.
“Hey, it’s Tom Suozzi. How are you? Thanks for taking my call. I’m a Chaminade High grad, too. Yeah, I’m getting the molasses kicked out of me, but I think if I can just raise some more money and break through the glass, I can make a race out of this. Can I count on you for a donation?”
There’s a long silence, and Suozzi nervously runs a hand through his hair.
“You will? Thank you so much.” But then he pushes a little too far.
“Could you ask some of your friends there to help out?”
This time, the pause is even longer.
“Oh, no, I understand. Anything you could give would be a big help.”
Unlike Ed Muskie’s New Hampshire tears or Howard Dean’s Iowa scream, there is no one moment when the Suozzi campaign crashed and burned. The truth is, Suozzi’s bid has yet to lift off. Going into the race, Suozzi undoubtedly thought he could turn the success of his Fix Albany crusade into a winning gubernatorial-race issue. But since he declared his candidacy in front of his grandparents’ home in Glen Cove, Suozzi has been attempting the impossible: wresting the reformer mantle from Spitzer.
Citing his Albany and Nassau County reform credentials, Suozzi argues that he is the only true good-government candidate. “I’m the only guy in the race with chief-executive experience,” he says, echoing his “I can do it, because I’ve done it” campaign slogan. “Sheldon Silver was the first guy to endorse Eliot,” he says. “What’s Eliot done to reform Albany in the eight years he’s been in Albany? He’s part of the problem.”
The thing is, it’s a subtle point, and voters aren’t buying it. As far as they’re concerned, Spitzer, the sheriff of Wall Street, is a reformer. Suozzi’s relationship with Home Depot co-founder Kenneth Langone hasn’t helped in this regard. Langone, Suozzi’s biggest benefactor, is a former member of the New York Stock Exchange who’s being sued by the state—as in Spitzer—for his role in doling out the $187.5 million severance package to former NYSE CEO Richard Grasso. Langone’s quotes about starting a “holy war” against Spitzer haven’t exactly burnished Suozzi’s reformer credentials.
Suozzi’s other issues haven’t captured voters’ imaginations, either. His main campaign plank is that New Yorkers’ taxes are 72 percent above the national average because Albany forces a larger portion of Medicaid costs onto the counties than any other state government does. Furthermore, Suozzi argues, New York’s annual $42 billion expenditure on Medicaid is $2 billion more than Texas’s and California’s expenditures combined. Suozzi says there is $5 billion in Medicaid fraud that Albany isn’t pursuing, and that New York’s property taxes will never come down until Medicaid fraud is Albany’s top priority.
Too bad Suozzi spelled all this out two years ago in his Fix Albany campaign, giving his opponents plenty of time to catch up. At times, it seemed like Republican candidate Bill Weld’s entire campaign platform had been cut-and-pasted from the FixAlbany.com Website (not that it got Weld anywhere). Spitzer has been paying attention, too. You’d be hard-pressed to find a major policy speech of his on either Medicaid reform or property-tax reduction made before Suozzi started beating those drums. Still, Spitzer has scored points with those issues and Suozzi hasn’t.