“I had lawyers, an architect, and a former FBI agent watching over it,” says Suozzi, who prides himself on being a Mr. Fix-It technocrat.
Two years later, Suozzi ran again and defeated DeRiggi’s handpicked successor. Immediately after taking office, Suozzi killed DeRiggi’s building plan and eventually built a new courthouse and police station in buildings that were donated to the city, saving Glen Cove perhaps $1 million. When a DeRiggi ally complained at a council meeting about Suozzi’s abandoning his predecessor’s plan, Suozzi grew red in the face. “I didn’t want to do this,” Suozzi shouted. “But you’ve forced me.”
He then instructed a couple of janitors to bring out a large slab he had found shortly after he had taken office. With a melodramatic flourish, Suozzi pulled off the cloth revealing a granite plaque lauding DeRiggi and other GOP associates for their role in building the new county building. “They built a plaque before they built the building!” screamed Suozzi as the crowd gasped.
Suozzi insists his moves on the courthouse were motivated by good-government rather than score-settling issues. Still, he had the plaque made into a coffee table, which he now keeps in his office.
After eight years as Glen Cove mayor, Suozzi won his long-shot candidacy for Nassau County executive in 2001. His victory party had no band. Instead, Tom Suozzi sang a song to the best man at his wedding—his dad. To the theme music from The Bridge Over the River Kwai, Tom bellowed to his teary-eyed father, “Suozzi, you know he’ll do his best / Suozzi, he always passes the test / So remember, in November / To vote for Suozzi because he’s the best.”
The words were not new. They had been written for Joseph Suozzi’s county-executive campaign in 1958.
We’re back in Suozzi’s Crown Victoria on our way to the Puerto Rican Day Parade. Suozzi flashes a cocky smile. “If I could meet every voter, there’s no question I’d win,” he says. “People know I have the ideas on my side.”
Suozzi doesn’t once shut up as the car barrels toward Fifth Avenue. “The insiders have people afraid. Do you know how many politicians come up to me and say, ‘Tom, you’re doing the right thing’ ?” As he often does, Tom Suozzi answers his own question. “A lot. And do you know how many stand with me when I say, ‘Can I count on your support?’ Not many. That’s why I’m getting crushed.” Suozzi’s candor may be head-rattling refreshing, but it seems to be a strange way to spin a reporter.
At the corner of Fifth and 49th, Suozzi changes, in the car, out of a suit and into his parade outfit: a short-sleeved shirt, khakis, and Italian loafers without socks. Walking up Fifth Avenue, he literally salsas from side to side, signing autographs, stamping on Spitzer literature that proclaims on day one, EVERYTHING CHANGES, and singing “Viva Puerto Rico.” The crowd cheers and screams. Maybe Suozzi has been reading Sartre and realizes the only solution to being swallowed up in the void of an “I’m getting my ass kicked in an epic way” campaign is to keep moving forward.
“Listen to them,” Suozzi shouts at me. “That’s why I’m staying in.”
At the end of the parade route, I overhear a cop talking about why the crowd was in a Beatles-esque frenzy. It wasn’t a Suozzi boomlet; special guest J.Lo was just three groups ahead. I don’t have the heart to tell him. Besides, Suozzi is already gone, in pursuit of the Indian vote in Queens.
By the end of Suozzi’s first term as county executive, Nassau County’s bond rating had been upgraded eleven times. Already, his sights were on bigger targets. Throughout the county’s transformation, Suozzi found state assistance to be slow in coming. Part of it was Albany’s standard glacial pace; part of it was perhaps payback for Suozzi’s defeating Thomas DiNapoli, an ally of Speaker Sheldon Silver, for county executive.
The crowd at the Puerto Rican Day Parade cheers. “Listen to them,” Suozzi shouts. “That’s why I’m staying in.” But it wasn’t a Suozzi boomlet; special guest J.Lo was three groups ahead.
At first, Suozzi tried to play nice with Silver, hiring Patricia Lynch, Silver’s preferred lobbyist, to represent Nassau County in Albany. But in 2003, Suozzi attempted to get Albany’s approval for a complicated debt-restructuring plan involving Nassau County’s sewer authority. It wouldn’t have cost Albany a cent, but the bill went nowhere.
That November, Suozzi attended an Albany meeting of the Citizens Budget Commission shortly after the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU had declared the New York State Legislature the worst in the country. After the meeting, Suozzi proclaimed Albany “a horrible, rotten, terrible, broken system.” In the days that followed, Suozzi suggested that if voters wanted to show their displeasure, they should defeat a Republican and Democrat incumbent legislator in every county. Not even Suozzi’s family thought it was a good idea. “My wife, my father, my top aides, all told me it was a mistake,” recalls Suozzi. “I did it anyway.”