Tom Quixote

Photo: Bruce Gilden/Magnum

At the lectern of East New York’s St. Paul’s Community Baptist Church, an overly caffeinated man in a dark suit and white shirt and with a shock of jet-black hair is unhappy with the hello he just received from the thousand-plus congregation. He speaks with a level of fearlessness—or cluelessness—most white guys outnumbered 1,000 to 1 wouldn’t be able to muster. “I said, ‘Good morning,’ ” repeats Tom Suozzi, mega-long-shot gubernatorial candidate. A more spirited greeting comes back his way. Suozzi beams and shouts, “Where I come from we have a saying: ‘Guarda le mane, non ascoltare la boca.’ It means ‘Watch the hands, don’t listen to the mouth.’ ”

Even the minister looks confused. Over the next ten minutes, Suozzi launches into his standard “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore” speech. His pitch has been ever-so-slightly modulated in deference to Jesus and the little kiddies chasing balloons through the aisles. Still, some parishioners blink hard at his scared-straight talk: Their schools are failing, property taxes are soaring, Medicaid is out of control, and most important, their government in Albany sucks hard. Only one man can fix it, and, no, his name is not Eliot Spitzer. “Don’t listen to what I say; check out what I’ve done,” says Suozzi. He ticks off the fiscal crises averted and budgets balanced during his tenure as Nassau County executive.

By now he has their attention. “Look, usually 700,000 people vote in a Democratic primary. If that happens, I can’t win. If we get a million to the polls, I have a shot; 1.2 million, I’m looking good. So if you like what you heard today, tell ten friends.” Suozzi pauses for a beat. “If you don’t like what I said, please keep it to yourself.” Everyone laughs, and someone shouts, “You tell it, brother.”

That’s when most of these shows end. The pol waves and ducks out a back exit. But Suozzi sticks around for the entire two-hour-plus service, which may have less to do with sincerity or politeness than the fact that his campaign has no other Sunday-morning invites.

A half-hour later, eyes go wide as Suozzi belts out lines from the closing processional that could be his campaign theme song: “I’m looking for a miracle, I expect the impossible, I feel the intangible, I see the invisible.” Suozzi sings along like he means it. And quite possibly, he does.

Meet Tom Suozzi, the perfect candidate for governor of New York in any other year than this one. On paper, Suozzi seems like a consultant’s wish come true. He’s a reform-minded Democrat in a largely Democratic state ripe for reform. He’s young (43), suburban (born and raised in Glen Cove, Long Island), and a practicing Catholic (check that: pro-choice Catholic). He’s got early-Pacino good looks, and a hey-let’s-put-on-a-show enthusiasm that makes him the guy you want to talk to, whether it be at a Staten Island potluck or a policy conference in Albany.

And he’s got sparkling political credentials. At 30, Suozzi, a lawyer and CPA, returned home to Glen Cove, ran for mayor, and went on to save his beloved town from fiscal disaster. In 2001, he pulled off a colossal upset and was elected Nassau County executive, the first Democrat in three decades to hold that position in the 55 percent Republican county. Once in office, Suozzi eliminated a $45 million deficit that had threatened to balloon to $400 million by 2005 and send the county into bankruptcy. The county’s bond rating skyrocketed, and Suozzi was named a Governing magazine “Public Official of the Year.” Fed up with the cesspool that is Albany, Suozzi publicly criticized longtime Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver and in 2004 formed Fix Albany, a grassroots movement that aims to throw the bums out of the statehouse. The New York Times editorial board liked the move so much they called it “Thomas Suozzi’s Excellent Idea.” Then he helped topple a state senator and an assemblyman in a legislative system that boasts a 98 percent reelection rate.

All of that should have positioned Suozzi perfectly for a successful run for the governor’s mansion. Only Eliot Spitzer stands in his way. Oops! That’s like saying that the only thing standing between the moon and New York City is outer space.

Democrats agree on nothing, but they’ve agreed since 2002 that Spitzer is going to be New York’s next governor. “Eliot has created an impregnable reputation as being ‘the guy,’ ” says Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant not working for either campaign. “He’s seen as this larger-than-life reformer whose record has been cemented with voters through millions of gross rating points from his years as attorney general.”

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 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.

“Voters see Spitzer as a reformer, someone who has taken on the big boys,” says Sheinkopf. “It’s hard to make Suozzi’s distinction between Wall Street reform and Albany reform. At best, voters who know the both of them think they’re both reformers. There’s no way Suozzi can counter that unless he spends $20 million on negative ads.”

Which he doesn’t have. The $5 million war chest Suozzi once possessed was squandered on a puzzling introductory ad campaign. In April, rather than introduce Suozzi with his heartwarming family history and do-gooder political résumé, the campaign aired a dark jump-cutting mess about Albany with the unknown Suozzi in the role of marauding crusader. It might have worked later in the campaign once voters knew who Suozzi was, but as an introduction, it bombed.

Still, blaming Suozzi’s troubles on a bad ad is like blaming the Knicks’ awful season on Madison Square Garden’s flat soda. Suozzi’s biggest mistake, political pros agree, was picking an opponent he could not beat. From his good-cop image to his $18 million war chest, Eliot Spitzer, fairly or not, is currently an amalgam of Thomas Dewey and the new, possibly Jewish, Superman. From the day after his 2002 AG reelection, Spitzer has projected a strength and inevitability to his candidacy that was only momentarily thrown off by a two-day story in January about his temper. He can run a confident, quiet campaign now because he has been tending to the labor unions, minorities, enviromentalists, and other liberal mainstays for his entire second term. Suozzi may complain that Spitzer is running a stealth campaign, but that’s what smart pols do when they have $18 million in the bank and a 60-point lead. Even if Suozzi ran the perfect campaign, it’s hard to see him getting 40 percent of the vote, much less beating Spitzer.

The only thing that could possibly make this a race is a colossal Spitzer blunder or repeated forums where the hail-fellow-well-met Suozzi kicks the pinched, scolding Spitzer’s ass. The two times the candidates did share a stage, Suozzi got the best of it. After a union-sponsored Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally in Harlem, Spitzer’s remarks were received respectfully, but the crowd went a bit nuts when Suozzi led them in a spirited round of the “Olé Olé” soccer song. In May, Spitzer was greeting commuters at the Mineola train station, less than a half-mile from Suozzi’s Nassau County offices. Suozzi strode over and put Spitzer on the defensive, badgering him about his then-nonexistent policy plan for reducing New York property taxes (magically, two weeks later, Spitzer announced his own property-tax-reduction plan). In the campaign’s first five months, however, the AG’s handlers have mostly kept him off the same podium with Suozzi. And the July 25 debate doesn’t figure to be Spitzer’s Waterloo. He is, after all, an experienced prosecutor.

“I’m looking for a miracle, I expect the impossible, I feel the intangible, I see the invisible,” Suozzi sings.And quite possibly hemeans it.

“The debate doesn’t matter. What matters is what the media writes about it,” says Sheinkopf. “And they will only write about it if Eliot makes a major gaffe. He’s been on too many big public stages to do that.”

It’s evening in Glen Cove, on a baseball field not far from where Tom Suozzi proposed to his wife, Helene. We arrive just in time to see Joey Suozzi hit a 10-year-old’s version of a home run; a line drive that nearly rolls all the way to the L.I.E. Joey circles the bases, then spots his daddy. His eyes go wide, and he throws himself into his arms. Then Joey cocks his head sideways and looks at his pop. “Dad, your teeth are yellow.” Suozzi blanches a bit and then shows a tight smile. “Even my kids are killing me.”

A few minutes later, we head up the road to the Landing School, where Suozzi’s daughter, Caroline, is singing in the school’s spring concert. Suozzi quietly slips into a seat next to Helene, a quiet blonde in a pink skirt and black sandals with flowers on them. As the fifth-graders work through “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and “Rock Around the Clock,” Helene has to good-naturedly nudge her husband because his singing and foot-tapping threatens to drown out the 11-year-olds. After giving his daughter a hug, Suozzi climbs back into his car and we cruise around a neighborhood near St. Rocco’s Catholic Church.

“This is where my grandfather first lived. He had to live close to the church because he didn’t drive,” Suozzi says. He pauses for a moment, then takes a not-so-veiled swipe at his wealthier, Upper East Side trust-funder opponent. “See, my family knows what it’s like to struggle; we’re not far removed from that struggle. I understand that people are hurting.”

Later we stop at a bakery where Tom and his brothers would buy bread after Mass. It still has a guy behind the counter who speaks broken English, but now he’s Latino rather than Italian. By the sheer force of his hand gestures and backslapping, Suozzi persuades the baker to let him open the oven so I can see the hundreds of loaves of bread being baked. After a time, the baker’s eyes light up. “Tom Suozzi?” he asks tentatively.

“Yes!” Suozzi gives the man a half-hug. As we pile back in the car, Suozzi can’t resist: “Finally, someone who has seen my commercials!”

For a town of 27,000, Glen Cove has all the Borgia politics of medieval Italy. Which stands to reason, since many of the town’s twentieth-century immigrants and most of its mayors came from the Old Country. Michele Suozzi, Tom’s grandfather, immigrated to New York in 1925. After a few years in Queens, Michele moved the family to Glen Cove, then a playground of estates for the rich and idle. Michele worked as a groundskeeper for nearly four decades, raising four children in a house without a phone. His eldest son, Joseph, Thomas’s father, had been born in Ruvo del Monte in southern Italy, joined the Air Corps during the Second World War, became a decorated bombardier, and later attended Harvard Law School, graduating in 1948.

Discrimination against Italians was still rampant, and Joseph Suozzi couldn’t find a job with a law firm. So he returned to Glen Cove, where he opened a small practice and went into politics. Before Thomas was born, in 1962, his father had already served as the state’s youngest judge, at 28, and as a two-term mayor of Glen Cove. He had also run for Nassau County executive in 1958, waging a losing but closer-than-expected race. But four years later, party bosses denied Joseph Suozzi a second chance in a move that smacked of bias.

It was into this household of politics and disappointment that Thomas Suozzi was born, the youngest of Joseph and Marguerite Suozzi’s five children. The Suozzi home could get loud, but Tom’s father always settled disputes peacefully. “You had to make a persuasive argument,” remembers Rosemary Suozzi, Tom’s older sister. “And Tom was probably the best arguer.”

The Suozzi home was devoutly Catholic, in a progressive way. By the time Tom was a teen, his brothers and sisters were in college, and he spent much of his high-school years helping his mother care for three of his grandparents, who were seriously ill and lived with the family. There was little grumbling; it wasn’t the Suozzi way.

“We were taught the social Gospel,” says Rosemary, a recent graduate of the Harvard Divinity School. “Our parents made us put Jesus’s teaching into practice: Feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, but it also had a social contract attached to it. If we helped you, you needed to try and make your life better, go to school, obey the law.”

Although Tom’s father had abandoned politics, Tom’s uncle, Vincent “Jimmy” Suozzi, was the mayor of Glen Cove for much of Tom’s adolescence. It was a fractious time, as the small town grappled with issues of growth and development. When a Glen Cove Republican newspaper ran an article suggesting that Jimmy Suozzi had favored his brother in the sale of a downtown theater, the brothers sued the publishers, who were prominent Glen Cove Republicans including Donald DeRiggi, then a city councilman. The suit lingered for thirteen years before it was dismissed. In the end, Jimmy Suozzi’s political career ended as ignominiously as his brother’s; he lost a 1987 reelection bid.

When Jimmy Suozzi died last month, on June 23, thousands came to his wake. “My uncle was backstabbed by some of his closest friends in politics,” recalls Tom Suozzi. “Some of them even came to the wake. I just wish they would have paid him the same respect when he was alive.”

Considering his family’s political history, it wasn’t a surprise when Joseph Suozzi urged his youngest son not to get involved in local politics. Still, in 1990, a 28-year-old Tom Suozzi became Democratic chairman for Glen Cove. The following year, Suozzi’s mayoral candidate backed out at the last minute and Suozzi filled the slot himself, squaring off against the incumbent mayor—Donald DeRiggi. Suozzi’s first campaign was unsuccessful, but he put up a pugnacious fight. His main strategy was to attack DeRiggi’s plan for a new courthouse and police station in downtown Glen Cove. Architects had been commissioned, contractors hired, but for a variety of reasons, construction was never started. Suozzi placed signs reading YOU’RE APPROACHING DERIGGI’S $2.5 MILLION HOLE IN THE GROUND where motorists could see them at the proposed construction site. Suozzi lost by 400 votes, but he kept on DeRiggi about the courthouse during the next two years.

“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 PuertoRican Day Parade cheers.“Listen to them,”Suozzishouts.“That’s why I’m stayingin.” But it wasn’t a Suozzi boomlet; specialguest J.Lo was threegroups 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.”

A day or two later, Suozzi got a call from Lynch. “You can’t do that,” she told him. “That’s not the way things get done around here. You have to have more patience.” Suozzi told her he was tired of waiting. In the days that followed, Lynch dumped Nassau County as a client, and Silver had Suozzi disinvited from the 2004 Democratic National Convention. (Silver declined to comment for this story.)

Suozzi then created Fix Albany with former New York City mayor Ed Koch and Conservative Party chairman Michael Long as co-chairs. In the end, Suozzi backed candidates in only five races, defeating a Republican senator from Syracuse and a Democratic assemblyman from his native Nassau County. Although the electoral impact of Fix Albany was negligible, Suozzi insists the initiative was a huge success. “Do you think anyone would be talking about Medicaid reform if it wasn’t for Fix Albany? I moved it to the top of the agenda.”

After the election, Suozzi and Silver didn’t exactly patch things up. As president of the County Executive Association, Suozzi met with Silver on the Medicaid issue in January 2005. The meeting quickly deteriorated into a shouting match, with Suozzi storming out while Silver derisively shouted “Fix Albany.” Suozzi turned and smiled. “Dot-com.”

It’s possible that Suozzi’s hatred for Silver is what keeps him in the race. Violating one of the basic codes of politics, Suozzi has made it personal with the speaker. He has repeatedly called on Silver to resign and frequently cites his belief that Silver’s endorsement of Spitzer is proof positive the attorney general isn’t a real reformer.

Cynics have wondered if this Suozzi campaign isn’t just a dry run for attorney general or governor four or eight years down the road, but Suozzi swears this is his last campaign (he’s already announced he won’t seek a third term as Nassau County executive). Besides, it’s hard to imagine how pissing all over Spitzer and Silver, two champion grudge-holders, will help Suozzi accomplish that bank shot. A man hoping to maintain his future political viability probably doesn’t hold a news conference with giant baseball cards labeling Spitzer and Silver “Albany Insider All-Stars,” as Suozzi did last Tuesday.

Maybe it’s an ego issue: He’s just not ready to admit defeat. Maybe it’s Freudian—he’s attempting to right the political wrongs dealt his father and uncle.

Time and again, I ask Suozzi why he keeps running, and time and again, he gives the same sort of answer.

“I know I’m the best person for the job,” he told me one day in Glen Cove. “Eliot doesn’t know how to reform government. Look at his targets: Wall Street, the record industry—they’re all outside government.”

“Look, I don’t think, I know I’m the best man for the job,” he told me last weekend. “This is worth fighting for. Too many people quit when it gets hard.”

In the end, I can’t decide if he’s a true believer, a little delusional, or both.

“George Washington was betrayed by his aide-de-camp and found his soldiers on the verge of mutiny,” Suozzi tells me at one point. “So he crosses the Delaware. He surprises the Hessians for the first big victory of the war, and the whole world changed. Anything that has ever happened in history requires sacrifice, particularly when things look bleak.” Then he starts laughing. “Which they do right now.”

Oh, yeah, the main reason Tom Suozzi won’t quit? He still thinks he’s going to win. The Suozzi campaign swears that the July 25 debate will be the first day of the rest of their campaign’s life. “Once people see Tom and Eliot on the same stage, they’re going to insist on more debates,” says Kim Devlin, Suozzi’s campaign manager.

Not bloody likely. To repeat an old political adage, the only way Spitzer loses is he gets caught with a live boy or a dead girl. Even in the unlikely event of Suozzi’s destroying Spitzer in a debate few will see, the attorney general has $18 million worth of ads and a well-oiled union-led get-out-the-vote operation to fall back on. Further drowning Suozzi’s cause is that the pool of potential voters for the primary is already locked in. Unlike in some states, registered independents and liberal Republicans, potential Suozzi converts, can’t change their party registration and vote in the primary.

It’s possible an ignominious loss won’t be a fatal blow. Sheinkopf believes that, in the end, the Spitzer-Suozzi battle is a win-win situation. “Spitzer solidifies his reformer credentials by beating another reformer, and Suozzi gets known better around the state. No one will remember this campaign in four or eight years. No one remembers Koch lost in ’69 and ’73 before he won in 1977.”

Suozzi, of course, swears he is going to win this one. Last Sunday, he hosted a fund-raiser on the grounds of the Glen Cove Mansion, an estate not unlike the one his grandfather worked on. Suozzi, clad in khakis, a white polo shirt, and sandals, led the kids in a spirited egg-toss contest while his parents cheered Italy on to a World Cup victory on a wide-screen television.

After the game, Suozzi took the microphone and spoke to the crowd. His father and mother went onto the stage and told how they were driving around the state in an RV visiting seniors on his behalf. Suozzi then related a story about his brother Jim, who, he said, is often mistaken on the street for his politician brother. After telling the story, Suozzi did a double-take. “How many people have heard that story before?” Half the hands went up. Suozzi laughed. “Don’t let me get away with that.”

He then announced a grassroots idea so hokey and sweet I wanted to go up and pinch his cheek. “It’s call the Who program,” said Suozzi. He then made owl noises. “You know, ‘Who, who, who is Tom Suozzi?’ If each of you here can convince 25 people to vote for me, we can win this.”

After Suozzi finished, he shook hands and kissed babies. I walked over to say good-bye and wish him well. Without prompting, he told me, “I can do this.” He promised me if he won, he’d sing his father’s song one more time. Tom Suozzi then put one finger in his right ear to block out the band and sang a few bars.

“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.”

Tom Quixote