Suozzi says he won't run, but who knows?

Former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi (Sept. 22, Former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi (Sept. 22, 2010) Photo Credit: Ed Betz

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There was a time when you couldn't stop Tom Suozzi from running for office.

As a young Glen Cove mayor, impatient to move up, he threw out his name as a potential foe to Sen. Alfonse D'Amato and delivered exploratory speeches in 15 counties in 1996.

While serving as Nassau County executive, Suozzi in 2006 waged a losing Democratic primary for governor against then-State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. Suozzi also made a bid late in 2008 for U.S. Senate, but the party nod went to Kirsten Gillibrand.

After his narrow loss for re-election to Republican Edward Mangano four years ago, Suozzi retained more than $1.5 million in his campaign fund, and $1 million still is sitting there.

But Suozzi, 50, for the first time seems to be shying away from a new campaign -- a comeback bid against Mangano.

For months, Suozzi has said, "I'm not running," noting that he's enjoying his family and his work as an attorney and with Wall Street's Lazard Ltd. He declined to comment further last week.

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Has his DNA changed? Is he now an older and wiser ex-official, who, on the rebound, will be more selective about any future bid for public office? Or are his Shermanesque statements akin to the walk-off of the late soul singer James Brown, who ended shows by covering himself in a robe, starting to leave, only to strut back for an encore?

Some say there are downsides for Suozzi. They note that Nassau still is mired in fiscal problems and that returning to the job he held for eight years would be a step backward. He also could face a Democratic primary, and a loss could kill his political future. Also, he could expect Republicans to blame him for the county's budget woes, and even if he won, he might face a GOP-run county legislature.

Supporters say Suozzi has acknowledged privately that he ran a lackluster campaign in 2009, and that while he has remained out of the public eye, he bristles when GOP officials attack him for what he sees as their own missteps. They also point out that Suozzi's 386-vote loss to Mangano came in the worst Democratic year in many years -- when Suozzi got 60,000 fewer votes than in 2005.

Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick), who is eyeing the county executive race, said party leaders, not the grass roots, are trying to lure Suozzi -- largely because of his fundraising ability.

Adam Haber, a Democrat who has announced his candidacy and has loaned his own campaign $2 million, said he's "all in" even if Suozzi runs. "It's a no-lose situation for me," Haber said. "Either I raise my profile in a primary or I'll have a clear path and spend the money . . . in the general election."

Nassau GOP chairman Joseph Mondello called Suozzi the "most formidable candidate" the Democrats have. "He's got good name identification and he's a good-looking guy," who will not shy away from a fight, Mondello said. "He's torn, but ultimately it's in his blood."

But Mondello said Mangano, as the incumbent, has the upper hand.

"Eddie's done a terrific job, holding the line on taxes," Mondello said, adding that Mangano "certainly has handled the Sandy situation, working above and beyond." Moreover, Suozzi's past record has "given us quite a bit of ammunition," Mondello said.

Jay Jacobs, Nassau Democratic chairman, said Mangano is vulnerable because under the GOP, Nassau lost control of its finances to a state control board. Jacobs said Mangano's tax claims are untrue -- that Republicans failed to fix the property tax assessment system and shifted the cost of tax refunds to schools and towns.

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Jacobs said he hasn't convinced Suozzi to run yet, but wouldn't waste his time if he didn't think there was "a good possibility of changing his mind."

Jacobs said a "good argument could be made that it is not good for him, but the argument I'm making . . . is what's good for the people in the community. Tom has the passion to fix the county, and the knowledge to do the job."

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