Nassau County executive candidate Thomas Suozzi is employing the time-honored strategy of ignoring his lesser-known primary opponent while focusing on the general election.
When Suozzi, who served two terms as county executive, is asked about East Hills businessman Adam Haber, his opponent in the Democratic primary in September, he frequently responds: "Who?" Instead, Suozzi has focused his campaign on attacking the record of Republican County Executive Edward Mangano, who is seeking a second term.
Local political analysts say the approach has some risk.
Some said Suozzi is wisely avoiding giving Haber, a Roslyn school board member making his first run for countywide office, free publicity. Others said voters could perceive Suozzi's strategy as arrogant. They note that in 2009, Suozzi looked past Mangano, then a county legislator from Bethpage, and Mangano won.
"Suozzi is dismissing Haber," said LIU Post political science professor Stanley B. Klein, who also is a Suffolk GOP committeeman. "His approach is, 'Who is Haber?' But who was Mangano? Suozzi runs the risk of having history repeat itself."
But Baruch College public policy professor Douglas Muzzio said Suozzi is correctly taking a "classic front-runner strategy. Don't give your opponent any recognition at all. It just legitimizes him."
Since announcing his candidacy in February, Suozzi has avoided acknowledging Haber in interviews, news conferences and in voter forums. Suozzi, who declined to comment for this story, also has not directly responded to television and radio advertisements released by Haber, allowing surrogates to defend his record. Suozzi, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2006, served as Nassau County executive from 2002 through 2009.
Haber said: "It's an interesting strategy for a guy who lost in 2009 by taking his opponent for granted. But you need to win the playoffs before you get to the World Series."
Suozzi, 50, of Glen Cove, has conceded that in 2009 he did not run hard enough against Mangano and failed to spend the more than $1 million in his campaign war chest.
"Voters wanted change, and they weren't convinced that I was paying attention," Suozzi said in February. "I took my 2009 campaign for granted. It was my fault and it will never happen again."
Suozzi's political allies have been more willing to engage with Haber. The Working Families Party released a radio ad last month criticizing Haber for his past registration in the Republican Party.
Haber, 48, a retired Wall Street futures trader, has loaned his campaign $2 million and pledged to spend more of his own money to win. He has launched an aggressive media campaign against Suozzi.
In May, Haber released a radio spot called "Tom the Tip Taker" criticizing Suozzi, an attorney, for representing catering firms in lawsuits with current and former wait staff over the alleged nonpayment of fees.
Last month, Haber aired a TV ad criticizing Suozzi for increasing his salary and those of his political appointees while in office in 2007. Haber pulled the ad after critics, including a national Italian-American group and some Democrats, complained it was insensitive to those of Italian heritage.
Political analysts said Haber is trying to increase his name recognition and make a dent in Suozzi's popularity among Democrats.
Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs, Suozzi's campaign chairman, said Haber has "distorted" Suozzi's record. Jacobs said the campaign will not address every attack unless it determines that the ads have started to have an impact.
"Tom does not need to go after Haber to win the primary," Jacobs said. "He just needs to hold on to Democrats."
Haber said the ads "do not attack Suozzi's character. They just point out the facts."