Democratic Nassau County executive candidate Adam Haber came under fire Monday from a national Italian-American group for a television ad it called "unfair" and "unjust" for its portrayal of "political hacks" eating spaghetti and drinking red wine as they discuss his opponent Thomas Suozzi's record.
Haber, a retired businessman from East Hills, is facing Suozzi, who served as Nassau County executive from 2002 through 2009, in a Democratic primary in September.
In a letter to Newsday Monday, the Order Sons of Italy in America, a Washington, D.C., group that has an office in Bellmore, said it had received "many calls" complaining about the ad. The group called on Haber to take the ads down.
"Suozzi . . . has done nothing in his political career to warrant the unfair, unjust and defamatory television ad that insults not only Suozzi, but millions of Italian-Americans," wrote Santina A. Haemmerle, a Massapequa resident who serves as national president of the group's anti-defamation branch.
Haber's campaign aides said the complaints were meant to deflect from the ad's claims that Suozzi misused county money. Haber spokesman Galen Alexander said the campaign would not take down the ads, but "Adam would never stereotype any ethnicity."
"Most Americans eat pasta, but only one Democratic county executive failed in his chance to make Nassau work for middle-class families," Alexander said. "Facts are facts, and Suozzi doled out millions in raises to himself and his appointees while raising taxes on middle-class families. . . . Nassau deserves better."
While Suozzi declined to comment, Nassau Democratic Party chairman Jay Jacobs called on Haber to take down the ad.
"What they've tried to do is take an ethnic generalization to broad brush over facts that are just not true to disparage Suozzi's record," Jacobs said.
In the ad, five men seated at a restaurant table discuss how to get Suozzi back into office. They toast Suozzi for giving $1.1 million in pay raises to political appointees in 2007; for a $65,000 salary raise he gave himself that year and for hiring retired detectives as taxpayer-funded drivers. In 2007, Suozzi administration officials defended the pay increases to appointees as necessary to retain top talent. Suozzi in 2007 lobbied for the increase to his salary, arguing he was paid less than Suffolk's county executive. Suozzi said the retired police drivers allowed him to work while traveling.
Businessman Muzzio Tallini, a Haber supporter from Franklin Square, called the flap a "distraction," adding, "I'm a first-generation Italian-American and I didn't have an issue with it."