WASHINGTON — Thomas Suozzi, who will become the newest member of the Long Island delegation to Congress next year, is already offering advice to fellow Democrats on how to end partisan gridlock and win back voters: Get religion.
Suozzi, the Glen Cove Democrat and former Nassau County executive, said his policy prescription to heal a divided nation beset with hate crimes and speech, fake news, terrorism and millions of refugees begins with a simple phrase: “Love thy neighbor.”
In an Op-Ed in the Washington, D.C. paper The Hill, Suozzi acknowledged that his idea might seem “odd and simplistic” coming from a new member of Congress, and even odder coming from a Democrat.
But Suozzi, who won the election on Nov. 8 to replace retiring Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), said he is just expressing his long-held view as a politician in New York.
“Democrats have a cultural problem. People that have a faith-based value system either don’t vote for us, or they do, but have reservations. The Democratic Party has a religion problem and they better fix it,” Suozzi wrote in the column published Tuesday.
“If we are going to get Republicans and Democrats to actually come together as people of goodwill in search of the common good, it’s going to require us to rely on some shared principles,” he wrote.
“If people of different political philosophies actually believed their opponents were similarly motivated by a common set of values to ‘love thy neighbor,’ I believe we would get a lot more talking and problem-solving and less yelling and screaming,” Suozzi wrote.
In a telephone interview from Harvard University, where he is going through orientation for his new position as a federal lawmaker, Suozzi said, “We’ve got to get back to the basics.”
He explained that most people who go into public service are genuinely committed and trying to help people and make the world a better place, but they sometimes forget why they are doing their jobs and don’t remember certain values.
Suozzi acknowledged he is a Roman Catholic who attends services every week, but he said, “I want to emphasize this is not a Catholic thing or a Christian thing. I’m reaching across to different faiths and even those that don’t have a specific faith” but still have values.
Faith may be a powerful force, but so far it hasn’t eased the hardening lines between Democrats and Republicans as President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take over the White House and congressional Republicans set their sights on erasing the legacy of President Barack Obama.
In New York, Suozzi often invoked religion and values.
In 2002, when Suozzi became the first Democrat to win the office of Nassau County executive since 1961, he included Roman Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Greek Orthodox and Jewish clergy in his inauguration.
In 2005, Suozzi sought to find common ground between opponents of abortion and advocates for the right to choose an abortion by having both sides focus on how to reduce the use of the medical procedure to terminate pregnancies.
And in 2006, Suozzi said in a speech to the Sons of Italy in Albany, “I believe that Democrats, like many in this room, including my mom and my dad, don’t feel that the Democratic Party is speaking to their values anymore. . . . But I wanted to give this speech to tell them that they really are wrong.”