Democratic congressional contender Thomas Suozzi, in his latest comeback bid, vows to take on the big fights in Washington to break the gridlock just as he did as Nassau County executive in pressing for a state cap on property taxes, “even if it means taking on my own party.”
“You need to have the guts to stand up to the status quo” as well as those benefit from gridlock, Suozzi said, “even though they want to squash you like a bug.”
Republican state Sen. Jack Martins counters that he has a record of taking tough stands and has repeatedly shown his ability to work across the aisle during six years in Albany. Suozzi’s approach, he says, would only lead to “hyperpolarization” where all sides already are “at each other’s throats.”
“It’s not about fighting, it’s about finding common ground,” Martins said during an appearance by both candidates before Newsday’s editorial board. “It’s about finding compromise and that has become a dirty word.”
The issue has become central in the race for the 3rd Congressional District seat — not only because of ongoing battles between Democrats and majority House Republicans, but also the difficulties Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has had in finding consensus in his own conference between far-right members and those who are more moderate.
Suozzi and Martins disagree on key issues such as Obamacare and immigration. But both oppose the Trans-Pacific trade agreement and the Iranian nuclear deal, and they back cuts in the corporate income tax to spur economic growth.
The stakes are huge for both men in their battle for the open seat of retiring Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington).
Martins, 49, of Old Westbury, is taking a chance on winning the open House seat rather than seeking re-election as a state senator in what many considered a safe district.
For Suozzi, 54, who has already a five-way Democratic primary, spent eight years as county executive but lost re-election in 2009 and another run for the post four years later, a loss could be politically fatal.
The 3rd District, which spans the North Shore from Queens through Suffolk, gives Democrats a 41,629-voter edge — 185,541 to 146,792 for Republicans — with another 124,854 voters unaligned to any party. Nassau is the largest part of the district with 52.5 percent of the voters, Suffolk has 33.6 percent and Queens has 13.9 percent.
A Newsday/Siena College/News 12 poll released earlier this month showed Suozzi with a lead of 50 to 34 percent and that Martins, despite his years in office, is largely unknown to 59 percent of district voters.
E. O’Brien Murray, Martins’ senior campaign adviser, downplayed the poll because it was done during the Jewish holidays and just as a National Republican Campaign Committee ad blitz on Martins’ behalf started, leaving little time to make an impact. Murray said recent polling shows a much closer race.
However, when word of the Newsday poll results leaked, the NRCC pulled back on its commitment to spend $80,000 a week on ads for Martins. Martins’ campaign, which started with two positive ads, shifted to attack TV ads criticizing Suozzi for taking an $65,000 a year pay increase as county executive and imposing hikes in Nassau County property taxes totaling 23 percent. Suozzi responded with ads calling Martins’ attack “phony politics” since Martins also raised taxes and his salary as Mineola mayor.
Martins expressed confidence that public sentiment is moving his way.
“The more people we reach out to, the more we’re in front of, the more people support us,” Martins said.
“People know who Tom Suozzi is, and in 2009 and 2013 they rejected him and they are quick to remember why and will reject him again.”
Jay Jacobs, Nassau Democratic chairman, labeled the Martins’ attacks the “same old, same old retreads” that won’t resonate with voters. “Tom has an wide underlying base of support from his years as county executive and he only looks better as Ed Mangano’s . . . problems grow worse,” Jacobs said.
When federal corruption charges were leveled against Mangano, the Nassau County executive, and Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto earlier this month, Martins, along with other GOP senators, immediately called for their resignations. “It’s imperative that government services continue unabated,” said Martins, even though. Mangano and Venditto, both Republicans, have pleaded not guilty.
Joseph Mondello, Nassau Republican chairman, acknowledged the district is tough for Republicans, but said Martins is “doing yeomans work” and predicted heavy voter turnout of as much as 70 percent, which Mondello said will help GOP candidates.
“I think there’s a silent group that we’re not hearing from that is silently for Donald Trump,” for president, Mondello said.
But Martins said he is “deeply troubled by my party’s nominee for president,” Martins said he will vote for Trump because if Democrat Hillary Clinton is elected, “I happen to think we’re on the wrong track.”
Martins also calls Obamacare a failure. “There is a lot of buyer’s remorse out there,” he said, because promises of accessibility and affordability “have gone out the window . . . If the vote is ‘let’s repeal the Affordable Care Act,” yes I’m going to vote for repeal.” Instead, Martins is calling for income tax credits as an alternative to help people get their own health insurance.
Suozzi, a Clinton supporter, said Obamacare needs repair, but “We should amend it, not end it.” Abolition “would be a dangerous rabbit hole to go down,” because it would strip millions of Americans of coverage, particularly those with pre-existing medical conditions, Suozzi said. Fixes Suozzi would like to see include the federal government’s use of its “bargaining power” to reduce prescription drug costs.
Despite Suozzi’s attacks, Martins said he has proved his ability to take tough stands in Albany, where he has served since 2011. He said he backs the state ban on hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas, and voted for Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s SAFE Act which requires universal background checks for gun purchases.
“It obviously did not make people in my own party happy, especially those who thought it was contrary to the Second Amendment,” said Martins. “Frankly, I think the SAFE Act is consistent with the Second Amendment, although there are some elements that were difficult but that’s part of negotiation.”
Martins said fracking should not be allowed until the “science catches up” and can create a technology that won’t destroy the environment.
Suozzi said he favors universal background checks for gun buys, and said there must be better federal safety rules before fracking can go forward.
Suozzi, who is backed by several environmental groups, said his major environmental priority will be to expedite cleanups of Superfund sites, where finger-pointing at various government levels has delayed action. “The clean up has to be done first, then we can decide who’s responsible,” he said.
Martins said he backs cuts to corporate and personal income taxes to spur the economy, and touted his votes to keep state income taxes down and repeal the MTA tax on small businesses and schools.
Suozzi said he favors corporate tax reductions to spur the economy and an overhaul of the entire tax system, which he said has been largely unchanged for 30 years.
Both also oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement because it will cost America jobs, and the nuclear deal with Iran because it will endanger the nation’s security and that of Israel. Suozzi backs a path to citizenship for immigrants, while Martins said the first priority is securing borders, although he could support a permanent status for those who are undocumented.
Hometown: Glen Cove
Education/Career: Suozzi graduated from Boston College and got a law degree from Fordham Law School. He worked as a CPA for Arthur Anderson & Co., was law clerk to the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District and worked as an attorney for Shearman and Sterling. He became Glen Cove’s youngest mayor in 1993 at age 31 and became Nassau County executive in 2002. He served two terms before losing to Republican Edward Mangano in 2009 and again in 2013 in a rematch. Since then, Suozzi has worked with the Wall Street firm of Lazard, Freres, and is currently of counsel to the law firm Harris Beach.
Family: Wife, Helene; two sons and a daughter.
Fundraising: In the 2015/16 election cycle through Sept. 30, Suozzi has raised $1,878,396, spent, $1,400,807 and has $477,589 on hand.
Hometown: Old Westbury
Education/Career: Martins, who also has the Conservative and Reform Party lines, graduated from American University in Washington, D.C. with a degree in political science and has a law degree from St. John’s University. A part of his family’s construction company, Martins, a lawyer, served for eight years at Mineola Village mayor. For the past seven years he has served as a state senator from the Seventh District. Martins is chairman of the Senate labor committee and serves on the banking, finance, health, social services and civil service and pensions committees. He also is a member of the state Regional Economic Development Council.
Family: Wife, Paula; four daughters.
Fundraising: In the 2015/16 election cycle through Sept. 30, Martins has raised $901,974, spent $576,940 and has $325,034 on hand.