State Sen. Jack Martins and former Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi traded jabs Wednesday in an often heated News 12 Long Island debate, where they repeatedly attacked each others’ records.
Martins, a Republican who has been lagging in recent polls, lashed out far more aggressively than he has in past public appearances with Suozzi, a Democrat. Martins called Suozzi “an apologist for Obamacare,” attacked his fiscal record as county executive and questioned the credit he claims for passage of the state property tax cap.
Suozzi returned fire, calling Martins a hypocrite and charging that he failed to distance himself from convicted former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos when he was facing federal corruption charges last spring.
The half-hour debate in their 3rd Congressional District race, was taped Wednesday and will air Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m. The debate also can be viewed on News12.com
and Optimum channel 612.
Martins said that after eight years as village mayor of Mineola, “we left things better off than when we got there. And I’m not sure Tom can say the same thing.”
Martins criticized Suozzi’s county property tax hike and his imposition of a home heating oil tax. Suozzi called it the “height of hypocrisy” that Martins is basing his campaign on criticism of a county property tax hike in 2002 when Suozzi inherited “the worst run county in America.”
Suozzi said Martins increased village taxes and boosted his mayoral salary by 61 percent. Martins “is attacking me for the exact same thing he did,” Suozzi said.
Suozzi, who was county executive from 2002-2009, said his record includes 13 bond upgrades. He also said he held off on more property tax hikes for six years.
But Suozzi acknowledged that the energy tax, passed in 2008 during the Wall Street meltdown was “a bad idea. I should never have done it . . . but I learned my lesson.”
But in a reference to federal corruption charges filed last week against the current GOP County Executive Edward Mangano, Suozzi said, “The voters of Nassau County today would be happy to have Tom Suozzi than the problems they are now facing.”
Mangano has pleaded not guilty.
Suozzi said he fought for a statewide property tax cap because he understands “property taxes are crushing Long Island.”
He also recalled his unsuccessful primary against then state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who as governor made him head of a state commission on property tax reduction.
“I’m happy Jack voted for it but I had to take my lumps for it,” said Suozzi.
“Tom Suozzi taking credit for the tax cap is like Al Gore taking credit for inventing the internet,” Martins said.
Martins said the work of state lawmakers and the governor working across the aisle got the job done. The tax cap “was a testament to our hard work,” he said.
On ethics, Martin said he has called for the resignations of Mangano and Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto, who was charged along with Mangano. Martins also said he voted for legislation to deny pensions to elected officials convicted of crimes.
However, Souzzi said in his final statement, “Jack, you never showed leadership when Dean Skelos was indicted and you defended and called for him to stay as majority leader.”
Martins also criticized Suozzi for allowing the shutdown of 150 beds for opioid treatment while he was county executive.
Suozzi countered that he was an early advocate for taking on the growing problem.
Martins called Suozzi an “Obamacare apologist,” and criticized him for profiting off the complexity of the federal Affordable Care Act by serving as a consultant to businesses on the issue.
Suozzi said he has worked helping firms comply with the law, but said Martins’ charges “are even low for you, Jack.” Martins refused to retract his attack.
Suozzi said there are “very serious problems,” with the health care law. But he said expanding the number of Americans with coverage and protecting those with pre-existing conditions are important.
“We need to work together to fix these problems and make people’s lives better [rather] than playing these petty little games,” Suozzi said.