Republican congressional challenger Daniel DeBono, armed with about 30 lawn signs, entered the heart of Democratic Rep. Thomas Suozzi’s Glen Cove home turf last week to speak to about 40 voters at a Knights of Columbus hall.
Introducing himself, DeBono recounted how persistence got him through grueling training as a Navy SEAL in a class that started with 100 but ended with 20.
“Nothing matters more than the will to succeed,” he said, “and if you remain committed ... there’s nothing you can’t achieve.” By the time he left, the lawn signs had been taken.
Earlier that day, Suozzi, former Nassau County executive and former Glen Cove mayor, appeared outside the local VFW hall amid hometown friends to announce that a mobile medical van from Northport VA Medical Center would start providing services every Tuesday. If the van is well-used, Suozzi said, “We hope that the Veteran’s Administration will agree to open a permanent clinic at Glen Cove Hospital within a year.”
DeBono, 49, a first-time candidate from Northport, and the better-known Suozzi, 56, with 18 years in public office but a freshman congressman seeking a second term, are vying for the 3rd District, which spans Suffolk, Nassau and Queens and includes communities from Whitestone to Commack.
Democrats have a 40,000-voter edge in enrollment over Republicans in the district, and as the campaign hits its final days, Suozzi has raised $437,815 in the past three months to DeBono’s $69,896, leaving the incumbent with $1.78 million on hand to the challenger’s $153,000.
Suozzi said his priorities are higher middle-class wages, lower health insurance and drug costs and cleaning up corruption. But as a minority member of the House for two years, Suozzi also said he has strived to be a “Congressman Pothole,” working behind the scenes as vice chair of the bipartisan problem-solvers caucus to meet local needs.
In cooperation with Republicans from Connecticut, Suozzi said he worked to get funding for Long Island Sound. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, he’s also worked to include funding for Navy cleanup of the toxic underground plume in Bethpage, as part of a $30 million defense spending plan.
DeBono acknowledges he’s an underdog but labels Suozzi a career politician with a record of tax increases and causing a “massive exodus” of young people and local businesses from Long Island.
A former investment banker who now owns an investment consulting firm, DeBono said he wants to strengthen the middle class by reining in mega-corporations that limit competition and curtailing the Federal Reserve, while continuing deregulation.
He also wants to improve local infrastructure, create an elite military and protect the Constitution, including free speech, privacy and the right of the nation to have ”defined borders" and to bear arms — all of which are "under attack from every angle." With some exceptions, DeBono said he also strongly supports President Donald Trump. “Since the president’s been in office, the country, as a whole, has never been stronger,” he said.
Suozzi said DeBono “seems like a bright guy, but he really does not understand government and politics at all” or what it takes to get things done. For “some people, it’s as simple as having an opinion, but it's not ... there’s a lot of hard work,” Suozzi said.
For many people, Suozzi added, Trump will play a pivotal role in the race, noting his own monthly town hall meetings, which once drew a few dozen residents, now attract from 150 to 450, while conference call-in participants are as many as 6,000. He also said female voters, as well as students worried about safety in their schools, are particularly energized.
”People have to make a clear choice,” Suozzi said. “Do they want Congress to do their job and ... be a check on the president so he’s accountable?” He said he does not favor “resistance and saying no to everything,” but the GOP majority is “scared to stand up to him [Trump],” for fear of potential primaries.
While Suozzi has no problem with Trump’s call for more money from NATO allies or updating trade deals with Mexico and Canada, he said Congress needs to review the president's actions, such as his firing of the FBI director, separating migrant kids from parents, pulling out of the Paris climate pact, not releasing his income tax returns, and his “unusual relationship” with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
DeBono, meanwhile, downplayed the impact of Trump on the contest, noting the 3rd District turnout is “truly balanced” and will be much closer than expected. “The president has his supporters and detractors,” DeBono said. “But this race will come down to Suozzi’s record on the economy and my vision of what economic leadership can look like.”
However, DeBono said it's time for special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation to come to a close. “Show us the evidence or shut it down,” he said, adding he is more concerned about China’s interference than Russia’s.
But DeBono said he is “an independent thinker” and favors positions that many Republicans don’t like, such as a $15-an-hour minimum wage. He opposes the Import-Export Bank as an unwarranted subsidy to major firms. He also opposes the H-1B Visa program, which allows technically trained foreigners to work here often at a lower cost and often while displacing American workers.
DeBono has done one campaign mailing and reached out on the internet to enlist supporters, but he declined to detail final campaign plans. He maintained the race is “a sleeper, very below the radar screen, but it will be very tight.”
Suozzi, for the first time, is waging much of his campaign over digital media with ads touting his environmental record and help for veterans, while appealing to millennials worried about gun violence.
Suozzi, who lost a 2009 race for county executive by 289 votes, said he’ll never take another race for granted.
3rd Congressional District candidates
Party: Democrat, also on Working Families and Women’s Equality ballot lines
Home: Glen Cove
Education: Bachelor’s degree, Boston College; law degree, Fordham Law School. He also is a certified public accountant.
Experience: Glen Cover mayor, 1994-2001; Nassau County executive, 2002-09; elected to 3rd District in 2016 and serves on the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services committees. Earlier, worked as a CPA for Arthur Anderson & Co. and Shearman and Sterling, and later as an attorney for Lazard.
Family: Married to Helene; three children.
Party: Republican, also on Conservative ballot line
Education: Bachelor's degree, Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts; MBA, University of Chicago
Experience: Lieutenant, Navy SEAL, 1990-94, served in Gulf War I and Bosnia. Banker for seven years and investment management for 16 years and now owns consulting firm. Assisted in fundraising for presidential campaigns of former Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Family: Married to Genieve; two children.