ALBANY — Gov. Kathy Hochul met privately Monday with once-bitter rival Tom Suozzi and “cleared the air,” he said, just ahead of the Democratic Party’s expected nomination of Suozzi to run for the congressional seat vacated by George Santos.
Suozzi was one of two challengers Hochul defeated in last year’s gubernatorial primary and was the most aggressive in criticizing Hochul’s record, especially on crime.
But following the historic expulsion of Santos from Congress on Friday, Democrats are looking to make peace, unify and take back Santos’ Nassau County-Queens district in a special election Feb. 13.
On Thursday, the party is expected to endorse Suozzi — who held the congressional seat for six years before running for governor — when the Nassau and Queens leaders meet.
Hence, the Hochul-Suozzi meeting at the governor’s mansion, a short walk from the state Capitol, which was first reported by The New York Times.
Hochul requested the meeting and Suozzi drove up from Long Island, a source said. Hochul wanted assurances Suozzi wouldn’t portray the party negatively. Suozzi apologized for criticizing Hochul family ethics during last year’s campaign.
It’s not clear that Hochul could or would have blocked a Suozzi nomination. It’s also not clear whether the governor’s endorsement will have a big impact.
Perhaps more importantly, the meeting appeared to smooth a potential bump in the Democrats’ plan for the special election — a high-stakes contest because Republicans hold a narrow, 8-seat margin in the U.S. House.
Hochul told reporters Wednesday she wanted to talk directly to Suozzi about his campaign plan.
“I wanted to have an opportunity to talk to him more directly … about what his plan was and how he would run his race,” the governor said.
She said the Democratic nominee must have a “commitment to run a race that also understands the opponents are the Republicans in Washington” — an apparent reference to Suozzi’s criticisms of Hochul in last year’s race for governor.
“Our responsibility is to take back the House of Representatives from the Santos-type Republican Party and make sure Hakeem Jeffries is the Speaker,” Hochul said, referring to the Democratic leader in the House.
In a statement Wednesday, Suozzi said: “The governor and I both share a love of New York and a desire to make things better. We had a good meeting and cleared the air, and I appreciate her making time.”
He added: “We both agree that the people of Nassau and Queens face big challenges and we need Congress to stop with the shenanigans and work together and fix these problems."
Jay Jacobs, the Democratic state and Nassau County chairman, said the party wanted to come to a consensus on a candidate and work together.
"I want that to be easier rather than harder and I think it was important for the two of them to sit down together and talk and I think that went as well as anyone could have expected," Jacobs said of the meeting.
Republicans said they are interviewing more than 20 hopefuls who’ve expressed interest in running. The names most prominently mentioned include Nassau County Legis. Mazi Pilip, retired NYPD Det. Michael Sapraicone, business executive Kellen Curry and attorney Gregory Hach.
Joseph Cairo, the Nassau County GOP chairman, has said the party expects to make an endorsement either Friday or early next week.
The 3rd is considered a swing district and will garner national attention, given the Santos saga and Republicans' narrow edge in the House. The district includes about 209,000 active Democratic voters, 150,000 Republicans and 172,000 independents and minor-party members, according to the New York State Board of Elections.
Almost 80% of the district’s voters are in Nassau, with the rest in Queens. It primarily runs along Long Island Sound and Nassau’s eastern boundary down to parts of Massapequa.
The district elected Santos in 2022 but backed Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.