Thursday, November 16, 2006

He Can Do It, Because He's Done It . . .

. . . And Tom Suozzi Should Be Called Upon To Do It Again

For those who do not regularly read the Daily News -- which is probably most of us on Long Island (we read Newsday, every day ;-), a column appeared today that is well worth a look-see by us, and more than a passing glance by Governor-elect Eliot Spitzer.

Truth is, if the new Governor is going to "fix Albany," then the fixin's bar needs to include the voices of Long Islanders. And the voice of Nassau County Exec, Tom Suozzi, should be heard in Albany, if not above the others, then certainly, among them.

Whether it is having a true ally in the field to take on the evils of property taxes, school funding, Medicaid fraud and reckless legislative spending, or simply a matter of "keeping your friends close, and your enemies closer," Governor Spitzer would be well served by having Tom Suozzi in his camp. And so would we, as the centurions of our Long Island.
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by Bill Hammond


Before he goes to battle with the state Legislature - as he inevitably will - Eliot Spitzer should make peace with Tom Suozzi.

The governor-elect is standing tall for now, thanks to his record-setting 69% victory over Republican John Faso. That's an undeniable mandate for change in state government, leaving Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, the guardians of business as usual in Albany, no choice but to kiss his ring and promise their cooperation.

But it's only a matter of time before this uncomfortable three-way honeymoon blows up - probably in January, when Spitzer follows through on his promises to make major cuts in Medicaid, redistribute school funding and clean up Albany sleaze.

At that point, the new Sheriff of Albany will need to deputize as many allies as he can for the big showdown with the defenders of the status quo. And Suozzi is one gunslinger who belongs in his posse.

The Nassau County executive, once a rising star in state politics, suffered a humiliating 82%-18% loss to Spitzer in the Democratic primary this September. But Spitzer can learn plenty from his former punching bag - because Suozzi is the only politician alive today who defeated the Bruno-Silver tag team in a fair fight.

I'm referring to his "Fix Albany" campaign, which began in 2003 when he vowed to shake up New York's dysfunctional state government by defeating a majority member of each house of the Legislature, a Democrat in the Assembly and a Republican in the Senate. It looked like political suicide - until, in 2004, Suozzi actually made good on his threat, helping take out Assemblyman David Sidikman of Nassau and GOP Sen. Nancy Larraine Hoffmann of Onondaga County.

Within a few months, Bruno and Silver had cried uncle on Suozzi's key demand, which was a cap on what localities have to contribute to the Medicaid budget. That change - "Suozzi's law," it should be called - is saving property taxpayers billions and forcing Albany to take responsibility for soaring health-care costs.

Suozzi built his winning crusade on two key strategies, both of which Spitzer should emulate.

First, Suozzi connected the dots for average New Yorkers between brainless, corrupt decision-making in Albany - on issues that seem remote to their everyday lives - and the very real sucking sound they hear when they open their tax bills.

Second, Suozzi connected the dots for lawmakers between the votes they cast in Albany and the votes they could lose at the ballot box the next election.

Spitzer will need to use both tactics if he wants to push his ambitious agenda through a reluctant Legislature infamous for gridlock, inertia and slavish obedience to special interests.

Fortunately, he seems to get it. After his first post-victory meeting with legislative leaders, Spitzer said he was ready to "rally the public" if necessary to win the big fights. If that's his strategy, he should draft Suozzi as his field general. He's an articulate critic of Albany dysfunction, and he's got all the chutzpah he needs to pick fights with powerful pols. As Suozzi said on the campaign trail this fall, "I can do it because I've done it."
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NEXT UP: If Joe Mondello becomes State GOP Chair, can Tom Gulotta for Governor be too far behind?

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