Gubernatorial candidate and Long Island Congressman Tom Suozzi is no stranger to campaigning in the Bronx. It was on behalf of Michael Dukakis’ 1988 presidential campaign, that Suozzi began to explore the depths of the northernmost borough and would form a connection that has helped lay the groundwork for his Bronx ground game in 2022.
An admittedly more self-assured candidate than when he ran for governor in 2006, Suozzi confidently walks through sections of the Bronx with his running mate Diana Reyna and longtime friend Fernando Ferrar, the former Bronx beep and Suozzi campaign chair, pushing his message to Bronxites.
Over the weekend, the Suozzi-Reyna Albany ticket made various stops in the borough including Tracey Towers and Union Grove Missionary Baptist Church. Suozzi told the Bronx Times that Bronxites across the borough are looking for a governor who addresses “crime, taxes and affordability, kids and the school system.”
“The Bronx is where I’m comfortable. I appreciate the diversity and pockets of rich cultures,” said Suozzi in an exclusive interview with the Times on Wednesday. “And whether it’s the borough’s African Americans, Latinos, Italians or the strong Muslim community here, my message is the same, I know how to run a government and make it work. And the Bronx is responding positively to that.”
As he vies to unseat incumbent Gov. Kathy Hochul in a Democratic primary that also includes Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Suozzi positions himself as the “common-sense Democrat” of the race — the incumbent Hochul is a centrist Democrat while Williams is a progressive — who “won’t pander to the left or back down from the right.”
On June 28, Hochul, Suozzi and Williams will battle it out for the Democratic nomination, while fellow Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin, former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and second-generation political candidate Andrew Giuliani, and former high-ranking Obama administration member Harry Wilson will decide who becomes the GOP nominee.
A Republican has not held the state’s highest office since George Pataki in 2002.
One of the overarching storylines of the gubernatorial primaries is crime throughout the state, and how the prospective governor would handle it. Suozzi’s detailed 15-page “crime intervention and prevention” plan is a mixture of law and order in the now, and preventive steps to address systemic inequities and social determinants affecting crime in the later.
Citing his time as Glen Cove mayor and Nassau County executive, where local and national outlets have credited him for massive turnarounds in crimes and economic stability, Suozzi says he can do the same for all of New York state, with a key focus on a balanced philosophy to crime and the social factors that lead to crime.
“It’s a comprehensive plan that addresses crime and safety right now and preventive in the long term, because it has to be a balance of those two things,” he said. “Make people safe right now. That’s the law and order approach which Mayor (Eric) Adams is doing and I support his vision and action, and then there’s the long-range stuff which fixes the systemic inequalities and the factors that I see as preventive steps to crime.”
Crime hasn’t just risen in New York City — shootings doubled and homicides increased 50% in 2022 — but throughout the state. The impact of the state’s crime, often linked to gun violence that recently upended the Bronx families of slain 11-year-old Kyhara Tay and 16-year-old Angellyh Yambo, and the victims of the Buffalo supermarket who were ambushed by a white supremacist; has led to circular conversations from critics and pundits, on what exactly is to blame.
When he offered his remarks on the senseless May 14 tragedy, Suozzi was criticized by state Democratic Party leaders when he linked the effects of the state’s controversial cashless bail policy for Saturday’s racially motivated shooting that claimed the life of 10 people in Buffalo.
Asked a question by media members on what legislative loopholes he would address in wake of Saturday’s shooting, Suozzi named New York’s bail reform laws that ended cash bail requirements for many criminal charges in 2019 as an issue perpetuating gun violence. The congressman’s crime plan would allow judges to take “dangerousness” into account when setting bail.
Suozzi’s long-range plan on crime includes policy ideas such as a universal policing model, a program that incorporates on a statewide basis, social services, health services, mental health, veterans, seniors, youth, physically challenged and drug and alcohol programs to proactively help people in crisis; and an expansion of Kendra’s Law to allow judges, police, social workers and family members to get mentally ill people the help they need.
A native New Yorker, Suozzi says he wants to keep constituents in the state and keep them safe, which forms the basis of his policy to address New York’s affordability problem, citing a mass exodus of New Yorkers since the pandemic. In addition to combating crime, Suozzi believes lowering taxes is another way to prevent further diaspora from the Empire State.
New York City’s population plunged by nearly 4% — more than 336,000 people — during the pandemic’s first year as residents migrated to less dense areas in nearby counties and neighboring states, according to a Cornell analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data released March 24.
“People are leaving because they can’t afford it, because they don’t feel safe and this is an important election because New Yorkers are sick of extremism and arguing on both sides, sick of corruption in Albany and they want people to deliver,” he said. “I can deliver.”
Reach Robbie Sequeira at email@example.com or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes