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September 26th, 2006

Conversation with Tom Suozzi who’s next?

by D. Clark MacPherson

While many of us are familiar with the Nassau County Executive’s “Fix Albany” campaign, Tom Suozzi’s insight into the problems that also affect New York City is less well known. Now, as a contender in the race for Governor, what he thinks about the New York City/Long Island area is more important than ever.

As a lawyer, Certified Public Accountant, former Mayor of Glen Cove and currently Nassau County Executive, Tom Suozzi has not been afraid to implement change and push for reform. He’s dealt with contentious issues and he is looking forward to dealing with difficult problems such as immigrant workers, affordable housing, high property taxes and poorly run New York City schools.

He answered some difficult questions regarding the potential for racial discrimination seemingly hidden in recent plans by some Long Island towns. Southampton, for example, which is an enclave for the rich, has advertised its intent to use of SWAT teams to visit houses suspected of sheltering too many “illegals.” Hamptons’ schools have been contacted for the purposes of ascertaining whose children are attending. Code Enforcement officers seem poised to use Building code violations to harass landlords. It is a pregnant issue on the local front as well as in the national news. Bush himself has been consumed with trying to handle this problem wisely.

Suozzi’s answer to the “illegals,” or immigrant problem, is that while we have a tradition of accepting immigrants in this country, we also have a set of laws. This country was built by the sweat of immigrants, and while they are here we should help and encourage them to learn English, obey the laws of our communities and provide them with the tools to work within our system. He suggested that “shape-up” facilities should be encouraged, instead of permitting local labor pick-up locations which some neighborhoods find offensive. At hiring centers, which he has supported, language skills and education become more possible – and laws can be enforced. To expect Federal agencies such as the IRS and Immigration Service to solve these local problems is unrealistic and likely to fail. With regard to enforcement of building codes, the laws must be applied universally, not arbitrarily or selectively. We need workers in our communities BUT we need good citizens–both the present and future kinds.

Tom Suozzi’s focus for reform encompasses the high properties taxes in New York State, the affordable housing crisis, the low performing New York City schools and repair of the economy. He pointed out that New York has the highest property tax base in the country, 72% above the norm. Outrageous, was the term he ascribed to the situation. And, the problem of affordability of housing is related to this. Young people, seniors and the traditional middle class have difficulty either buying a house or affording rent for a home.

The inadequacy of New York City schools concerns Suozzi, who feels that we are in danger of losing an entire generation of young people. He reminded us that nearly 50% of students do not graduate because of the combined problems of funding, quality educational facilities, and staffing. It is a problem that cannot be allowed to fester and it is an essential component of his reform planning.

Of course, all of the issues he has touched upon require money. And, this is where Suozzi clearly feels that his background is most relevant. After resurrecting the economy of Nassau County, as its Chief Executive, he feels that his is a unique experience. With a budget of $2.4 Billion, he has overseen the redevelopment of a fiscal entity that is larger than some small countries and most other large states combined. And, during this process of bipartisan reform in Nassau County he has wondered aloud, why Medicaid fraud has not been eliminated.

With a State budget of $110 Billion, Medicaid costs the taxpayers nearly $50 Billion of that money. And, since it is estimated that there is as much as 40% of the Medicaid budget lost to frau–it does not take a physics professor to realize that many other worthy projects could be funded just by streamlining the system and removing the corruption. “Why hasn’t this been done?” he wondered, referring to eliminating the fraud. “It is known, it’s not a secret,” he pointed out; “we can afford to pay for many other important programs with money we know is being lost.”

Suozzi’s efforts have made him a visible contender who points out that there have been 11 upgrades in the bond rating for Nassau County since he took office. Money, like it or not, fuels reform and he points out that “I’ve done it” when he talks about restructuring the finances of New York State, as he has in Nassau County.

If you wish to learn more about Tom Suozzi, his websites are FixAlbany.com and Tom Suozzi.com. As Jim McManus says of Tom Suozzi, “He’s a good man.” A measure of support that cannot be beat.

Tom Suozzi

Filed Under: Articles | Politics | the Hamptons

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