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The return of Tom Suozzi

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In 2009 following the election of President Barack Obama the year before, likely voters decided to stay home that November. That year we saw depressed voter turnout, which resulted in the election of Republican governors in Virginia and New Jersey. In the State of New York two Democratic county executives lost their seats–one of them being Tom Suozzi of Nassau County in an extremely close election. It would seem that things didn’t get any better the following year, because the result was a Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Then came the presidential election cycle of 2012 when all those trends were put in reverse. The state of Virginia once again went blue as did Florida. The Empire State had an eligible voter turnout of 49 percent, down from the 2008 numbers, yet still tremendous. After observing all of these results  it has lead me to believe that the reality of people not voting in off-year elections remains true.

Even still, with all that we’ve witnessed in these recent off-year elections, what was on display was not only apathy but the anger of the populace at large. The country had just entered the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and New York, the home of Wall Street suffered as a result. People were losing their livelihoods. Add to that the high property taxes homeowners have faced for years in counties like Nassau and you’re sitting on a powder keg.

So okay Nassau, I get it. Many of you channeled that anger into an anti-incumbency fervor which resulted in you staying home or voting for the Republican in the county executive’s race of 2009. You gave the county executive’s office to Ed Mangano and allowed Republicans to take over the county legislature.

But like the people who turned out at a higher rate and voted in 2012, many of you in Nassau may not be too satisfied with your past choices. If the approval rating of the current Republican-led House of Representatives is any indication, I’d bet that you might be thinking of a new direction for your county.

I mean honestly Nassau, you threw the one person out who was the best equipped to deal with the tough times you were about to face. Didn’t Tom Suozzi turn your county around before? From what I heard things were a complete mess and he got your fiscal house in order. Tom Suozzi was one of Governing magazine’s 2005 public officials of the year for what he accomplished there.

So again I ask you Nassau County, is this is the person you decided to let go?

When he was elected county executive in 2001, Suozzi, a Democrat, inherited a county that was not just on the brink of disaster but had toppled over and was nearing terminal velocity. Nassau makes up the western end of Long Island and is one of the wealthiest counties in the nation in terms of per-capita income, but years of fiscally imprudent governance by an entrenched political machine had cost it dearly.

It had amassed nearly $3 billion in debt; its bonds were at junk status; the state had created a financial oversight board and was threatening to take over; public buildings were close to condemnable; roads and parks were going to ruin; and the county’s administrative apparatus ranked among the least effective in the country.

Anyone who has achieved this much in public office deserves a second chance. The other reason Nassau County should bring Tom Suozzi back is not only because of what he’s done in the past, but because of what he envisions for the future–building vital downtown power centers that can attract innovative entrepreneurs and an educated labor pool.  He’s one of the few politicians I’ve heard who talks about doing the things necessary to prevent young professionals from packing up and leaving. This means having better education, housing and career opportunities.

Development is a serious matter. I’ve seen what it has done for Westchester County, NY in the City of White Plains. A sleepy suburban city has been transformed over the course of eight years. While this development was not done in a manner that focused on local businesses, I still realize that the positive effects have been amazing. I think Suozzi gets that model and would try to work on making this a reality for Nassau County.

As a full disclosure, I was a field organizer on Suozzi’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign. This is how I came to learn about the candidate. He had good ideas to fix Albany then and is full of ideas to help his county now. I shall watch this new campaign for county executive from Washington D.C. with interest. Good luck, Tom Suozzi.

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