The Best Candidate You’re Not Voting For

Tom Suozzi don't need no overcoat!
Congratulations, Long Island—you just failed to re-elect one of the most capable and successful public officials in the country! (Depicted here giving a speech in front of The Beatles.)

First, Some History

Some of you may be familiar with Tom Suozzi: He’s the Democratic, soon-to-be-former County Executive of Nassau County, Long Island, who ran a substantive, issue-heavy campaign for governor of New York in 2006.

In a time when irresponsibility, corruption and inertia was crippling the ability of the New York State government to effect any type of change, the democrats of New York State were presented with Tom Suozzi’s successful record of using executive seats as platforms from which he could root out corruption and impose fiscal discipline. Then, they voted against him to the tune of 81%. Most of the voters didn’t even know his name, because he was running against Eliot Spitzer.

By the end of the campaign, some reporters had given up on covering the issues and had taken to asking Suozzi what his favorite dirty joke was*. Early on, though, when reporters were still asking Suozzi why he was running a Quixotic campaign against the juggernaut that was Eliot Spitzer, he said that he felt the skill set needed to be a successful Attorney General was starkly different from the skill set needed to be a successful chief executive, and that he had proven that he had the right skills for the job at the right time. (By 2006, he had been credited with all sorts of governmental miracles by national public policy magazines. Over the course of a term and a half as County Executive, his policies had earned Nassau County recognition for going from being one of the most poorly managed governments in the country to one of the best.)

*Oh how I wish I still had that video. He had too much savvy to tell a dirty joke, but the clean joke he told instead was still pretty great.

Tom Suozzi, being determined

Suozzi lost the bid for governor, as most people knew he would. Spitzer won the primary campaign with 81% of the vote, and went on to a similar cakewalk in the general election over a Republican candidate who likely had to Wikipedia himself to figure out who he was.

In the long run, this would probably have been fine with most Suozzi supporters, had Spitzer been able to get anything done as governor—after all, unless it’s the Red Sox and the Yankees, if your team loses in the playoffs, you at least want the satisfaction of knowing that the team that beat you wasn’t second-best. However, Spitzer proved remarkably ineffective as governor, and his approval rating plummeted below 33% within ten months. He even went as far as to say—in an on-the-record interview—that maybe, just maybe, he didn’t have the right personality and disposition for an executive position.

The people of New York didn’t need to grumble about that much longer, though, because 14 months after taking office, Governor Spitzer resigned over a prostitution scandal. Even if you don’t know his name, you know the image, because that particular press conference has more or less cemented what political sex scandals look like in the public mind.

Eliot Spitzer and his wife, Silda

Spitzer’s press conference and an episode of South Park, aired shortly thereafter.

Back to the Present

One would think that after what happened with Governor Spitzer, all Suozzi’s campaign team would need to lock up re-election for him was a slogan along the lines of, “Tom Suozzi: Remember What Happened Last Time You Didn’t Vote For Him?” Sure, it’s non-traditional, I know. But apparently the voters have had a pretty short and fickle memory in that regard, so more gentle reminders may have proven useful.

However, here we are, three years after Tom Suozzi conceded defeat in his bid for governor, and a nearly month-long recount has put him on the losing side of another election. This week, the board of elections is awarding victory to his opponent, Edward Mangano, who has either the most disingenuous or the most poorly-thought-out platform I’ve seen all year.

In what must rank among the more incredulous editorials The New York Times has run this year, Mangano’s platform is described as

…simplistic…railing against taxes to turn voters’ pain into votes. But their logic was grossly misplaced. Nassau’s property taxes are crushingly high, but the county portion of the bill, Mr. Suozzi’s responsibility, is only about 16 percent [of the total charge]…

One of two things happened here: 1) Mangano decided to exploit the fact that most residents of the county were burdened with heavy property taxes knowing full well that the man he was attacking had no responsibility for it and that the position he was seeking wouldn’t let him do a thing about it. 2) Mangano had no idea that the county wasn’t responsible for the majority of the taxes he promised to cut as County Executive.

I don’t know which is worse.

While it is possible that Mangano intends to use the County Executive seat as a pulpit of persuasion, coaxing change in the property tax laws from the people who are actually empowered to deliver them, it’s worth noting that from my seat in Armenia, I haven’t seen that anywhere.

Tom Suozzi likely has the skills to succeed wherever he goes, so I’m not concerned that his family is about to lose a vital paycheck. I’d be very surprised if they honestly miss his government salary once he starts whatever his next job will be, and I’m sure they’ll be glad that they get to see him more. What disappoints me is that one of the most talented public administrators in the country is no longer able to serve because his electoral opponent seemingly either didn’t know what he was talking about or didn’t care.

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