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In Long Island Race, Two Approaches to Change

October 28, 2016

By: 

Thomas MacMillan
Wall Street Journal

Democrat Tom Suozzi and Republican Jack Martins, who are vying for the U.S. House seat that encompasses most of Long Island’s North Shore, both said the district needs a leader who will challenge the business-as-usual climate in the nation’s capital.

Mr. Suozzi, a former Nassau County executive, said he is a fighter, while Mr. Martins, a state senator, described himself as a consensus builder.

“The problem is that there are people that want to keep the status quo the way it is,” Mr. Suozzi said earlier this week at a debate in Albertson, N.Y. “You need the guts to stand up to those powerful interests.”

Mr. Martins said he can break down partisan gridlock by finding common ground and “building consensus across the aisle.”

Both men are running to succeed Rep. Steve Israel, a Democrat who decided not to seek re-election. The Third Congressional District comprises portions of Nassau, Suffolk, and Queens counties. The election is Nov. 8.

A Newsday-News 12-Siena College poll this month showed Mr. Suozzi held a 16-point lead over Mr. Martins.

For Mr. Suozzi, a former gubernatorial candidate, the race is a chance to re-enter politics after several defeats. The 54-year-old served four terms as mayor of Glen Cove before becoming the executive of Nassau County in 2002.

He ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2006 against Eliot Spitzer and then lost his county executive seat to Republican Ed Mangano in 2009. He tried to unseat Mr. Mangano in 2013 and lost.

Mr. Suozzi now talks about those defeats as lessons learned.

“When I ran against Spitzer, I ran against the entire party,” Mr. Suozzi said.

Although he said he got “crushed” in that race, he took a stand by calling for a property-tax cap, a position that Mr. Spitzer later adopted.

Mr. Suozzi said he stood up to the Nassau County police union on salaries and pressed former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, on a cap for the local cost of Medicaid.

“I have a history in my career of standing up to very powerful forces…even though I had to pay a price for it,” Mr. Suozzi said.

Supporters of Mr. Suozzi jokingly refer to a “Suozzi curse” that has brought down his former rivals. Mr. Spitzer resigned in 2008 amid a prostitution scandal, Mr. Silver was convicted last year of corruption charges and Mr. Mangano this month was indicted on corruption charges. Mr. Silver is appealing his conviction, and Mr. Mangano has pleaded not guilty.

With Mr. Martins behind in the polls, the National Republican Congressional Committee canceled a planned ad buy in the district. But the GOP isn’t counting Mr. Martins completely out, said Chris Pack, a spokesman for the committee.

“Jack Martins is no stranger to tough races,” said Mr. Pack, noting that Mr. Suozzi is leveraging strong name recognition from years of running for office.

Mr. Martins’s campaign was hampered this year by a long legal battle with a would-be Republican rival, Philip Pidot, who fought Mr. Martins and elections officials in court to get on the primary ballot, but was ultimately unsuccessful.

Like Mr. Suozzi, Mr. Martins, 49, is a former mayor. He served eight years in that capacity in the village of Mineola before winning the state Senate seat in 2010.

Mr. Martins said Mr. Suozzi has been a polarizing figure, a charge he denies. Mr. Martins said he has a record of working with others to get things done, playing a role in passing on-time, responsible budgets in Albany, and helping to lower taxes.

As the race nears the finish line, both candidates have run increasingly pointed ads. Mr. Suozzi released an ad calling Mr. Martins “hypocritical” for attacking him for raising taxes since Mr. Martins raised taxes when he was mayor. And Mr. Martins released an ad criticizing Mr. Suozzi’s attempts to link him to former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican who is appealing his conviction last year on corruption charges.

Neither candidate has been making this year’s presidential campaign a central issue. Mr. Martins said he would vote for GOP nomineeDonald Trump, but he isn’t endorsing him. And Mr. Suozzi said he would vote for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, but disagrees with her tax plan.

As the debate wrapped up earlier this week, both candidates offered their closing arguments.

Mr. Martins promised to work to bring the country together at a time when it feels pulled apart. And Mr. Suozzi promised to take on entrenched powers by having the “guts to stand up and the ability to win the fight.”