Former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi this week joined a field of four other Democrats aiming to mount a possible campaign to replace U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Melville).
Suozzi filed Federal Election Commission documents Tuesday creating a congressional campaign committee to raise money toward a run, two weeks to the day after Israel said he would not seek re-election.
Israel’s surprise move made Suozzi seriously consider a run for Congress, he said at a news conference Tuesday.
“People may have a lot to say about Tom Suozzi over the next few months, but no one will say, ‘Hey, you know that Tom Suozzi guy, he took the easy way out,’” Suozzi said. “Not me, not now, not ever.”
Suozzi, who was county executive from 2002 to 2009, touted his efforts to push Nassau from the brink of bankruptcy by cutting the workforce, reworking union contracts and eliminating wasteful contract spending.
He narrowly lost to Republican County Executive Edward Mangano in his 2009 bid for a third term, and lost again to Mangano by a wider margin in 2013.
Suozzi joins North Hempstead Councilwoman Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck), Nassau Interim Finance Authority Chairman Jon Kaiman, Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern and Garden City-based lawyer and lobbyist Brad Gerstman among the Democrats who have formed committees to start fundraising.
State Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington) and state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) have also created committees since Israel’s surprise Jan. 5 announcement. Manhasset Republican David Gurfein formed a committee in September and as of last week had raised more than $250,000, he said.
Nassau Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs said Suozzi is the best known candidate to emerge, and could overcome concerns about his political past if he ran an effective campaign.
“We’ll see what kind of support he garners,” Jacobs said.
E. O’Brien Murray, Martins’ campaign strategist, said Suozzi was “overwhelmingly defeated” in his 2013 county executive run and would not be a good fit to replace Israel.
“This is the same Tom Suozzi who in his first term had a corruption scandal, in his second term created the energy tax, and increased taxes more than 20 percent,” Murray said.
Six years in the private sector as an attorney for Uniondale-based firm Harris Beach since the 2009 race, Suozzi said, has made him “a little wiser ..., a little less brash and more patient.”
He said he will spend the coming weeks going door-to-door to talk with voters.
“I understand people’s hopes and fears better than ever before and I think I’m a better listener,” Suozzi said.
Also on Suozzi’s agenda was a meeting Wednesday with seven other potential competitors in the developing race to represent New York’s Third Congressional District, which stretches from Whitestone, Queens to Kings Park and extends as far south as Farmingdale.
At the meeting at Jacobs’ Glen Cove business office, party leaders from Nassau, Suffolk and Queens were set to talk with serious candidates to potentially winnow the field and discuss how the process will unfold in the months leading up to a June primary.
In addition to aligning with party principles, the candidate has to show an ability to raise at least $1 million in the early stages to fund a campaign, Jacobs said. A full run at the congressional seat would take between $3 million and $5 million, he has said.
“If you can’t get seven figures in two months, forget it,” Jacobs said.
Along with Suozzi, Kaplan, Kaiman, Great Neck public relations executive Robert Zimmerman, Port Washington psychologist and philanthropist Laurie Schienman, Great Neck businessman Todd Richman, Suffolk Legislator Steve Stern and former Suffolk Legislator Jon Cooper were set to attend, Jacobs said.
Scheinman is the latest addition to the Democratic field of possible candidates, which also includes Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone and Suffolk Legislator William Spencer.
Jacobs said he’s also met with state Assemblyman Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), who’s currently in California, about a potential run.
Gerstman is traveling in Israel and wouldn’t make Wednesday’s meeting, but has not contacted Jacobs, Jacobs said.
Kaplan is the only Democrat to formally say she plans on running for Congress.
Blank Slate Media reported last week that Israel had encouraged her to run prior to announcing he wouldn’t seek re-election, according to a Nassau Democrat who asked not to be named.
A source close to Israel, though, later disputed that claim, adding that Israel has no current plans to endorse a candidate but reserves the right to back one in the future.
Northport state Assemblyman Andrew Raia, Suffolk Legislator Robert Trotta and Huntington town Councilman Eugene Cook have also been named as possible Republican candidates, but none have formed campaign committees.
Nassau Republican Party spokesman Michael Watt said Tuesday there were no updates in the process on the GOP side.