Looking out at all of the men in the audience wearing yarmulkes at the Board of Jewish Education’s conference room in Manhattan, Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi said he knew they would understand when he compared his Democratic gubernatorial primary campaign against Attorney General Eliot Spitzer as a "case of David versus Goliath."
"Sixty-one percent of the people don’t know who I am yet," he said. "My opponent has a 98 percent name recognition, so I have to communicate who am I am and what I’ve done. It’s easy to say what you are going to do, but politics is not just about kissing babies. I can run [this state]. I can do it because I’ve done it."
He then proceeded to describe how he took the reins in Nassau County in January 2002 when its bond rating was just one step above junk and turned it into a county with an "’A’ rating for the first time in a dozen years."
"We should be No. 1 in job creation and education," Suozzi said of the State of New York. "There is no reason we can’t be except for the fact that our government is broken and we need someone else coming in from the outside" to fix it.
Both Suozzi and Spitzer were invited by the BJE to speak with Jewish educators of all denominations from throughout Long Island, the city and Westchester to share their views on the issues in the race and specifically on private education. Spitzer is expected to appear at a future date.
Suozzi said he does not favor school vouchers but favors the proposed $500-per-student tax credit to be used for instructional purposes by families who live in communities whose schools are identified as "failing" by the federal government. Later he said the tax credit had not yet been adopted by the Legislature but that he favored it as a "first step." He said that as governor, he would push to increase the $500 cap.
Asked by Rabbi Martin Schloss, executive director of the Board of Jewish Education, if he favored restoring the position of assistant commissioner for non-public education in New York State (a post that has been vacant since Joan Bourgeois left in 1989) Suozzi quickly replied, "Absolutely."
Rabbi Schloss later told reporters that this was the first time he had heard Suozzi unequivocally support that move. He said restoration of that position was critical in elevating the importance of non-public education in the state.
"We need the same kind of representation [in Albany]," he said. "We need to work together better and we need to be acknowledged with a seat at the table. It’s not just asking for more money, it is about crafting and planning the future."
The position of assistant commissioner for non-public education was eliminated in a consolidation move, Rabbi Schloss said. "We’re now in an office three levels down, and that is unacceptable," he said. "When you go through filters, you are not heard with integrity." Deborah Friedman, executive director of SAJES, the BJE’s counterpart in Suffolk, said she appreciated the "opportunity for dialogue and open communication" with Suozzi.
"The more opportunity we have to talk and listen to one another on the challenges and issues we face, the better our understanding and the more we can work cooperatively," she said.