Tom Suozzi to constituents: get organized

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U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) speaks at a town hall meeting in Plainview on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017. (Photo by Noah Manskar)

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) encouraged supporters at a town hall Thursday night to direct their political outrage toward an organized push for progressive change.

It’s crucial for Democrats to not let their energy fizzle following Republican President Donald Trump’s election, Suozzi said.

“One of the reasons that the country’s ended up the way it’s ended up right now is because the Democrats have not done a good enough job organizing locally throughout this country,” Suozzi told the crowd of nearly 500 at the Mid-Island Y Jewish Community Center in Plainview. “We’re going to be organized here.”

Suozzi, a former Nassau County executive, used his first town hall since taking over the 3rd Congressional District seat in January to promote “Heard in the Third,” his initiative to organize constituents to push for progressive policies.

Responding to questions and comments from residents, Suozzi criticized Trump and his policies as dangerous to the nation, but promoted a common-ground approach to making change.

When Suozzi asked those who voted for Trump to raise their hands, only one went up.

Many in the crowd were affiliated with progressive political organizations, but more than half raised their hands when Suozzi asked if this was the first time they’d been actively engaged in politics.

Suozzi’s crowd was friendlier than those many Republican representatives have faced at similar events around the country in recent weeks, but some people pushed him from the left on select issues.

Suozzi repeated his pledge Thursday to defend the Affordable Care Act from Republicans’ efforts to repeal it.

But some shouted support for a single-payer system in which the federal government would provide universal insurance.

Jane Leonardo of Queens said Suozzi and other Democrats should be more aggressive in protecting the law from the GOP’s plans to replace it with a system that would hurt the most vulnerable.

“You can’t go to a gun fight with a knife, and they’re coming at us with an Uzi,” Leonardo said.

Suozzi will fight for a single-payer system when Democrats regain control of Congress, he said, but the party must now focus on defending what is currently in place.

Trump has said the Affordable Care Act has made health insurance more expensive and pledged to replace it with a system that lowers costs while keeping the same number of people insured.

Several people also spoke against Trump’s ban on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, which federal courts have blocked, and his plans to deport more undocumented immigrants.

Both policies make the U.S. less safe and go against its history as a welcoming nation, Suozzi said.

Local police, including the Nassau County Police Department, should not cooperate with federal agencies to ensure immigrants feel safe coming forward to report crimes, Suozzi said.

“You can never have the local police force be in a position where the population is scared of the police,” he said.

Trump has said his more stringent immigration policies are necessary to protect Americans from terrorists and criminals who are in the country illegally.

Amid concerns about Trump’s connection to Russia and his financial conflicts of interest, Suozzi said he has co-sponsored a bill to issue a subpoena for Trump’s tax returns, which the president has not released publicly.

Trump has rejected allegations that his campaign coordinated with Russia and has said he cannot release his tax returns because his finances are under audit — even though the Internal Revenue Service has said he can publish them anyway.

Suozzi pushed his constituents to address these issues by getting involved with his “Heard in the Third” initiative.

His office is organizing groups in 16 “neighborhoods” within Suozzi’s district stretching from northeast Queens to northwest Suffolk County to write op-ed articles, meet with elected officials and support candidates for local offices.

“If we’re effective, people like us working together will persuade moderates and independents and some Republicans of the wrongheadedness” of Trump’s policies, Suozzi said.

There was a divide in the crowd between those who favored moving toward the center to make progress and those favoring a move to the left.

Several people held up signs saying “disagree” when a woman asked Suozzi if he would sponsor a Republican proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act that would keep several of its popular provisions in place. Suozzi said he would look into the bill.

When one man asked if Suozzi would support Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, a candidate for Democratic National Committee chairman backed by U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, another man objected that Ellison would not solve the Democratic Party’s problems.

Suozzi punted, saying he would not back Ellison but is not supporting any particular candidate.

Many supporters of Hillary Clinton are getting behind Tom Perez, the former U.S. labor secretary under President Barack Obama, for the position.

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