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Underdog Days

Spitzer’s Democratic challenger: “The reason I’m losing . . . is the reason I’m running”


Eliot Spitzer already is lounging comfortably in New York’s open seat for governor, according to pollsters. Ahead of Republican candidate John Faso, Spitzer also is pulling a convincing lead—ahead by more than 60 percent in some polls—over Democratic challenger Tom Suozzi.

Despite the disappointing poll numbers, Suozzi isn’t pulling back the reins on his campaign as Tuesday’s Democratic primary approaches. “The reason I’m losing, the reason that I’m behind, is the reason I’m running,” he said.

At its most fundamental level, Suozzi said his campaign is fueled by a desire to overturn politics as usual in New York state. Even if voters don’t allow him the opportunity to clean up what he describes as problem-ridden state government, Suozzi said at least he’s stirred the pot.

“If I had not run, if I did not continue to run, Eliot Spitzer would not be talking about property taxes,” he said. “He would not be talking about Medicaid fraud. And I’m very concerned about the way he’s embraced all the status-quo interests that have given us the problems in our state that we have now, so I’ve got to keep on working to try to win the race.”

Beyond the polls, Suozzi also trails his gubernatorial rival in campaign financing.

Throughout the state and in the press, much has been made of Suozzi’s campaign contributors. His critics particularly question the motives behind donations tied to Suozzi’s leading financial supporter, Ken Langone, a Wall Street investor and the founder of Home Depot.

Some have ac cused the Democratic challenger of hypocrisy, suggesting that Suozzi, who has made challenging the influence of lobbyists and special-interest groups in state government a priority of his campaign, is himself a puppet of Langone. Critics assert that Langone’s contributions come as a tool of revenge against Spitzer, who, in his capacity as attorney general, named Langone as codefendant in a suit that alleged excessive executive compensation on the New York Stock Exchange.

“He has raised about $900,000 for my campaign,” Suozzi said of Langone. “He doesn’t like Spitzer, but he doesn’t want anything from state government. He just wants me to beat Spitzer. The same as Spitzer has people who don’t like me supporting him, like the president of the Nassau County PBA—Police Benevolent Association—or [speaker of the Assembly] Shelly Silver . That happens in politics. You have people who don’t like your opponent, who support you for that reason.”

Suozzi said he has amassed about 4,000 contributors in total. Their average contribution is less than $1,000 per person.

His network of supporters also includes those who volunteer as part of Suozzi’s grassroots campaign. The strategy is one that has proved successful for Suozzi during previous campaigns for his current position as Nassau County executive and former role as mayor of the city of Glen Cove. The grassroots approach also has been necessitated by his status as the financial underdog in this gubernatorial race, Suozzi said.

With his success in the Democratic primary seemingly doomed from the beginning, it wasn’t until early August that a campaign spokesman officially ruled out the possibility that Suozzi would file to run as an independent candidate and avoid a Spitzer-vs.-Suozzi primary contest.

“I thought about it, but I really wanted to focus on running in the Democratic primary and focus my energy in that direction,” Suozzi said.

The deadline for filing petitions to secure an independent line was Aug. 22.

“I’m a Democrat,” he said. “I’ve always been a Democrat. I believe in the historic Democratic values that I think we’ve lost touch with for the most part. I want to work to make the Democratic party stronger and better.”

As part of his effort to challenge politics as usual, Suozzi’s campaign has focused on three major issues: reducing property taxes; creating jobs, particularly in upstate New York; and reforming city schools.

“How can it be, with all these problems, we have a 98.5-percent re-election rate of our state legislators?” Suozzi said. “There’s a problem that our elected officials are not accountable for the issues that people face in their everyday lives. And part of my campaign is to connect the dots between Albany’s dysfunction and the affect on local people.”

If he’s unsuccessful at the polls on Tuesday, Suozzi said he’ll finish out his term as Nassau County executive and likely return to work in the private sector. While he said he doesn’t currently have his eye on any other political office, he would not rule out the possibility of returning to public office someday.

—Nicole Klaas

What a Week

It’s a Dirty Job, Who’s Going to Do It?

This week, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission continued to claim that the regulation of materials that can be used to create a dirty bomb is not a security issue and shouldn’t be a federal responsibility. After Al Qaeda dirty bomb how-to guides were found online, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) again called on the NRC to push for tighter controls on such nuclear materials. “The threat of a dirty bomb is a security risk,” Clinton said. “This is just one more example of failure to ensure our homeland security.”

No Confidence

Democrats in the Senate and House are expected to present a no-confidence measure against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sometime this week. The bill is likely to be defeated by Republicans and likely would not affect Rumsfeld’s status in the off chance that it did pass. However, Democrats want to have their Republican counterparts on record as supporting the controversial secretary before November. Many see the upcoming elections as a referendum on an increasingly unpopular war of which Rumsfeld was one of the chief architects.

Blowing in the Wind

Northern Iowa’s Franklin County could become home to the nation’s largest wind farm if the county zoning board approves permit requests on the $200 million project next month. Iowa Winds LLC reported that the planned wind farm would cover about 40,000 acres and could be operational by 2008. Iowa currently ranks third in wind energy production, behind Texas and California.

When Talk Isn’t Cheap

Federal refund will offer New York’s tax-burdened cell-phone users a break

Somewhere between selling you the latest promotional plan, trendiest phone and supposedly essential accessories, wireless providers may forget to tell you (or maybe you just weren’t listening) that as much as 21 percent of your monthly bill will go toward taxes and surcharges alone.

It’s a statistic that earns New York top seed as the most wireless-taxing state in a spread that drops to as low as approximately 6 percent in Nevada.

Federal officials provided some relief in May when they agreed to exempt wireless customers from a 108-year-old communications tax that had been tacking on 3 percent each month. In addition to a reduced monthly bill, most wireless users will be eligible for a refund of taxes collected by the federal government during the past three years.

“It’s long overdue,” said John O’Malley, a spokesman for Verizon Wireless in upstate New York. “We’ve been saying for years that that tax should go away.”

Introduced as part of the Spanish War Act of 1898, the Federal Excise Tax was designed to levy funds on long- distance telephone services in order to help support the conflict. Throughout the years, the tax expired or was repealed several times, only to be reinstated. In 1990, it was permanently extended to the current 3-percent rate.

The Department of the Treasury is authorized to collect the excise tax on local and toll-based phone services. The federal tax code defines toll-based services as those communications for which there is a charge that “varies in the amount with distance and elapsed transmission time of each individual communication.”

After several federal court rulings, the government conceded that certain long-distance service agreements, including wireless plans, do not meet the toll-based service criteria since users incur charges solely based upon the length of the call. As a remedy for years of collecting illegitimate revenue, the government will allow taxpayers to file for a refund on their 2006 returns. Taxpayers will be eligible to collect a refund on excise taxes paid from March 2003 through July 2006.

Repeal of the federal excise tax is a step forward, according to wireless industry representatives, many of whom also argue for the reduction of wireless taxes at the local and state levels.

“If you look at the wireless industry, it’s one of the most competitive industries that you’re going to find, and one of the real positive results of that competition is lower pricing,” O’Malley said. “In fact, the average monthly wireless bill now is less than half what it was 10 years ago. Unfortunately, the rate of taxation and these surcharges hasn’t kept pace with that decrease.”

Instead, many state and local governments have recognized the revenue potential of the wireless industry and tapped into it as a means of expanding the tax base.

Despite repeal of the 3-percent excise tax, the federal government will continue to collect regulatory and universal service fees from wireless consumers.

States governments typically collect sales tax and an E911 fee, which funds 911 communications systems. New York state also collects a gross receipts tax, which historically has been imposed on state monopolies such as utilities and phone companies.

At the local level, county governments often levy sales tax on wireless bills. Some municipalities, including Albany, also impose a school-district tax.

“We’ve been encouraging our customers to reach out to their local lawmakers and ask, ‘Why is this? Why am I paying so much? Why am I paying one-fifth of my bill every month just to cover taxes and surcharges, when if I go to the grocery store or to the mall I’ll pay about 6 percent?’ ” O’Malley said.

Reducing taxes may be one point on which wireless-service providers and consumers agree. Decreased fees would add money to the average user’s pocketbook while potentially resulting in increased demand for wireless services, according to O’Malley.

“Excessive taxes have a real impact on consumer demand for our service,” he said.

To add muscle to their call for tax reductions, several wireless-service providers, including Verizon, actively petition lawmakers at all levels of government.

More information about wireless-service taxes is available at For questions about filing for a refund, refer to the Internal Revenue Service Web site at

—Nicole Klaas

Truth Mongering

Seymour Hersh article exposes the Bush administration’s foreknowledge and backing of Israel’s war against Hezbollah, but the American media don’t want to hear it

“When I did Abu Ghraib, the same kind of stuff was thrown at me: I’m fantasizing. I’m a fantasizer,” Seymour Hersh responded in his hurried way to Wolf Blitzer on CNN Aug. 13, with images of war-torn Lebanon flashing beside him. “I’m not writing for some off-the-wall weekly! The New Yorker is very solid.”

So why was one of the most respected award-winning journalists in recent history—the man who broke the story of the My Lai Massacre—justifying himself to a stammering CNN anchor?

“They’re saying these Sy Hersh conspiratorial theories are so far-fetched they are rejecting them out of hand!” spouted Blitzer, referring to the Bush administration. “Especially this notion that what the Israelis have done now is a prelude to a test run, if you will, for what Israel wants to do against Iranian targets in Iran, and I want you to explain the nature of your sources, if you can, how good these sources are that are making this spectacular accusation!”

In the Aug. 21 issue of The New Yorker, Hersh reported in his article “Watching Lebanonthat Israel had approached the Bush administration about a full-fledged assault against Hezbollah at least two months before Hezbollah abducted two Israeli troops. Through many sources, both former and current employees of the administration and Pentagon, Hersh documented that the Israeli plan was greeted with enthusiasm from both the State Department and the White House, but for different reasons.

“The State Department always viewed what Israel is going to do as a way to stabilize the Lebanese government,” Hersh told Blitzer. “The White House, I write in this article, specifically Cheney’s office, which is sort of the center for the neocons, their view was different. Israel’s attack on Hezbollah was going to be sort of a model . . . that is a lot of air against a dug-in underground facility. For them, it was going to be a test run for a bombing, an attack they really want to do next year if they can. I’m not saying it is decided, but they want to go in after Iran.”

Hersh went on: “Our air force worked very closely with the Israeli air force for months before this . . . not necessarily with a deadline for when it would happen, but whenever there was an incident they would take advantage. When Hezbollah grabbed some of the Israeli soldiers in early July, that was then a pretext for a major offensive that had been in the works for a long time.”

Hersh’s article and sources were bolstered by reports from The New York Times that the Bush administration was expediting shipments of target-specific weaponry to Israel in the heat of the conflict, weapons such as laser-guided bombs and “short-range antipersonnel rockets armed with cluster munitions.” Hersh quoted one insider as saying, “The Israelis told us it would be a cheap war with many benefits. Why oppose it? We’ll be able to hunt down and bomb missiles, tunnels and bunkers from the air. It would be a demo for Iran.”

On Aug. 14, a cease-fire was finally reached, and while Hersh did make the rounds with some talk-show and radio interviews, the story barely broke into the top headlines of the major news providers. And yet in the weeks to come, stories based on nothing but speculation, that could best be described as fear mongering, were treated like fact.

For example, a number of mainstream news organizations, including CBS, picked up on a Wall Street Journal editorial by Bernard Lewis that suggested Iran had a nasty surprise planned for Aug. 22. Lewis implied that because the date fell during the month of Rajab, it “might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world.” So while the Bush administration pretended to put its foot down to demand peace after weeks of inaction in a war it sanctioned and helped arm, the major media were fueling the fire of the administration’s next war.

With the conflict in Lebanon having ended in what a great number of experts say was a defeat for Israel, some pundits dismiss Hersh’s article as too late or of little consequence. They say if the Bush administration is looking for successes in Lebanon on which to base its future conflict with Iran, it will find few. But according to one of Hersh’s sources, the administration was going to take the conflict as a success no matter what the outcome.

“There is no way that [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld and Cheney will draw the right conclusion about this,” Hersh’s report quoted a former official as saying.

“When the smoke clears, they’ll say it was a success, and they’ll draw reinforcement for their plan to attack Iran.”

—David King

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