Tom Croci’s Run for New Job as State Senator: Similar Issues, Same Territory

October 27, 2014 6:03 am Last Updated: October 26, 2014 8:11 pm

Current Islip Town Supervisor Republican Tom Croci announcement this past July that he would run in this November’s election for the open seat in Suffolk County’s 3rd New York State Senate District—which covers major portions of Islip and Brookhaven—and thus vacate his position as town supervisor if elected was said to come as a big surprise to many of the district’s residents. It also came as a surprise to several Suffolk County Republican and Democratic political insiders I contacted.

Before he made that announcement, the conventional wisdom throughout southwest Suffolk was that the 42-year-old Croci—who while first elected supervisor of the town of Islip, which includes primarily the same areas covered in the 3rd Senate District, by a mere 343 vote majority in his first run for political office in 2011—had become increasingly popular during his three years as supervisor, making him a heavy favorite to be re-elected in 2015. 

It was also generally speculated that any future position Croci sought would be on a federal level. Currently a commander in the Navy Reserves with three past combat tours in Afghanistan, and a former SEAL team intelligence officer and also a former White House deputy executive secretary of homeland security, Croci was seen by many as a future possible contender for Congress, where, that theory held, he would be able to best utilize his combined 15 years of military and homeland security experience. 

Why then did Croci, surprising his constituents and confusing prognosticators of both Republican and Democratic stripe, decide to run for the state Senate? This was the first question I posed to Croci when I interviewed him in Suffolk County recently.

“Actually I never sought a seat in the state Senate because I truly love the job of supervisor of the Town of Islip,” Croci stated, “but with Lee Zeldin’s decision to run for Congress, I was asked by local party officials to run, and I accepted because I believed it was the right thing to do for the district, the state, and the party.”

Croci was referring to two-term incumbent state Sen. Lee Zeldin, whose decision this past spring to challenge six-term Democrat Rep. Tim Bishop in the 1st Congressional District in this November’s election is what opened the seat that Croci now is running to fill. (Zeldin, whom I interviewed for a column shortly after he announced his run for Congress this past spring, and Bishop are now engaged in a tight race for that seat.)

Croci, who will also be running on the Conservative Party and Independence Party lines, faces long-term environmental activist Adrienne Esposito as the Democratic Party candidate in November’s general election. Esposito, who has never before run for public office, is also running on the Working Families, Women’s Equity, and Green Party tickets. 

If Croci, though, ever possessed any doubts about the wisdom of taking on this new political challenge, they, I assumed, would have been dispelled by recent polls, which show him running 20–25 percent ahead of Esposito. Although somewhat downplaying these favorable polls, Croci told me that the reason his campaign has been going well to date is because it is focusing upon the issues that are the most important to the citizens of the district.

Jobs and the Economy

Of those, he said, jobs and the economy seem to be among the issues most frequently discussed by voters.

“People inform me about their concern about the lack of available quality jobs and the downward trend of the economy,” he stated. “The way to move the state economy from its current stagnation into the state of prosperity,” he argued, “is to create a business-friendly environment, which includes eliminating costly and unnecessary regulations that push businesses out of the state. [In such an environment] the economy grows, new high quality private jobs are created and more and improved goods and services become available to consumers. It is basic economics 101, which states like South Carolina and Texas are following but unfortunately New York state is not.”

Controlling taxes and debt, according to Croci, was also an important issue on the minds of voters. “People are extremely frustrated,” he asserted. “They tell me they are tired of watching while their taxes are constantly being raised and the state debt, rather than going down with these tax increases, actually incredibly keeps going up.”

Croci contended that his experience as town supervisor would be helpful to him as state senator in trying to improve the financial condition of NYS.

“After my first days in office [as supervisor] I learned that Islip faced huge structural budget problems that had remained hidden for many years,” Croci recalled. “These problems were accompanied by a huge impending debt. Our team immediately went to work to control spending and eliminate waste. Without cutting any services for our citizens, we were able to reduce taxes, including property taxes, which in Islip are now the lowest in the region. A similar common sense approach to solve economic woes throughout the Empire State could succeed if implemented by the governor and the legislators in Albany.”

Croci added, however, that both Nassau and Suffolk taxpayers are faced with a financial burden unique to Long Island: “To Nassau’s immediate west, it has New York City, which has its own severe budgetary crisis now increasing every day with its new free-spending mayor [Bill De Blasio],” Croci stated. 

“To obtain additional revenue to pay for this spending, NYC politicians take tax dollars from citizens of Nassau and Suffolk through the MTA payroll tax [a commuter tax transferring money from the paychecks of non-NYC residents who are employed in NYC to the NYCMTA] and also through other unfair methods. The result is that our tax dollars are being sent to New York City, instead of Nassau and Suffolk where they legitimately belong.” Repealing the MTA payroll, Croci believes, would be a major step in ending, what he regards to be, NYC’s unfair reliance upon the Long Island taxpayer.

Quality of Life Concerns

Croci told me that in addition to economic concerns, quality of life issues remains crucial to Long Islanders and would be embedded in any legislation he would support as state senator. “Long Island is all about the great quality of life provided here. To Long Islanders quality of life means safe streets, excellent schools, and a clean environment; thus ways to improve upon [our quality of life] would be contained in any legislation I would support,” Croci stated, “including in the area of education, where I would strongly favor legislation that repeals Common Core and replaces it with a system that would actually improve the quality of education every one of our students receives.”

That last statement did not surprise me, as I already was aware that throughout the campaign Croci had made his opposition to Common Core (a controversial federal education program requiring that participating states, of which NYS is 1 of 45, follow a single set curriculum and administer the exact same standardized exams) well known. 

Croci, whose late mother and late father both worked their way up from teachers to principals during their long careers in the Suffolk County School System, traced his opposition to Common Core to his parents. “I learned from my parents,” he explained, “the importance of allowing administrators, teachers, and parents decide how to best run their schools rather than, as is now the case with Common Core, some uncaring bureaucrat in Washington.”

According to polls, Croci’s opposition to Common Core is resonating with voters, and thus is viewed as an additional factor contributing to his continuing rise in the polls. Such a trend is generally assumed to please Republican state party officials. With the control of the state Senate—currently composed of 34 Democrats and 29 Republicans—up for grabs, Croci’s sizable lead allows Republicans to allocate their limited campaign financial resources to NYS Senate races viewed to be toss-up contests.

Croci who is single told me that being unmarried and without a family of his own is the only regret he has about spending most of his adult life in the military and, as of late, also in elected office. “I came close [to getting married] a couple of times,” Croci recalled. “But as had happened in the past, my obligations to the Navy got in the way. This, in addition beginning three years ago with my responsibilities as supervisor of the Town of Islip, has made difficult to sustain a lasting relationship. For now my sister, who is married, and her two children are a great joy for me. … And I’m optimistic that in the near future I will find the right woman and will finally get married myself.”

I hope he does. However, with polls pointing to his election as state senator next Tuesday coupled with his continuing service to his nation in the Navy, it might not be so easy. 

Robert Golomb ([email protected] ) is a nationally published columnist. He can also be followed on Twitter @RobertGolomb.

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