Representative Thomas R. Suozzi is not the kind of person to be swayed by the advice of fellow Democrats. But as he runs for governor of New York this year, he sure has gotten his share.
There was Representative Hakeem Jeffries, a favorite to be the next Democratic House speaker, who counseled him not to give up his House seat on Long Island.
Eliot Spitzer, the former governor who trounced him in a 2006 primary, warned he had no clear lane to victory. Even Hillary Clinton weighed in, urging Mr. Suozzi to forgo a messy primary and help Democrats fight to keep the House majority.
It doesn’t take a political science degree to understand the argument. Gov. Kathy Hochul is enjoying a double-digit lead, a mountain of campaign cash rivaling the Adirondacks and the full muscle of a Democratic establishment eager to see New York’s first female governor win a full term.
None of it has deterred Mr. Suozzi, 59. As potential opponents like Letitia James and Bill de Blasio dropped out of the race, the three-term congressman and outspoken centrist from Nassau County has flouted the advice of allies, tossing aside a coveted House seat to embark on a frenetic attempt to spoil Ms. Hochul’s potential coronation.
The race undoubtedly remains Ms. Hochul’s to lose. But with less than two months until Primary Day, there are signs that weeks of public appeals may finally be finding an audience among New Yorkers who believe they have fresh reasons to doubt the governor or more progressive alternatives.
Ms. Hochul’s administration is still fighting off a cloud of scandal, after her handpicked second-in-command, Brian A. Benjamin, resigned in the face of public corruption charges last month. And recent public polling suggests that she is vulnerable to attacks on issues that Mr. Suozzi has put at the center of his campaign, like rising crime and her decision to spend $600 million in taxpayer money on a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills.
“New Yorkers are not just going to forget about this poor judgment she’s exercised,” Mr. Suozzi said the other day, as Ms. Hochul cajoled lawmakers into changing state law to get Mr. Benjamin off the ballot.
“We shouldn’t let them forget,” he added.
Seeking to draw contrasts with his opponents — Ms. Hochul and Jumaane Williams, the New York City public advocate — Mr. Suozzi describes himself as a “common-sense Democrat” and a “proven executive.” His political ads portray him as a centrist in a time of extremes, someone better qualified to lead one of the nation’s largest states than Ms. Hochul, a former county clerk, congresswoman and lieutenant governor, who took office last August when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo resigned in scandal.
Prominent Democrats fear that Mr. Suozzi’s hard-charging candidacy could endanger both the swing district he represents and Ms. Hochul’s chances against a Republican this fall.
“Tom is making it difficult for Kathy and the other Democrats down ballot,” said Representative Kathleen Rice, a fellow Nassau County Democrat who has known him for decades.
“He really does have a big heart and believes in traditional Democratic values of taking care of the poor and a big social safety net,” Ms. Rice added. “I just think that if he had been able to check his ego earlier in his career, he could have already run for president.”
Political analysts are skeptical he can close the gap.
Insurgents have successfully defeated Democratic incumbents in New York by running to their left, as Mr. Williams is trying to do this year. But there are few cases of a Democratic challenger winning a primary by running to the right, particularly against someone like Ms. Hochul, who shares Mr. Suozzi’s general political orientation as a Catholic, suburban moderate.
“He’s basically vying for the same voter that she is,” said Ester Fuchs, a political science professor at Columbia University. “People have to have a reason to say, ‘She’s doing a terrible job, she shouldn’t continue.’ I don’t see that happening.”
The position is a familiar one for Mr. Suozzi, who followed his Italian immigrant father into law and politics at a young age, became mayor of his affluent hometown, Glen Cove on the Long Island Sound, at 31 and proceeded to take a series of political moonshots.
It got Mr. Suozzi elected as the first Democratic county executive in a generation in Nassau, where he won plaudits for turning around the county’s troubled finances. Yet a long-shot campaign to upset Mr. Spitzer in the Democratic race for governor in 2006 ended badly, and a few years later, Mr. Suozzi unexpectedly lost re-election in Nassau with $2 million unspent.
In an interview, he insisted this year is not a repeat of 2006.
“I was running against Eliot Spitzer, the sheriff of Wall Street,” Mr. Suozzi said. “Now, I’m running against Kathy Hochul, who I don’t think has any kind of record of accomplishment that anybody could point to.”