By Jano Tantongco
The pool of candidates for the soon-to-be-open seat in the Third Congressional District is whittling down.
Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) said on Monday he is no longer pursuing the seat that Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) will vacate, and is instead backing fellow Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R-South Huntington).
Raia said, “I truly enjoy representing the residents of the 12th Assembly. Albany is a seniority-based place. The more time I put in here, the more effective of a legislator I become. Chad Lupinacci is a dear friend of mine, and colleague. I think he would make an outstanding member of Congress.”
Raia added that he believes Huntington residents would be served best by a congressperson who hails from the Town of Huntington, whether that be Lupinacci or Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills), who is also vying for the seat.
In a statement emailed Monday, Lupinacci said, “Following the announcement of the formation of the Lupinacci for Congress Campaign Committee, we received an overwhelming amount of volunteers and grass roots supporters. It is clear that Long Islanders are tired of the dysfunction in Washington and proven leadership is needed to provide real solutions to the many serious problems facing our nation.”
Suffolk’s Republican Committee could not be reached before deadline.
On the Democratic front, several elected local officials have thrown their support behind Legislator Stern.
“I’m not surprised by them,” Rich Schaffer, chairman of the Suffolk Democratic Committee, said Monday. “I think Steve’s got an outstanding record as a county legislator. He’s worked well with the town and his colleagues. I think the people in the Town of Huntington understand the good job that he’s done for the past 11 years.”
Schaffer narrowed down the Long Island’s current Democratic candidates to just four: North Hempstead Councilwoman Anna Kaplan; former North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman; Stern; and former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi.
He noted that the distribution of voters for the Third Congressional District are as follows: 56 percent in Nassau, 32 percent in Suffolk and 12 percent in Queens. With this in mind, he speculated that if the Nassau votes are split among several candidates, and if Stern performs well in Suffolk, the election could be decided in Queens.
Huntington Councilwoman Tracey Edwards said Stern is committed to “putting his constituents first,” just like Rep. Israel, who announced in January that he will not seek reelection to the Congressional seat.
Edwards said Stern “has been a really big champion in our community. I truly am honored to support him. He is the right person to continue Steve Israel’s legacy. Steve Israel has always put families and his constituents above politics. Steve Stern has that same character and reputation.”
Stern’s fellow Suffolk legislator, Louis D’Amaro (D-Huntington Station), who he’s worked alongside since 2005, said Stern works “on a bipartisan basis.
D’Amaro added that early in his career, Stern dealt with development of big-box stores that would affect several towns by passing legislation that would mandate county review for such projects.
“He was masterful at pulling together all the parties,” D’Amaro said, citing Stern’s listening ability and analytical power as his strongest attributes.
On Monday, Stern in an interview denounced the current partisan gridlock in Washington, calling it not only frustrating, but also “dangerous.”
“Too many challenges that our country continues to face go unaddressed. All we hear out of Washington is continued bickering,” Stern, who was elected to the Suffolk Legislature in 2005, said. “I strongly believe that I am exactly the kind of leader that we need in Washington.”
If elected to the seat, Stern said he would continue to advocate for the issues he cares about most, including the elderly, disabled and veterans.
In 2014 Stern authored The Housing Our Homeless Heroes Act, which was subsequently signed into law, and aims to provide veterans with essential services and housing. He said the initiative is now in its implementation stage and that Suffolk is working with local nonprofits to secure and revitalize housing from tax-defaulted properties.
“I’m running for Congress to build on a record that I’m very proud of,” Stern said.
Stern was also endorsed last week by Huntington Councilwoman Susan Berland and Suffolk Legislator William Spencer (D-Centerport).