By Fran Evans
With candidates facing an April 14 filing deadline for designating petitions for the 3rd Congressional District seat, Democrats in the crowded field are looking for an edge before the June 28 primary.
Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs and Suffolk County Democratic Committee Chairman Richard Schaffer have agreed to remain neutral, choosing to not endorse any of the candidates at this time.
The 3rd Congressional District seat, held by Rep. Steve Israel for the past 16 years, cuts a swath along the north shore of Long Island from northeast Queens through the towns of North Hempstead and Oyster Bay, east to Huntington and Smithtown. There are 507,432 registered voters, and Democrats outnumber Republicans 194,508 to 152,879. Another 130,581 have no party affiliation, according to the New York State Board of Elections website.
Registered Conservatives and the Green, Working Families, Independence, Women’s Equality, Reform and “Other” party members add up to another 29,464 voters in the district. There are 39,150 registered Democrats in the northeast portion of Queens that lies within the district; 98,918 in Nassau and 56,440 in Suffolk.
Four Democrats, three from Nassau County and one from Suffolk are vying for an opportunity to capture the seat; among them former Glen Cove Mayor and Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi, former North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman, North Hempstead Town Councilwoman Anna Kaplan and Suffolk County Legislator Steven Stern, a Dix Hills-based attorney specializing in elder law, who is term-limited out of his 16th District seat.
With a presidential election in November, Democrats see an opportunity to capture the votes needed to keep the seat in the hands of a Democrat against the apparent Republican candidate, state Senator Jack Martins, who currently does not have a primary opponent. State Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci, who represents the 10th Assembly District and had been considering a run for the Congressional seat, has decided to seek another term in the Assembly, according to his spokesman.
The Democratic primary includes a field of high profile former and current elected officials. Suozzi, who served as mayor of Glen Cove from 1994-2001, and Nassau executive from 2002-2009, says he is running to fight for middle class families, seniors, veterans and the environment, and that his record as a reformer, including his “Fix Albany” campaign while serving as Nassau executive, will resonate with the electorate.
“Washington isn’t working and people are angry at the partisanship and gridlock in government. I am running for Congress because I am a responsible reformer with a proven track record of getting things done, and I won’t be afraid to take on the status quo,” Suozzi said in a statement.
In recent years, however, Suozzi’s campaigns have had a difficult time gaining traction. In 2006, while Nassau executive, he ran an unsuccessful primary for New York State governor against Eliot Spitzer and, in 2009, while seeking a third term, he was challenged by long-time Nassau Legislator Edward Mangano, a Republican, and was narrowly defeated.
Souzzi sought to win back the Nassau executive’s seat in a 2013 rematch with Mangano. He was beat handily – 59% to 41% - in spite of a successful court challenge by Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs to block third party We Count candidate Andrew Hardwick from remaining on the ballot. Party leaders were reportedly concerned that Hardwick’s campaign would siphon much needed minority votes away from Suozzi.
Kaiman served for a decade as supervisor for the Town of North Hempstead. He resigned in 2013 to become the governor’s Special Advisor on Superstorm Sandy relief. That same year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo named him chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA), a state appointed board created to oversee Nassau County’s finances.
After resigning as North Hempstead supervisor, and prior to accepting the governor’s appointments, Kaiman was nominated to Nassau District Court, but opted instead to accept the appointments as special advisor and NIFA chairman. In addition, in the past, his name had been floated to head the Long Island Power Authority.
Kaiman believes he has the support to win the primary given his history as an elected town supervisor and his success in winning his last several elections.
“I think it’s a race where the voters need to decide who they want to represent them and their concerns,” he said.
His focus, he said, will be on helping seniors age in place, ensuring that the resources Long Island and New York provide come back to the island for infrastructure projects, and continuing his priority of working on issues relating to the labor movement and women’s rights, including equal pay for equal work.
Anna Kaplan represents 40,000 residents in the Town of North Hempstead where she is considered a “detail-oriented and hardworking advocate for her constituents.” Kaplan, who was elected to the North Hempstead Town Council in 2011 and is the first Iranian-American woman elected to town office in the state of New York, believes a candidate needs to be focused on constituent issues. She was born in Iran and became a U.S. citizen in 1995.
Prior to being elected to the town council, Kaplan was elected to the Great Neck Public Library District Board of Trustees and served as its vice president. In addition she was appointed to the Town of North Hempstead Board of Zoning Appeals.
Kaplan says her priorities are to make college affordable for every child on Long Island and in Queens; to raise the minimum wage and fight for paid family and medical leave as well as equal pay for equal work, and to hold the line on taxes for middle-class families. In addition, she says she will make suitable housing a priority for every wounded warrior.
With three candidates from Nassau and one from Suffolk, some Democrats believe Stern has the edge. However, Stern says the job of public servant and a sense of being focused on constituent issues will make the difference, not the county in which the candidate resides.
“Geography will not decide who wins the primary but rather it will be the candidate who has a proven track record and has values that are important to residents. It is important to not only talk about the issues, you need to show what you’ve done and how you’ve done it,” Stern said. “You need to do things in a way that shows you are working hard and making people proud.”
Stern emphasizes his record of getting things done. He said his accomplishments, which are based on his values, have made the middle class, the environment and veterans and their families a priority. He said he is passionate about women’s health issues and equal pay for equal work.
Stern said, “I have a proven track record - an ability to get things done that are most important to our residents.”