The race to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Steven Israel (D-Dix Hills) in New York’s 3rd Congressional District (CD) may begin with June primary elections if multiple candidates vie to make it onto November’s ballot.
That’s exactly what happened in 2014, when U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) stepped down in New York’s 4th CD. McCarthy’s eventual successor, U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) had to fend off a primary challenge from county Legislator Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead) before facing the Republican nominee, Hempstead town Councilman Bruce Blakeman (R-Atlantic Beach) in 2014’s general election. And Blakeman himself had to prevail in a GOP primary against Frank Scaturro, an attorney from New Hyde Park, before winning the right to face then-Nassau District Attorney Rice.
In an interview after his announcement with WCBS-AM, Rep. Israel repeatedly cited what he termed the nation’s broken campaign finance system as one of the primary reasons for his upcoming departure from the U.S. House of Representatives. Sure, fundraising is a grind and one of the least attractive parts of holding an elective office with a two-year term. Left unmentioned in the radio interview: it is no fun being in the minority, and the Democrats have been one in the U.S. House since 2011, with a Republican majority remaining in place for the foreseeable future.
Having first been elected a congressman in 2000 to a Suffolk County U.S. House seat that had been vacated by U.S. Rep. Rick Lazio, Rep. Israel’s CD over time came to include portions of northern Nassau and Queens, due to the redrawing of New York’s CD boundaries after the 2010 U.S. Census. Rep. Israel rightly noted when talking to WCBS-AM that a Democrat has a better chance of succeeding him in the 3rd CD in November 2016, a presidential election year. Voter turnout is always higher when Americans are choosing the White House’s next occupant and the 3rd CD has 40,000-plus more registered Democrats than Republicans.
Should there be Congressional primaries in the 3rd CD, the tentative election date is Tuesday, June 28, unless the state Legislature acts to change it. Still, working on the assumption June 28 is when the polls open, a candidate who wants to secure his or her political party’s Congressional nomination can begin circulating nominating petitions on March 8, and they must be filed no later than mid-April, according to the state board of elections’ website. Gathering signatures on nominating petitions is a labor-intensive task, with a candidate’s volunteers often going door-to-door, consulting election district books, to make sure they’re visiting the right houses. Only a registered Republican can sign for a GOP candidate, and only a registered Democrat can do the same for a Democratic office seeker.
The major party leaders in Nassau, Queens, and Suffolk would prefer to avert contested primaries. They’d like their committee members/volunteers to circulate nominating petitions for one candidate and save their time, money, and effort for a big push on behalf of their anointed nominee in November. In other words, party leaders want order while political outsiders want electoral free-for-alls. Notwithstanding the openings which emerged in 2014 and, now, in 2016, a chance to run for a vacant U.S. House seat is a relative rarity and irresistible to people who envision themselves serving one day in Congress.
One final thought: should Rep. Israel dissuade Democrats from competing against one another for the Democratic nomination to succeed him, let the record show Rep. Israel first had to win a contested Democratic primary before making his way to Washington, D.C.
Mike Barry, vice president of media relations for an insurance industry trade group, has worked in government and journalism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the publisher or Anton Media Group.