Party rebellions, political feuds and primaries

Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy speaks about gun violence before Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy speaks about gun violence before students at Mineola High School, calling on their help to ban high-capacity ammunition clips. (February 4, 2011) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Dan Janison Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison,

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday for 10 years, much of which was spent as a ...

Party rebellions and feuds are reaching full bloom around the region with the approach of Tuesday's unusually early federal primaries.

From one congressional district to the next, the insurgencies differ dramatically -- depending largely on who does the challenging and who gets defined as the targeted "establishment."

In the 4th Congressional District, Frank Scaturro is openly defying the leaders of Nassau's Republican and Conservative parties who back Legis. Francis Becker (R-Lynbrook).

Since the winner faces Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) in November, the GOP candidates are striving to present themselves to the party faithful as the stronger foes of Democratic policies. In that context, Becker's campaign went so far as to call Scaturro an "Arlen Specter Democrat" -- which attorney Scaturro and his allies heatedly denounce as a baseless smear.

Scaturro is a former aide to the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington. The one-time chairman, Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, later switched sides to the Democratic caucus. Scaturro has never been a registered Democrat, but Becker defends the charge, made in his campaign's printed pieces.

"I believe that a person has to account for the people he's associated with," Becker said. "He can say that he's the conservative in the race, but I have no knowledge he is."

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Scaturro, citing past volunteer work for local GOP candidates and current praise for his commitment to conservatism from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) -- said he's been unfairly attacked because "I'm not beholden to the county chairman."

Yet when it comes to the House primaries, Brooklyn represents a Bizarro World version of Nassau. In Kings County, the Democratic chairman, Assemb. Vito Lopez, backs his own insurgent -- term-limited Councilmember Erik Dilan -- against 20-year Rep. Nydia Velazquez, who's perceived as an ally of anti-Lopez party dissidents. And in the newly drawn 7th C.D., winning the party primary is tantamount to election.

Sometimes it seems county leaders and state lawmakers deem congressional races a secondary concern. Consider the State Legislature's willingness earlier this year to have a judge draw New York's House districts but not their own legislative maps.

An exception might be Queens -- where Rep. Joseph Crowley doubles as the Democratic chairman. He's endorsing, in the newly drawn 6th C.D., Assemb. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), against not only Assemb. Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) but Crowley's own cousin -- City Councilmember Liz Crowley.

The widely watched fight by veteran Rep. Charles Rangel in the newly drawn 13th C.D. of Manhattan and the Bronx puts to the test the value of long-term incumbency and demographic change. Just as lively on the Democratic side: ex-Councilman Charles Barron versus Assemb. Hakeem Jeffries in Brooklyn's newly crafted 8th district.

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Being an "anti-establishment" or "anti-elite" candidate attracts support based on how the establishment and the power elite are described. For these federal races, the power centers differ. National campaign committees beholden to the Senate's Democratic majority and the House's Republican majority -- and their corresponding minority caucuses -- pick races to supply with resources.

The presidential race tops the November ballot. So at least in the states that are up for grabs, the airwaves will be filled with "tax-spend-class-fairness-debt-security-economic-polarization-entitlement" talk. First, in New York, your basic local internal fights play out on Tuesday. They'll hinge heavily, of course, on which small portion of the electorate shows up to vote.

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