The personal becomes political on LI

Michelle Schimel makes her acceptance speak shortly after Michelle Schimel makes her acceptance speak shortly after being sworn into the 16th Assembly District by Senator Chuck Schumer at the Inn at Great Neck as her father, Howard Extract, left, looks on along with her husband, Mark. (May 6, 2007) Photo Credit: James Carbone

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

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday since 1997, initially as a staff writer for the New ...

The personal is political," proclaimed a slogan of the women's movement in the 1970s. This rings true today for both sexes, on various issues.

On Long Island, two strikingly different instances of elected officials confronting deeply personal matters in public forums arose within a week.

On Thursday, the Nassau County Republican Committee voted to run Mark Schimel, the estranged husband of Assemb. Michelle Schimel (D-Great Neck), against her for her 16th District seat. His withdrawal was announced Tuesday after a public tempest that could easily have been expected.

A citizen is free to run for any public job he likes, on any line that will back him. But let's face it: Mark Schimel, an information technology executive, would have had a hard timeconvincing a lot of people that his candidacy stemmed from, say, policy doubts he may have harbored about his spouse's opposition to natural-gas hydrofracking.

Also last week, Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg stood at a news conference in Albany regarding a measure meant to fight mistreatment of those in society's most vulnerable populations -- a compelling personal issue for the veteran Long Beach Democrat. Weisenberg described horrid abuses to which his special-needs son had once been subjected in a group facility.

"My special child almost was starved to death, was scalded in a hot tub," Weisenberg said. "When my special child was abused, I went through the system like everybody else, called and told them what happened, the D.A.'s office, the precinct. Nothing happened."

Among those on hand was Nassau D.A. Kathleen Rice, who supports Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's plan for a special prosecutor in such cases.

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So the politics of the personal is not restricted to marriages gone haywire. Facing personal traumas and hard challenges sometimes add authenticity and moral force to a lawmaker's positions and causes.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) won her congressional seat in 1996, three years after her husband, Dennis, was killed and her son, Kevin, severely wounded on a Long Island Rail Road commuter train by gunman Colin Ferguson. Gun control has been a chief cause for her.

John L. Behan of East Hampton, a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient who lost the use of both legs in the Vietnam War, served as an advocate for armed-forces veterans while in the Assembly's Republican minority until the early 1990s.

The drive for personal gain can also infect the political.

On Monday, a federal jury found former Democratic state Sen. Pedro Espada Jr. guilty on four counts of theft from his nonprofit, government-funded health network.

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During the trial, the Espada claimed federal officials were trying to use "evil powers" against him.

It doesn't get more personal than that.

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