Labate undeterred by new district lines

Tea party activist Stephen A. Labate is a

Tea party activist Stephen A. Labate is a candidate for New York's 2nd Congressional District. (Credit: Handout)

Rick Brand

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Steve Labate is suddenly a man without a district.

The Deer Park Republican, whom the party named last month to take on veteran Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills), found himself living 1.5 miles outside the 3rd Congressional District when a federal court finalized new district maps last week.

But Labate, an Army combat veteran, said, "the lines may have changed but the mission has not," saying his quest is to bring a "common sense approach" to government. In years when district lines change, candidates do not have to live within their districts to run.

Congressional contenders last week not only had to cope with new lines, but also an expedited schedule in which nominating petitions began circulating Monday and must be returned between April 10-16. The primary is June 26.

In districts where lines are largely unchanged, Republicans expect two rematch primaries. In Suffolk's 1st District, GOP designee Randy Altschuler faces former SEC lawyer George Demos for the right to battle Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) in November. Nassau Legis. Francis X. Becker Jr. (R-Lynbrook) will vie with challenger Frank Scaturro for the nod to run against Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) in the 4th District.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), meanwhile, will represent a new 2nd District where Suffolk makes up 75 percent of the area. Democrats are circulating nominating petitions for first-time office seeker Vivianne Falcone of West Islip to oppose him.

For a newcomer such as Labate, the altered landscape poses unexpected challenges. Two years ago he sought the GOP nomination to oppose Israel in a district that was primarily Suffolk-based.

Labate didn't get the nomination, but he subsequently scored points with GOP officials by helping out in other campaigns in Islip and Huntington. Now, Islip and Labate's community of Deer Park are out of Israel's district, which has shifted west as far as Queens.

But Labate sees positives in the new lines because two-thirds of the district will be new to Israel. Labate said he has campaigned often in Nassau with tea party advocates and others, and estimated that "25 percent of my donors had come from Nassau. Now they will feel like they have some skin in the game." Labate has raised $140,000 for his campaign.

Israel, also the chairman of House Democrats' campaign committee, has raised $1.4 million and has $587,000 on hand, according to campaign finance records.

Former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy said incumbents are hurt the most when districts change because they lose areas where they have helped numerous voters through constituent service and made their names known through mailings.

"When you're an incumbent, you much prefer to be running with people you have been able to assist," Levy said, noting that familiarity often is more important than party enrollment. "You'd like to have party registration, but the first year or so can be a killer when people don't know you."