3rd Assembly District race heads to recount

GOP Assemb. Dean Murray, right. has conceded the

GOP Assemb. Dean Murray, right. has conceded the race for the 3rd District seat to Edward Hennessey, left. (Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan; David Pokress, 2012)

His campaign finance filings show that he spent virtually no money.

Campaign volunteers, who knocked on doors, say his literature consisted of a single sheet with his resume on one side and his ballot position on the other, made on his law office copying machine.

Yet on election night, Republican-turned-Democrat Edward Hennessey was improbably embroiled in Long Island's tightest Assembly race, against GOP incumbent Dean Murray of East Patchogue.

Murray, seeking his second full term, leads Hennessey by only 36 votes. But there are more than 2,200 absentee ballots to be counted, another 600 that could still arrive and the possibility of storm-related provisional ballots. The recount will begin as early as Wednesday, county election officials said.

"It was a complete shock and surprise," said Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer, who like Assembly Democrats put no money into the race.

Murray, 48, who first won office by 169 votes in a 2010 special election, said he never took Hennessey lightly and campaigned hard. "But there was a lot of circumstances that hit all at once like a perfect storm and it really hurt," Murray said.

Murray suspended his campaign for the last 10 days because of superstorm Sandy. "I felt we needed to concentrate on constituents, not the campaign," he said. Murray said many of his strongest areas of support are along the South Shore, where power was out. "A lot of them didn't vote and can you blame them?" he said.

"If the storm hadn't hit I would have been in front of the new supermarket we brought to the area for the residents," Murray said. "Instead, I was running around to gas stations" to help in the emergency.

Murray also said many backers incorrectly believed he had the race locked up. "There was an expectation from a lot of supporters that 'You've got this,' " Murray said. "The lesson to be learned by everyone is that this is never easy and you have to get out there and vote."

However, it was the once-in-a-decade reapportionment that gave Hennessey, 50, who entered the race only in mid-July, a fighting chance. It shifted the 3rd District eastward into areas including Shirley and Mastic that Murray had not represented during his three years in office.

Those are areas where Hennessey and his family are best known.

Hennessey served as a Brookhaven Town Board member from 1994 to 2005, and in his first eight years he held an at-large seat. In his last four years he represented a district that included Mastic and Shirley. Joanne Long Merrill, a volunteer for his Assembly campaign, said, "At a lot of doors where we knocked, they thought Ed was still in office."

Hennessey's late father, Harry, a union leader, represented village workers in Bellport and Patchogue and served as William Floyd school board president.

Hennessey said that even though he changed parties, he never cut ties with Republicans and has kept the support of many within the GOP. But while he was raised within the current district and has his law office there, his home in East Moriches is outside district boundaries, and he would have to move if elected. In a reapportionment year, candidates do not have to live within new district lines.

To help Hennessey, the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee is sending a legal team to get involved in the recount battle. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) has turned over research his campaign did on absentee voters.

Republicans have hired experienced GOP election lawyer Vincent Messina for Murray.

Both sides expressed confidence they will prevail.

"I feel good that I can pull the votes we need," Hennessey said.

But Jesse Garcia, Brookhaven GOP chairman, said, "I feel confident that Dean's numbers will stay the same if not grow."