Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
How far will candidates go to get an extra line on the November ballot?
Backers of Adrienne Esposito, the Democrats' candidate for the 3rd State Senate District, filed petitions this month for the right to launch a write-in primary candidacy -- formally known as an opportunity to ballot -- to get the Green Party line.
To get the opportunity to ballot, Esposito filed 25 signatures; she needed just 16 to qualify. While the numbers are small, getting the signatures is difficult because there are only 333 Green Party members in the entire district, which runs from Brentwood to Shirley.
"I have a lifetime of experience cleaning up toxic waste sites, which is critically important given the 50,000 tons of toxic waste that was illegally dumped and then ignored by town officials," said Esposito, the longtime executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment.
Backers say Esposito's credentials make her a strong contender to win the line as a write-in, but there's no guarantee of winning. Esposito's name does not appear on the ballot and party members can write in any name they want.
Her GOP opponent, Islip Supervisor Tom Croci, while touting his own environmental record, said he will not seek the Row F ballot line. "He already has the red, white and blue lines," said Croci spokeswoman Christine Geed, referring to the GOP, Conservative and Independence lines. "So he is leaving the Green Party line to his opponent."
Esposito is not alone in seeking extra ballot lines. In Nassau, many Republican Assembly, State Senate and congressional candidates are using the Tax Revolt ballot line, a tea party-esque name the local GOP has used since Edward Mangano produced 5,900 votes on it in his 2009 county executive race, which he won by 400 votes.
Joseph Mondello, Nassau GOP chairman, said the line, which was his brainchild, hasn't just sustained strength but performed even better over the years. "It taps into the public anger about taxes . . . something people in Nassau are very concerned about," he said.
Getting those minor-party ballot lines requires a minimum of 3,000 signatures in a State Senate race and 1,500 for an Assembly contest -- far more than the 1,000 signatures in a Senate race and 500 for an Assembly contest needed for a major party line. Because of the large numbers needed, Democrats successfully sued during this election cycle to knock several Republicans off ballot lines over signatures.
Meanwhile, Esposito and Democrats Adam Haber and David Denenberg, who also are in key Nassau State Senate contests, filed petitions for a Women's Equality ballot line, a statewide Democratic initiative. And in Suffolk, Republican Assemb. Al Graf of Holbrook and former Assemb. Dean Murray, also a Republican, have successfully circulated petitions for the Stop Common Core ballot line, to capitalize on the anger from conservatives, parents and teachers over the education initiative.
Michael Dawidziak, a political consultant who works mainly for Republicans, said such lines are important in two ways. One is that die-hard party activists, who do not feel comfortable crossing over to the Republican or Democratic line, might vote for a candidate on a nonpartisan line.
The other, he said, is to tap a bloc of voters passionate about a single issue who might not even turn out to vote if not energized. "You don't have to attract huge numbers, but even if you get 10 percent, as the cliche goes, in a close race every vote counts," he said.
Paul Sabatino, a former Suffolk chief deputy county executive, said lines such as Stop Common Core may be effective this year because some voters are angry with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, some feel disenfranchised by major parties, and Suffolk's minor parties have been tainted by bad publicity.
However, he said he doubted the Women's Equality line would have much impact: "It seems too much, 'been there done that,' " he said.
Former Suffolk County Executive Patrick Halpin, a Democrat, countered that the Women's Equality line will attract women who are concerned about issues such as pay equity and abortion rights and are upset that the GOP "is trying to turn back the clock to the 1950s."
He warned there could be an unintended impact. "If they get 50,000 votes statewide," he said, "all of a sudden, you've created another minor party."