Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
When first-time candidate Tom Licari agreed to run as a Democrat for Islip supervisor, he never expected a primary challenge. He was the only one the party was able to recruit for the race.
Meanwhile, former Suffolk Legis. Rick Montano, his primary challenger, originally expected to reap a large Latino turnout from another local primary in which Giovanni Mata was taking on Legis. Monica Martinez, who had ousted Montano two years ago. But that windfall vote won't materialize because Martinez gave up the Democratic ballot line in light of petition problems and will seek re-election in November solely on minor party lines.
It means both men face an altered landscape in a supervisor primary in which Montano, 65, a fiery former county lawmaker from Brentwood, will vie against attorney Licari, 62, from the Fire Island community of Kismet, who is backed by a chronically weak town Democratic committee but has the financial and manpower muscle of Rich Schaffer, the Suffolk Democratic chairman.
Licari has given $26,700 of his own money and in-kind donations to the town committee for the campaign. Montano's insurgent slate has only $4,500 and is relying on grassroots efforts.
But Montano, in an elections board lottery, got an unexpected edge by winning row A of the ballot while Licari has Row B. However, running mates for both men are scattered across the ballot, making it difficult to separate the party regulars from the insurgents.
Adding to the uncertainty, the primary, normally held on a Tuesday, is set for Thursday, Sept. 10, to avoid conflicts with Labor Day and Rosh Hashanah. The new date could hurt turnout.
Montano said his slate needs a big turnout to offset the core vote of die-hard party activists aligned with Schaffer. "The other side is trying to ignore the primary to keep the vote down and just bring out party regulars," Montano said. He expressed concern that Schaffer and County Executive Steve Bellone, both from Babylon, will flood the district with county and town workers to get out activists to defeat him.
The former lawmaker also said Licari has no government experience while he has served not only as a lawmaker for a decade, but as an assistant attorney general, a federal prosecutor and former executive director of the county's human rights commission. "I know budgets and how government works and he doesn't," Montano said.
Licari declined a request for an interview, but Islip Democratic chairman Gerard Pallotta criticized Montano without mentioning him by name. "Tom's opponent lost a primary two years ago because his constituents lost faith in his ability to deliver for their community," he said in a prepared statement.
Matt Tighe, Licari's campaign manager, said he "doesn't expect a struggle in the primary" because Licari is running to reform Islip, which he said has been badly managed. He said the candidate walked neighborhoods two or three times a week in July and stepped up his walking to five to six days a week earlier this month. He also said Licari has hit community events such as the Sayville Summerfest and the Holbrook carnival and last weekend packed school supplies for kids at the Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Central Islip.
Licari's first campaign mailing also went out last week to 6,500 prime Democratic voters -- touting his longtime community background and emphasizing the unusual Thursday primary date.
Whoever wins faces an uphill battle against GOP town Supervisor Angie Carpenter, who took over after a dumping scandal at Roberto Clemente Park and other sites led to the exit of, and charges against, several former town officials.
Carpenter said she is ready for whoever wins: "My campaign is based on my qualifications, my experience and the steady hand I bring to the Town of Islip."