Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
Suffolk County Water Authority chairman James Gaughran said Tuesday he is “leaning toward” making a run for state Senate against 20-year Republican incumbent Carl Marcellino.
The potential candidacy of the former Huntington Town board member and Suffolk legislator, surfaced a week after Assemb. Todd Kaminsky won a special election in Nassau for the seat of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who was convicted of federal corruption charges last year.
Gaughran’s interest in the race came to light after he circulated an email to more than a dozen longtime backers asking for advice on his potential candidacy.
He said in a subsequent interview that he will make a “final decision” on the 5th District race “within a few weeks.”
“Nassau and Suffolk families have had enough of corruption and backroom deals,” Gaughran wrote in the email. “Throughout my career in public service I have always fought for ethical reforms and I am certainly not afraid to take on the special interests in Albany to bring real ethical change.”
In the interview, he said he and Kaminsky could “become a team for ethical reform” if he decides to run and wins.
Kathy Wilson, a Marcellino spokeswoman, said “the senator has always put his record forward and leaves it for the voters to decide. He’s done a great job.”
In his email, Gaughran accused the GOP-controlled Senate of cutting deals with New York City interests to fund universal pre-K while shortchanging Long Island. He said Manhattan billionaires have funneled money to city charter schools at the expense of aid for Long Island school districts.
“And despite all the rhetoric, the MTA tax still exists,” Gaughran said.
Gaughran, 59 of Northport, served as a town and county elected official from 1983 to 1992. He ran unsuccessfully against then-Senate Majority Leader Ralph Marino at a time when voter registration tilted heavily Republican. Gaughran lost a 2014 race for Suffolk County comptroller race against former Suffolk Legis. John Kennedy, a Republican.
The 5th District has 76,058 registered Democrats and 71,836 Republicans. Large turnout in presidential years tends to help Democrats, although some warn that Republican Donald Trump’s candidacy could make the Senate contest unpredictable.
Rich Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said Gaughran would make a “a terrific candidate,” given his work as water authority chairman and as a town and county elected official.
But Schaffer said Gaughran “needs to take a very hard look at the race,” because of the possible impact on candidates this year of allegations of illegal fundraising activities by a team with ties to Mayor Bill de Blasio. De Blasio has said “everything was done legally and properly.”
Jay Jacobs, Nassau Democratic chairman, urged Gaughran to run, saying “Jimmy’s our guy.” If he makes the race, Gaughran would join former Nassau County executive candidate Adam Haber, who is running for the seat of exiting GOP state Sen. Jack Martins, and Ryan Cronin, who is running again after losing a close race to Republican Sen. Kemp Hannon four years ago.