Amid photos from classic films that hang on the walls of Runyon's Roadside Tavern in East Meadow, 27-year-old Nina Petraro Bastardi recently spoke with excitement to a room filled with 20- and 30-something professionals about the election and her hope for the future of the 3rd Legislative District.
"Thank you all for coming and supporting what we stand for," said the Democratic candidate.
Bastardi, a private zoning attorney from Valley Stream, spoke about walking door to door through the district and meeting young people, like herself, who live with their parents because they can't afford their own homes. She is locked in a battle with longtime Republican incumbent Legis. John Ciotti of North Valley Stream.
Bastardi said the housing issue "doesn't resonate with Republicans." She belonged to that party until March, even heading the county's young Republicans Club from 2002 to 2004.
Growing up with Republican, civic-minded parents, Bastardi said, she was taught to get involved. Over time, she said, she realized the GOP isn't the "type of party I want to be involved in. . . . There are no young people or women or people of color in the party now. As a woman, it was hard for me to find a place."
Ciotti, 57, who has served in the legislature for 14 years, said that argument is "absolutely absurd," and he named several people of color and women in office, such as Supervisor Kate Murray. Ciotti said he doesn't think Bastardi has the experience to serve and her campaign literature focuses more on his alleged weaknesses than the issues.
He is also running on the Independence Party line after beating Bastardi in the primary, in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans, 2 to 1.
Ciotti, also an attorney, was elected to the Nassau County Legislature in 1995. He said he was approached to run because he "could stand up to big interests." He said he soon realized that he enjoyed helping people and "giving back."
He sits on nine legislative committees and said even in non-election years he knocks on every door in his district.
"It's the best way to find out what's going on," he said. "Some people may call them complaints, we look at them as issues and try to resolve them."
He said he's never heard more people concerned about taxes and how its driving them out of New York.
Nassau and State Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs echoed the same sentiments about Bastardi. "I think she'll provide a fresh voice and perspective that voters will take to," he said.