Retiring Carolyn McCarthy's district has changed
Related mediaNassau DA Kathleen Rice McCarthy won’t seek re-election 1993 LIRR Massacre: 20th anniversary Congresswoman speaks out Carolyn McCarthy's acceptance speech 'Long Island Railroad Massacre' documentary
The successor to retiring Rep. Carolyn McCarthy will inherit a congressional district that's undergone significant change in the time since a newcomer last held the seat.
When McCarthy (D-Mineola) first took office in 1997, Republicans outnumbered Democrats by more than 40,000 in the 4th Congressional District. They now trail in enrollment by nearly the same number.
The Nassau County district also has seen its leading minorities essentially flip, with Latinos increasing from 14 percent to 18 percent of the population since 2000, while the percentage of African-Americans has declined by the same degree.
What hasn't changed is the district's standing as Long Island's most diverse, and most densely populated. District residents, business owners, activists and political experts said their next representative, regardless of party, will have to advocate for issues as diverse as their communities.
"I think this race presents an opportunity for Republicans to step away from the tea party line and find a middle ground to focus on, and for Democrats to do the same," said Sergio Argueta, a Salvadoran-American community organizer from Uniondale. "It's not right or left. It's finding consensus."
In interviews last week across the district, which spans 110 square miles, from Westbury to Long Beach, and Woodmere to Wantagh, residents detailed a number of their key issues. They include gun control and immigration reform in the minority-heavy "corridor" communities of Hempstead and Freeport; federal aid in superstorm Sandy-battered South Shore hamlets such as Merrick; and the economy in the middle-class suburb of East Meadow.
"Small business is really the engine that makes things go, so you really have to be small-business friendly," said John Arigo, who has owned Pietro's, an East Meadow pizzeria, and an adjacent accounting business, for more than 30 years.
Despite an improving economic outlook, Arigo said unemployment is still an issue in the community. He pointed to the home improvement business as one of the top casualties of the recession: "You don't see the Dumpsters in the driveway like you used to."
The Rev. Sedgwick Easley, pastor of the Union Baptist Church in Hempstead Village, called gun control a major issue in his community, and said McCarthy's successor will have to carry on her legacy of fighting to remove guns from the streets.
"You still have to have someone who is concerned with the minority community," said Easley. "We need someone who is going to affect policy and change not just for a few, but everyone."
McCarthy, who announced this month that she wouldn't seek a 10th term, became a nationally known gun control activist in the wake of the 1993 Long Island Rail Road shootings in which her husband was killed and her son seriously wounded. Among those who have expressed interest in succeeding her are Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice, a Democrat; Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray, a Republican; county legislators of both parties, a Democratic village mayor and a GOP attorney.
A population shift
Whoever runs will find a district with a more-than 30 percent minority population, according to the 2010 Census -- similar to its makeup in the 2000 Census, in McCarthy's second term. But the district has undergone notable shifts. Its black population has dropped from 18.2 percent to 14.5 percent since 2000, while the Latino population increased from 13.6 percent to 18 percent.
In the 2012 reapportionment, the district lost most of Elmont, North Valley Stream and South Valley Stream, which have growing minority communities, to the Queens-based 5th District. It gained communities such as Wantagh, Merrick and Bellmore, which are more than 93 percent white.
"This is the only Long Island district where a minority candidate would have a strong base," said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University. "But when you have a Republican Party with a very strong brand and strong potential candidates, they're also capable of winning."
Richard Bivone, who runs several businesses in East Meadow and serves as Nassau chairman of the Long Island Business Council, a trade group, said the new federal health care law will be a major issue across the district.
"It doesn't matter what side of the aisle you're on," Bivone said. "People still don't know how it's all going to work out and what the costs will be."
Seeking Sandy relief
Many homeowners along the South Shore, which experienced heavy damage from superstorm Sandy in 2012, are focused on securing aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that still hasn't come through.
"We need truly local representation on the federal level," said Claudia Borecky, president of the North and Central Merrick Civic Association. "We need someone to address the loopholes that mean people still haven't gotten their help."
Eric Alexander, executive director of Vision Long Island, a nonprofit that promotes smart growth, said, "Clearly, there's been delays in moving the money, and I think communities are speaking up."
Residents of nearby Freeport share an interest in the issues related to Sandy and redevelopment projects, but also are concerned about issues including immigration reform. Latinos now nearly equal the population of whites in the village.
"This isn't just a problem for Latinos," said Gabriela Castillo, an attorney who lives in Freeport and focuses on immigration issues. "But we make up a huge number of the population now, and I think it's going to be key to get someone in there who'll be an advocate for us."