Democratic Rep. Steve Israel’s surprise decision not to seek re-election has stunned local party leaders, and Democrats plan to meet in the next two weeks to try to head off a primary among nearly a dozen party members interested in seeking the Third District seat.
“It’s going to be some ordeal,” said Jay Jacobs, Nassau Democratic chairman. He noted that candidates face a March 8 deadline to begin circulating nominating petitions for a possible June 28 congressional primary.
Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said party officials want to give all interested contenders a chance to present their case to party leaders and hope to come up with a consensus nominee.
Jon Kaiman, chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, called the race “an exciting proposition” and said he is “looking at it very seriously.”
He added, “You’d love to be the guy without a primary, but anyone going in has to do it with eyes wide open and be prepared for a fight.”
Political experts warned that unless party leaders can unite behind a contender with a political base and the ability to raise funds quickly, a multicandidate primary is more likely.
“If you are a pitcher in the minor leagues, who wouldn’t want to move up to the majors because a seat in Congress doesn’t open up very often,” said Michael Dawidziak.
Veteran Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone and former Suffolk Legis. Jon Cooper also surfaced Wednesday as the latest possible contenders.
Others include former Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi; Robert Zimmerman, a Democratic national committee member who runs a Great Neck public relations firm; state Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove); North Hempstead Councilwoman Anna Kaplan; Suffolk legislators William Spencer (D-Centerport) and Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills), who is term limited.
Democrats have a 41,000 voter edge in the district. Nassau has the largest part, with 253,700 voters, 159,000 live in Suffolk and 66,800 in Queens.
David “Bull” Gurfein, a retired U.S. Marine lieutenant colonel from Manhasset, formally announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination Wednesday, saying he already has raised $250,000 for the race.
Other potential GOP candidates include Assemb. Andrew Raia, of East Northport, Assemb. Chad Lupinacci, of South Huntington, Eugene Cook, a Huntington Town board member, and Suffolk Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga).
The Republican with probably the strongest district base, State Sen. Jack Martins, of Old Westbury, said he was “strongly considering a run.”
Democrats say a Martins congressional candidacy could create concerns among GOP officials who are trying to hang onto a narrow State Senate majority, following the conviction of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) on federal corruption charges.
Democrats, who have a significant voter registration edge in the senate district, have named Assemb. Todd Kaminsky, of Long Beach, as their candidate in a special election to succeed Skelos.
O’Brien Murray, a Martins strategist, downplayed the concern, noting that Martins in his last election easily beat heavily self-funded Democrat Adam Haber. Scott Reif, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport), also expressed confidence that Long Island’s all-GOP senate delegation will hold.
“We are going to win all nine seats on Long Island this year because no one wants to go back to the time when New York City Democrats controlled our entire state government and enacted the MTA payroll tax,” Reif said.
Reif said Flanagan, who lives in Israel’s district, has no interest in running for Congress.