Power, gas shortages hamper voter outreach

National Grid workers assess roads that remain completely

National Grid workers assess roads that remain completely blocked in Lattingtown so LIPA will be able to access power lines in the area. (Nov. 2, 2012) (Credit: Danielle Finkelstein)

Superstorm Sandy has upended the traditional push by Long Island's Democratic and Republican parties to mobilize voters this weekend.

Party leaders in Nassau and Suffolk counties say there's no playbook for what they face Saturday and Sunday in organizing the run-up to Election Day.

Hundreds of thousands of households remain without power and phone service, and many residential neighborhoods are still difficult to reach by car or foot because of a gas shortage and downed trees and wires.


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"You have no choice, it's got to be scaled back," Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs said of outreach. "People don't have [landline] phones. I'm out here on the side of my house, talking on my cellphone, hoping it doesn't go out, and I'm sure there are many others like me."

Suffolk Republican chairman John Jay LaValle said he's confident that voters his staff can reach this weekend will be receptive. But he says the circumstances call for sensitivity.

"Obviously, people are more concerned about their family situations right now, and rightfully so," LaValle said. "We're telling people to use your best judgment on where you go."

Even candidates in the most contested races won't be as visible on the trail. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) has been busy with official work such as helping link local governments with federal resources, while GOP challenger Randy Altschuler has been aiding storm-relief efforts, his aides said.

Both parties are concerned with ensuring that their supporters are able to vote Tuesday. Most questions they get relate to whether polling places are accessible, and if they can offer rides.

Jacobs called the storm a "bipartisan catastrophe." Democratic strongholds such as Long Beach and GOP areas, including Islip, may have Election Day issues.

Bishop campaign spokesman Robert Pierce said canvassers and phone-bank workers will be working this weekend, but they'll also dispense information such as phone numbers for local and federal assistance. "We're still doing everything we can to let people know the election is still on," Pierce said.

Altschuler campaign manager Diana Weir said some of her staff has been impacted by the gas shortage and lingering power outages, but that callers will be ready this weekend. "Whatever we're going to get done, we're going to get done diplomatically," she said. "It's safe to say that something like this has never happened a week out from an election."

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