Adrienne Esposito, a well-known Long Island environmental activist, formally entered the race for State Senate Sunday, saying she wants to expand her focus beyond the environment.
Esposito said she wanted to tackle "working class" concerns, including jobs, property taxes and women's issues such as affordable day care and equal pay. Esposito spoke before a group of about 50 supporters and elected Democrats who came out to support her at an East Patchogue park.
"I want to fight for more things, more solutions," Esposito, 53, of Patchogue, said. Esposito, a registered "blank" -- someone not registered with any party -- is seeking the Democratic line on the ballot. If successful in any Democratic challenge, she would face Conservative Islip Town Board member Anthony Senft, who has Republican backing to fill the upcoming Third District vacancy.
Senft said in an interview Sunday he would eliminate the Common Core standard, wants to focus on jobs, education, tax relief and public safety.
"I'm completely invested in the community," he said.
Esposito said of her potential opponent: "Do we really need another lawyer in Albany, or is it time for a woman activist?"
Senft noted Esposito is also a registered lobbyist. "I'm not sure why being a male lawyer means I'm not qualified."
If elected, Esposito would be the first female state senator from Suffolk.
She said she was not prepared to make an announcement regarding her employment as executive director of the nonprofit Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "We're crafting a plan for the leadership of the organization," she said. "It's all I'm prepared to say."
Republicans called for her to resign her position, which IRS records show paid her $83,500 in total compensation in 2012, the latest year available.
John Jay LaValle, Suffolk Republican chairman, said she was walking a fine line between running a nonprofit that by law has to be nonpartisan, while running for an elected office.
"It's putting yourself at risk and the organization you belong to at risk," LaValle said. "It's inappropriate arrogance."
Suffolk County Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer said Esposito is a known and respected participant in political circles.
"She's pretty much in line with Democratic values," he said.
Esposito has led campaigns against pesticides in drinking water and to clean up pollution sites. But in her remarks Sunday, she tried to broaden her message. She said she wanted to create more construction jobs. "Does that mean I want to pave over Long Island? No," she said. She said there are plenty of downtowns that need revitalization.
Democrat Joe Fritz, 68, and an attorney, also said he is running for the vacant seat. Schaffer said he is neutral on the potential primary, at least until the party's convention in May, but said he's having conversations with Fritz.
Fritz, of Brentwood, said he would have broader appeal. "She spent her entire career dealing with conservation," Fritz said. He said he has a broader experience dealing with civic issues.
Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket), said Esposito, "Has a heart of a lion and a work ethic that will predict how she performs as a state senator."
The Third District seat, which GOP state Sen. Lee Zeldin of Shirley is vacating to run for Congress, is one of three on Long Island that could be crucial to Democrats to tip control from a coalition of state Senate Republicans and dissident Democrats.
Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district, 35 percent to 31 percent.Esposito said she only considered running when Zeldin decided to run for Congress.