Democratic activist files for primary challenge

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Veteran Democratic activist Joseph Fritz filed petitions Thursday to challenge environmentalist Adrienne Esposito in a Sept. 9 party primary in the highly competitive 3rd State Senate District.

Fritz, 69, a Brentwood lawyer, said he delivered petitions with 1,404 signatures to the Suffolk Board of Elections in Yaphank, more than the 1,000-signature minimum needed. Fritz said he had 20 volunteers helping him but collected more than 500 signatures himself.

"This shows we have broad-based support and the most important issue right now is that she is not a Democrat," he said.

Esposito, executive director of the nonprofit Citizens Campaign for the Environment, earlier in the week filed 2,200 signatures. She is not registered in any political party, but Richard Schaffer, the Suffolk Democratic chairman, has authorized her to run on the Democratic line in a primary. Esposito, 53, of Patchogue, also has the support of the Democratic State Senate Campaign Committee and the Working Families Party.

Party sources say Senate Democrats will review Fritz's petitions to determine if there are grounds for a challenge.

Esposito called Fritz's bid a "minor distraction" that will not affect her campaign. "The public is looking for a new candidate with energy, intelligence and dedication to solve problems and move forward," she said.

Republicans also filed petitions with 2,300 signatures for Conservative Anthony Senft, an Islip Town board member, to be the GOP candidate for the seat. The seat is open because incumbent state Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) is running for Congress.

Suffolk Republican leaders Thursday also gave Senft formal authorization as a nonparty member to run on the GOP line. "We are prepared to move forward with him," said Jesse Garcia, Brookhaven Republican chairman, though party sources say Senate Republicans are worried about the potential effect of Islip's toxic dumping scandal on Senft's chances.

The Democratic primary would pit Esposito, for nearly two decades a major player on regional environmental issues but a first-time candidate, against party stalwart Fritz, who has run five times dating back to 1975, an era when Republicans dominated Suffolk. "I ran when it wasn't fashionable for a Democrat. Now there's a whole new playing field," he said.

Fritz has run twice for county legislature, and in 1993 ran against former GOP Islip Supervisor Peter McGowan. He also ran races for Islip Town board and district court judge and won election to the Brentwood school board, where he served for three years.

State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), chairman of the Senate Democrats' campaign committee, said Fritz's past runs and party activism are not the issue. "What is most important is that the opportunity to make this a Democratic seat is not lost," he said. "Adrienne Esposito is an esteemed leader on environmental issues, which is very important on Long Island. . . . She gives us the best chance to win in November."

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