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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Kathleen Rice, Jay Jacobs spar over endorsements in special election

Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs is shown on

Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs is shown on Nov. 5, 2013. Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice appears on Nov. 4, 2014. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas, Howard Schnapp

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) and Nassau County Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs are skirmishing anew. The backdrop this time is one of a pair of special county legislative elections tomorrow, but this intraparty rift began during Rice's tenure as district attorney.

In the 19th Legislative District, Republican Steve Rhoades and Democrat Rita Kestenbaum, both of Bellmore, are vying for the seat occupied for 15 years by David Denenberg (D-Merrick), who resigned upon pleading guilty in January to four felony mail-fraud counts related to the bilking of a client of Denenberg's former law firm.

Both candidates have secured endorsements. Sen. Charles Schumer and former Rep. Carolyn McCarthy are backing fellow Democrat Kestenbaum, for example, while the Nassau Police Benevolent Association, other public-employee unions and Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) support Rhoades.

Rice, as the new local House member, is declining to endorse. Her political spokesman Eric Phillips said Friday "she has been busy and focused on the district" and superstorm Sandy-related issues and "just feels it is not the right time to get involved in a local race." Since county legislators will be running again in November, he said she will consider endorsements "as they develop throughout the summer and then the fall."

Jacobs called that "a mistake for a political figure, an elected member of Congress, not to support fellow Democrats. Frankly, . . . [other Democrats] managed to do it -- and I don't think it interferes with her governmental duties." He noted Rice is hosting a fundraiser March 19 "so she'll be doing some politics for herself."

Then Rice, via Phillips, slammed Jacobs outright. The spokesman said: "Kathleen Rice very rarely agrees with Jacobs' political judgment -- and it's fair to say that this is partly why she's found so much success amid a decade of Nassau Democratic setbacks."

Jacobs replied: "This isn't about my political judgment but whether, as a Democrat, you support and help other Democrats -- and whether you repay all the Democrats who have helped you in the past. Apparently that's not her priority -- and I think that's a mistake."

Rice's scrapes with party leaders included her handling, as district attorney, of a politically charged arrest in 2013. Four years earlier, friction arose when she looked to accept GOP cross-endorsement for re-election, which she ultimately didn't do.


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