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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Optimism creates the perennial candidate

Frank Scaturro poses for a portrait in Garden

Frank Scaturro poses for a portrait in Garden City. Credit: Barry Sloan

Three straight times in the 4th Congressional District, the Nassau GOP powers-that-be have rejected the candidacy of Frank Scaturro.

Scaturro has refused to go away.

With Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) retiring, Republican leaders this cycle support one-time legislative Presiding Officer Bruce Blakeman. So Scaturro, who lost primaries in 2010 and 2012 for the party's line against McCarthy, is running as a long shot, again, in this June's primary.

Ask Scaturro, 41, why he bothers and he earnestly responds that he's struck by the arc of U.S. history, that he looks at the long term, appreciates perseverance, and sees his party, the Republicans, in his home county as sadly steeped in an "authoritarian top-down culture."

Every community has its perennial candidates, who run repeatedly for the same office, or for a different one each season. Insiders and political pros variously dismiss them -- sometimes cynically, sometimes realistically -- as flakes, troublemakers or outliers.

For underdog contestants pursuing House seats this season, the question of "why bother" will prompt each of them to insist that the effort ultimately matters. They'll cite passion, or patriotism, their abilities, the wider fight, or all of these. For the perennials, optimism trumps polling.

Patricia Maher of East Meadow has the Democratic nod to face Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) in the bi-county 2nd Congressional District. That's only after Nassau chairman Jay Jacobs said he deferred to Suffolk chairman Richard Schaffer, who said Maher was the only one to come forward.

With many establishment New York Democrats happy to give King a pass, why would Maher -- who's now run for state Senate, Hempstead Town council, Congress and the Nassau Legislature -- pursue what the smart money rates as another losing proposition?

"I think it's about passion," she said Monday. "You start meeting voters on an individual basis and you think that if you just get elected, you can really help them. I love going door to door."

She won legislative primaries in 2009 and 2011. "I get closer every time," she said. "You have to believe you're going to win."

In the 3rd district, Republican Steve Labate seeks a rematch against Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) after losing to him in 2012 and stepping aside for John Gomez after starting to run in 2010. His current primary rival from Nassau, Grant Lally, opposed ex-Rep. Gary Ackerman twice in the 1990s.

In the 1st district, George Demos has tried twice to secure the nomination against Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton). His GOP rival, state Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), faced Bishop in the 2008 election and lost.

Losing as preface to winning is a treasured American tale.

Abraham Lincoln fell short in eight elections, Maher notes. "He was good president because of all the times he lost," she said.

Scaturro is a lay expert on Ulysses S. Grant. He recalled how, a student at Columbia University in the 1990s, he became a thorn in the side of the U.S. Parks Service by agitating to restore Grant's tomb, which had fallen to neglect and disrepair. He got to see the monument restored, he said, even as federal bureaucrats snubbed him at a ceremony.

That lonely civic fight, steeped in living history, "really defined me as the sort of person I'd be going forward," he said.

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