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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Rep. Kathleen Rice had to adjust from DA to House member

From left, Reps. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), Kathleen Rice

From left, Reps. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), Joseph Crowley (D-Woodside) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) at LaGuardia Airport on Feb. 24, 2015. Ending her first year, Rice says she helped break through the "gridlock." Photo Credit: Uli Seit

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) acknowledges it was a “truly big transition” from holding an executive post as Nassau district attorney to serving as one of 435 members of the House of Representatives, with Democrats the minority.

Was it frustrating to dwell among the “outs”? “No question about that,” she says at the close of her first year shuttling between the 4th Congressional District and Washington.

But Rice, 50, says she’s made gains in “breaking through the gridlock” as discussed in her campaign last year — and lists among successes measures to create job opportunities for veterans and improve airport security screening.

She drew intense fire and protests from within her party early on for supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which many in organized labor denounced as a corporate deal that would crush American jobs.

“People felt betrayed,” says a well-known New York labor activist who preferred not to be identified. “I believe she underestimated the reaction.” Talk of a primary challenge ensued.

For her part, Rice says: “I have always been and always will be an advocate for working families and organized labor,” and she keeps open lines of communication with the union movement.

So far her re-election prospects look strong. No rivals have emerged for next November — either within the Democratic or Working Families parties, or from the Republicans.

By contrast, the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is hammering away at the only other first-termer in the Long Island delegation, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley). Two prospective opponents have been vying for months for the nomination against him.

One difference: Rice succeeded Carolyn McCarthy, a Democrat, while Zeldin’s unseating of Tim Bishop, another veteran Democrat, marked a Republican gain. Also, in a presidential year, with turnout at a peak, the Democrats see opportunities to gain ground.

Recovery from superstorm Sandy, meanwhile, persists as her biggest constituent-service challenge, Rice says.

And Rice, who co-chaired Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s short-lived corruption commission, hails U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for showing in 2015 through the prosecutions of ex-legislative leaders Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos that two of the state’s three most powerful figures “were not working on behalf of New Yorkers.”

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