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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Rivals see advantage in June primary date

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Harlem) speaks to the media

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Harlem) speaks to the media after the House overwhelmingly voted to censure him on ethics violations. Rangel was convicted on all but one of 13 violations ranging from accepting a rent-stabilized apartment from a Manhattan developer to failing to pay taxes on rental income from his Dominican villa. (Dec. 2, 2010) Credit: AP

One strategist likes to call this spring's congressional primary season the political version of the "short series" in sports.

Like a three-of-five game contest, instead of the full four-of-seven, the June 26 date for New York's federal primaries, versus the customary mid-September date, means a hot contender can more likely score an upset, his thinking goes.

We'll see.

For those just tuning in, a federal judge in late January ordered the June primary date to comply with new requirements assuring sufficient time for absentee ballots mailed to Americans overseas to be returned in time to count. Now the "short series" takes over the election landscape.

The region's best-watched contest pits Democratic Rep. Charles B. Rangel, the New York delegation's dean, who began representing Harlem in 1971, against four challengers. The strongest is widely believed to be state Sen. Adriano Espaillat (D-Manhattan).

Rangel, 81, lost his Ways and Means Committee chairmanship two years ago in an ethics scandal before the GOP won a majority in the House. President Barack Obama urged him to end his four-decade House career "with dignity," which was widely taken as a call to resign. And his district became less African-American. With all that, Espaillat calls for "bold, new ideas."

In New York City, the congressional contests of interest are Democratic primaries. They also include a Brooklyn contest between Assemb. Hakeem Jeffries and ex-City Councilman Charles Barron to succeed retiring Brooklyn Rep. Ed Towns, and a Queens competition among Assembs. Rory Lancman and Grace Meng, and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, to succeed retiring Rep. Gary Ackerman.

On Long Island, the key battles are Republican. With seven weeks left until the June vote -- which also features the three-way GOP primary for U.S. Senate -- candidates have their own calculus of what the "short season" means.

Nassau Legis. Francis X. Becker Jr. sees advantage in the earlier primary. He said concentrating on an intraparty fight into September -- as in 2010, when he lost -- meant "not being able to focus on the true opponent," Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola).

Holding three separate primaries for different purposes this year "causes some chaos in peoples' minds, especially when it comes to getting out the vote," he said. Becker (R-Lynbrook) added that "prime voters" -- those who habitually turn out -- "always seem to know what's going on," and which contest is held when.

Separately, attorney Frank Scaturro, Becker's opponent for the 4th District GOP nomination, said the September primary date in the past left "too little time to focus on the general election cycle," and "protected incumbents by giving them an unfair advantage against challengers."

Scaturro concurred that having the presidential primary on April 24, Senate and Congressional races June 26, and state legislative and local primaries Sept. 11 "is confusing to voters, and it's unfortunate you can't have them all on one day." But, Scaturro said, "I do think it will make it easier to focus on defeating Carolyn McCarthy in November."

In Suffolk, where another GOP rematch is under way for the nomination to face Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) in November, spokesmen for rivals Randy Altschuler, a businessman, and George Demos, former law-enforcement attorney, also predict an advantage to that longer post-primary period. Of course, all hinge their remarks on the presumption it's their candidate who wins the intra-party contest.


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