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Democrats jockey to replace Rep. Steve Israel

Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) speaks outside Great Neck

Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) speaks outside Great Neck South Middle School in Great Neck on Friday, Oct. 16, 2015. Credit: Steve Pfost

The crowded field of Democrats seeking to replace Rep. Steve Israel met face-to-face in a summit this week as party leaders listened to their pitches on what they bring to the race and what opponents could use against them.

Financier Todd Richman, for example, said his ties to Wall Street might not be popular.

Democratic donor Laurie Scheinman envisioned drones zooming in with video over her multiple homes.

Democratic National Committeeman Robert Zimmerman acknowledged he once endorsed possible GOP congressional candidate Jack Martins for re-election to the State Senate.

Not present and never mentioned at the meeting was the person some political pros would most like to see in the race — North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth.

Within hours of the summit, Bosworth’s name surfaced. Some party officials are hoping talk of her possible candidacy might begin to clear out the dozen hopefuls in the hunt — and more important, ward off a primary from former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi.

Suozzi is the main concern because he is the highest-profile contender with a proven ability to raise campaign cash — but also the most baggage.

He raised property taxes by 20 percent in his first year in office and imposed a home heating oil tax in his second term. He was ousted by Republican Edward Mangano in 2009 and lost by a wide margin when he challenged Mangano in 2013 — with voter fatigue evident mainly in Suozzi’s own party.

Those worried about Suozzi’s electability see Bosworth, a popular two-term incumbent, as a strong candidate with few negatives who comes from a town that makes up a third of the North Shore 3rd District.

“Steve [Israel] doesn’t want to go into the sunset leaving behind a loss in his district,” said one party official who did not want to be identified. “So they put the word out to see if it can get some leverage. It’s a ‘Hail Mary’ pass but I’m not sure anyone’s going to catch,” the official said of Bosworth.

The problem is that Bosworth, 68, never put her own name forward for the congressional contest and enjoys being supervisor. So far she has been mum on her intentions.

Jay Jacobs, Nassau Democratic chairman, said Bosworth would be a potent contender. “If Judi runs, I believe she clears the field,” he said. “It would be foolish to think anyone could beat her in a primary.”

While Suozzi agrees Bosworth is a strong candidate, he would not say whether her entry would mean his exit. “The more the merrier,” he said.

Suozzi said he is proud of his record. He said disgruntled voters don’t want candidates who are blank slates and will back those who take stands on issues such as the state property tax cap and fighting Albany corruption.

“There are people in politics today who only want candidates with no records who then go to Washington and don’t take any tough stands so they can be re-elected,” Suozzi said. “If doing the right thing becomes an electoral handicap, our country is doomed.”

Few see Suozzi, who won the county executive’s job by way of a primary, and once lost a kamikaze gubernatorial primary against Eliot Spitzer, stepping aside for anyone. Yet had Suozzi stepped aside for Spitzer, he could have joined his slate as lieutenant governor or attorney general and be governor today.

Local party leaders, meanwhile, have yet to plot their next step.

“It’s like a stew; you’ve got to let it simmer,” Jacobs said. “It’s one thing to sit in your kitchen and say how wonderful it would be to be in Congress, but it’s quite sobering when you look at the armies that are massing against you.”

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