No Long Island congressional contender has been on the campaign trail longer than the Suffolk Legislature’s Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory, who announced his candidacy 16 months ago. But so far, no one has gotten less attention.
Early on, Gregory’s bid was overshadowed by heated primaries won by former Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi and former Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst.
The Amityville Democrat, 47, also is facing 23-year GOP congressional veteran Peter King, 72, a blue-collar favorite and outspoken expert on homeland security who is a regular on cable and network news shows.
King also has a huge fundraising edge. While Gregory says he’s raised nearly $300,000, he has only $65,000 cash on hand heading to November. King has more than $3 million to spend.
Even National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Chris Pack concedes that he has not lobbed a single political mortar Gregory’s way.
“Peter King is a fantastic bipartisan representative who will serve Long Island families for as many terms as he wants,” Pack said.
Backers say Gregory has the capacity to make news as Suffolk’s legislative leader, and would be the first black House member from a majority-Long Island district. Suffolk also makes up 70 percent of the district, and Democrats have an enrollment edge: 161,000 to 157,000 for Republicans. The 2nd Congressional District is 30 percent black and Hispanic.
Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said the low-key Gregory should not be discounted.
“This is a sleeper race,” said Schaffer. “He’s slow and steady, but that approach can win the race, especially in a high-turnout presidential year where demographics and registration are on his side.”
Schaffer said money is not as crucial when the turnout is going to be heavy and public unrest is palpable. “I’m sure no incumbent feels comfortable,” he added.
But John Jay LaValle, Suffolk Republican chairman, said Gregory has run a lackluster race.
“He’s not risen to the occasion, raised the money or shown the passion he needs,” said LaValle. “Looking forward, political leaders and supporters will be very wary about his capacity to take his career to the next level.” While King is a national figure, LaValle said, “he is always focused on the local constituents.”
Despite King’s name recognition, Gregory says the Seaford Republican is too conservative for the district on issues such as abortion rights and gun control. He also said King has suffered political damage for backing GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump.
“King has gone on TV and supported some of Trump’s worst antics,” said Gregory. “When you are defending the indefensible it’s going to work against you.”
King says he takes Gregory seriously, saying “he has a potential to break through” with voters. King also said he does not expect Trump or Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to impact the race, although that is “a wild card.”
King said he hopes voters will continue to back him. “I get the job done,” he said. “No congressman has done more for Long Island in the last 30 years. And you always know where I stand.”
While conceding it is an uphill battle, Gregory says he believes he can win this year, stressing that he is not using the contest to prepare for a future run should the seat open up.
But should Gregory lose, Schaffer said, “DuWayne will have first crack because he stepped up . . . Johnny-come-latelies don’t score well in my book.”