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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Candidates' focus on Long Island good for the region

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy (Nov. 20, 2009)

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy (Nov. 20, 2009) Credit: Newsday / Joseph D. Sullivan

Nassau and Suffolk are awash in Long Islanders seeking higher ground in state and federal offices. And that's not a bad thing. In fact, it can only help Long Island's cause at a state and federal level.

There's former U.S. Rep. Rick Lazio and Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, trying to be governor. Both were in Albany Monday, making their case to the Conservative Party.

Bruce Blakeman, a former presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature, is trying to be senator. Kathleen Rice, the Nassau district attorney, wants to be state attorney general.

Meanwhile, former Assemb. Thomas DiNapoli is working to keep his current job as state comptroller - while U.S. Rep. Steve Israel and former state Sen. Michael Balboni, neither of whom has announced publicly running for U.S. senator or anything, are trying to figure out their next moves. It's odd not seeing Thomas Suozzi, the former Nassau County executive, anywhere in the mix.

And then there are the visits.

Over a 72-hour period, from Saturday to Monday, the region hosted both U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who is seeking to keep the post to which she was appointed by Gov. David A. Paterson, and former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., a Tennessee transplant and might-be opponent in a might-be Democratic primary against Gillibrand.

Both met with local elected officials. And both set aside time to try to meet with any other resident who might be interested.

That was a big deal for Gillibrand, who hasn't been a frequent visitor to these shores, not compared to Sen. Charles Schumer, who somehow always seems to be around.

On Saturday, Gillibrand met with members of the region's nascent black and Hispanic elected officials caucus. And later, with a small group that turned out for a "meet and greet" at the Hempstead library.

Gillibrand got a good reception, which likely was predictable since both county party leaders have endorsed her candidacy.

On Monday, however, Ford had better luck drawing a crowd of elected officials and everyday people to breakfast at the Chateau Briand in Carle Place.

He also got a warm reception from a small theater of students at Westbury High School, where Ford was the Black History Month speaker. Things also went well when he met with a group of senior citizens in Great Neck.

But Ford's barnstorming went for naught later in the afternoon in Babylon, where Richard Schaffer, the Suffolk Democratic chairman, openly declared Ford to be a nice man - but not nice enough to change Schaffer's allegiance to Gillibrand.

Ford, who has yet to announce whether he will run for U.S. Senate, said he chose to come to Long Island, as he went to Buffalo and Syracuse, to hear what voters want.

On Long Island, land of bruising property taxes, the results weren't surprising: "Taxes and jobs," Ford said in an interview. He said voters also want a senator willing to get back and talk to them often.

It's good to be knee-deep in candidates and would-be candidates who know Long Island and who want to get to know Long Island.

Because when it comes to jobs and, especially, to taxes, Long Islanders want - and so desperately need - all the help we can get.

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