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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Long Island's candidates are knocking. Will you let them in?

People line up to vote early at the

People line up to vote early at the American Legion Post 1273, October 31, 2020 in Wantagh, N.Y. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Knock, knock.

Who's there?

Just about every candidate seeking your vote for office this fall.

And they're doing anything, and everything to get your attention.

These days, they have too.

No one party has a lock on Long Island, which leaves major parties pitching for every vote they can get.

And then there's the rise of the blanks with no party affiliation, who decide candidate by candidate rather than by political party.

There are other reasons, too.

The mailbox was a surefire way to get candidate materials before voters.

No more.

Now, it's email; or websites; or texts; or videos; or commercials that stream via the web rather than on a single broadcast or cable station.

"Candidates have to do everything now, because there's no one way to get their message to voters," said Michael Dawidziak, who has consulted with Republican and Democratic candidates for political office.

"Even then," he said, "just because something comes in, doesn't mean that people are going to read or watch it."

Or for that matter, even come to the door when candidates walk their districts.

What about political signs, which seem to be ubiquitous?

Voters tend to pay more attention to those cropping up on neighbors' lawns, rather than those lining roadways, Dawidziak said.

"I tell my clients, 'Think, you saw a lot of signs when you were driving today, do you remember any of them?'"

There've been a few other changes, and we'll get to them in a bit.

But first: It's campaign season on Long Island.

And early voting starts on Oct. 23, a few weeks from now.

Three of the more interesting races on Long Island are:

Nassau County executive — where incumbent Democrat Laura Curran is running against Bruce Blakeman, a Republican Hempstead Town Board member who was the Nassau County Legislature's first presiding officer.

Suffolk County district attorney — where incumbent Democrat Tim Sini is up against Ray Tierney, a former federal and Suffolk County prosecutor and an independent who is running on the Republican line.

Nassau County district attorney — where Democratic state Sen. Todd Kaminsky, of Long Beach, is running against Republican Anne Donnelly, a 32-year career prosecutor.

There are legions of other offices up for grabs, too, including supervisor in the towns of Huntington; Babylon; Smithtown; Hempstead; North Hempstead; Oyster Bay; Riverhead; East Hampton; Southampton; and Shelter Island.

The county legislatures in both Nassau and Suffolk are up this year. So are the Suffolk County sheriff, Glen Cove mayor and the Long Beach City Council, which wields considerable power in a municipality that has an appointed city manager, rather than an elected mayor.

Then there are town council members, and trustees, and clerks and other offices.

And please don't forget the judges.

But here's the thing.

Elections in this, and other off years, rarely generate excitement enough to move the masses to the voting booth.

And that's too bad.

"These are the people who make the decisions that polls say residents care about most," Dawidziak said.

"They decide on taxes, and land use and roads and a lot of other things that impact residents every single day," he said.

Local candidates — or those with access to polling data at least — tend to structure the themes of their campaigns on what they believe will resonate most with potential voters.

In Nassau's county executive race, for instance, Republicans are trying to tie Curran to high taxes, while Curran is faulting Republicans for foot-dragging on her plan to give many residents $375 payments from the county's federal COVID-19 relief funds.

Then there's the strategy of going negative.

That, Dawidziak said, has changed over the years, too.

"It used to be that candidates waited until the final days of a campaign to send out negative materials," he said, noting that going negative against an opponent, usually via a mailing, often signaled that a candidate was in trouble.

Now, the idea is to get out quickly and define an opponent — before the opponent makes that move first.

As a result, residents may see more negative campaigning early on in the season, as candidates attempt to define each other.

One example: In the Suffolk district attorney's race, Tierney is scheduling weekly news conferences, during which he intends to attack Sini for not being aggressive enough in fighting crime.

After Tierney held his first such event last Wednesday, a Sini spokesman said it was inappropriate for the office to discuss a political news conference.

But with candidates kicking up dust to get attention any which way they can, how are Long Islanders supposed to choose?

"Voters are going to have to work, and sift and sort through what's coming at them," Dawidziak said. "That could mean checking claims or doing other research."

There's time for that.

And, beginning with early voting, time enough to get to the polls, too.

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