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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Decision on Mata's candidacy could impact Islip's Martinez

Giovanni Mata is running for Suffolk County legislator

Giovanni Mata is running for Suffolk County legislator as a Democrat. Photo Credit: Richard T. Slattery

The bitter internecine fight between Democrats in Islip is taking a few surprising turns. Which might be just the kind of excitement voters in Islip need to boost turnout in an off-year election.

First came the decision by freshman Suffolk lawmaker Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood) to give up prime real estate on the November ballot -- her own party's line. The move came after lawyers for Martinez conceded that she didn't have enough valid signatures to qualify for the spot.

The setback doesn't knock Martinez entirely off the ballot, however; she still has two minor party lines, Working Families and Independence.

But that -- along with a decision by the Board of Elections on Friday to validate petitions by newcomer Giovanni Mata -- could end up leaving Martinez in an awkward position.

Instead of facing Mata in a September Democratic primary, she would face him -- as the Democrat on her own party line -- in November's general election.

But Mata is not there yet.

Because established Democrats still are fighting the validity of petitions filed by Mata and the entire slate of insurgent Democrats in state Supreme Court.

Insurgent Democrats are pressing for primaries in county and Islip Town races, saying they want Democratic voters, not party leaders, to decide which candidates make it to November. They also say they're fighting the party in an attempt to improve it -- by making it more inclusive and accepting of Latino and black candidates.

"They show us no respect," said Jorge Guadron, a Central Islip resident and state Democratic committee member who emigrated to the United States from El Salvador in 1980. He wants to run a primary against the party's choice for Islip Town clerk.

Donovan Currey, a Brentwood resident with Jamaican roots who arrived in 1988, and Miriam Ventura, a Central Islip resident who joined her parents in the United States in 1986, are also seeking to run in a primary against their party's choices for Islip Town council.

Montano -- who lost a bitter primary to Martinez two years ago -- is fighting for a primary spot for Islip Town supervisor, while Nitza Franco is aiming for receiver of taxes.

On Friday, Montano, Guadron, Currey and Ventura spent part of the morning waiting outside of a courtroom in Central Islip where a judge -- who would later recuse himself -- had been slated to continue a hearing on petition challenges.

Guadron, Currey and Ventura, in separate interviews, said that no matter the outcome, they would continue to push for change in the local Democratic parties.

"I know everybody thinks this is about a war between Mr. Montano and Mr. Schaffer," Guadron said, referring to Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer. "But not for us, not for me, and Mr. Schaffer would know that if he sat down with us."

But Schaeffer, in an interview, offered a different opinion. "This is really about personalities," he said. "We have done a really good job at working in various communities in Suffolk, and we will continue to do so."

Which, in short, means that neither side is going to back down.

Which means that the fight will go on.

Which means that both sides will continue to attract -- they hope -- attention from Islip residents.

Which could end up being a very good thing.

Because voter turnout, while rising, especially among black and Hispanic Democrats in Islip, traditionally has been low.

Could a good knockdown, drag-out political fight make a difference?


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