Congresswoman-elect Kathleen Rice's surprisingly slim margin of victory last week came from votes cast in Nassau's mostly black and Hispanic communities.
Voters from five communities -- Hempstead, Lakeview, New Cassel, Roosevelt and Uniondale -- gave Rice a net 12,521 votes in her contest with Republican Bruce Blakeman. She beat Blakeman, who was the county legislature's first presiding officer, by 8,777 votes -- 52.6 percent to 47.24 percent -- districtwide.
Voter turnout overall in the 4th Congressional District -- as well as just about everywhere else during this off-year election -- was low.
But unofficial election results show that the lopsided split in many minority communities helped put Rice, the Nassau district attorney, over the top last Tuesday.
Rice got 88 percent of votes cast in Hempstead, 91 percent in Lakeview, 90 percent in New Cassel, 93 percent in Roosevelt and 88 percent in Uniondale. She also did well in Freeport, garnering 73 percent of the vote. The most Blakeman racked up was almost 84 percent -- and that was in one community, Lawrence.
"The splits [in black and Hispanic communities] mattered," Eric Phillips, a spokesman for Rice's campaign, said Friday.
Rice attended a number of events in the communities during the campaign, and sought out endorsements from prominent residents including Robert Troiano, a former Nassau County lawmaker who is now director of operations for North Hempstead.
"Knowing the community, and knowing how we get out the vote in Westbury and New Cassel, she came to us," Troiano said. He and others spent an hour interviewing Rice on where she stood on issues, such as education, that are important to the communities.
Do Rice's big margins in mostly black and Hispanic communities mean voters of color are gaining more clout as demographics in Nassau and Suffolk change?
"In a race that ended up being quite close, those votes appear to have made all of the difference," said Daniel Altschuler of Make the Road New York, which, along with New York Communities for Change and the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, directed get-out-the-vote efforts in several communities in the 4th.
But voter turnout, while growing in some black and Hispanic neighborhoods, nonetheless was low. Tuesday's turnout hovered at about 25 percent in five of the minority communities where Rice did well. Overall, turnout in the race was 32.3 percent, according to Nassau's elections board.
"The question for leaders in communities of color is what's in it for" their communities, said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies. "That's going to be the question for Long Island and other suburban communities as they become more diverse."
William Biamonte, Nassau's Democratic elections commissioner, and county Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), the minority leader, were among many Nassau officials who questioned the accuracy of minority voter turnout numbers.
Abrahams, who ran unsuccessfully against Rice in the 4th District Democratic primary in June, said, "When I campaigned, I would say that maybe in 15 percent of the places I went in the CD [congressional district], the voters had moved. We have more different kinds of housing in our communities, so we have more voter migration."
He and Troiano, however, said they were pleased that more black, Latino and immigrant communities are participating in politics, from endorsing candidates -- as The Corridor Counts, an activist group with members from several communities, has done -- to holding elected officials accountable.
"In New Cassel/Westbury, we see that being politically active leads to being governmentally active, which leads to benefits for the community," Troiano said.