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Democrats begin floating candidates to replace Denenberg in Senate race

Democratic Legislator Dave Denenberg as he announces run

Democratic Legislator Dave Denenberg as he announces run for the State Senate Thursday March 6, 2014 at the American Legion Post in Seaford. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

A day after Nassau Legis. David Denenberg dropped out of the race in the 8th Senate District following accusations that he defrauded a legal client of $2 million, Democrats began floating names of new candidates for a seat that is critical as both major parties vie for control in the closely divided State Senate.

Top candidates include legislative Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) and Freeport Village trustee Carmen Piñeyro, Democratic officials said Wednesday.

Abrahams lost a Democratic primary in the 4th Congressional District earlier this year to Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice.

Piñeyro waged a brief primary campaign in the 8th Senate District but dropped out after Nassau Democrats endorsed Denenberg.

The Democratic candidate will challenge Nassau Legis. Michael Venditto (R-Massapequa) for the seat, which was vacated last year when Republican Charles Fuschillo retired.

Neither Abrahams nor Piñeyro responded to requests for comment Wednesday. Nassau Democratic Party chairman Jay Jacobs said both were under consideration.

"We're doing the best we can to find the best candidate possible," Jacobs said.

Jacobs plans to nominate Denenberg (D-Merrick) for a yet-undetermined State Supreme Court judgeship on a minor party political line. The practice, used by both parties in recent years, would allow Democrats to replace Denenberg on the November Senate ballot.

Denenberg will accept the nomination but turn down the judicial seat if elected, said his attorney, Bruce Barket.

Michael Dawidziak, a Republican political consultant, said Democrats need "star power" in the 8th District and that Abrahams meets that qualification. "He's certainly a viable candidate," Dawidziak said.

But Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, calculated the Democrats' chances at winning the seat as "less than slim to none."

Levy said Venditto begins the race with big advantages -- a well-known family name (he is the son of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto) and the financial backing of the Nassau and state Republican parties.

"The Democrats have some options on how to proceed," Levy said. "But none are very good."

Denenberg withdrew from the race Tuesday after his former employer, the Garden City law firm of Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, filed a lawsuit accusing him of defrauding a client by billing for "fictitious" services. The firm is seeking $3.6 million from Denenberg, which includes all compensation paid to him from 2006-2014.

The firm referred the allegations to Loretta Lynch, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District. Zugiel Soto, a spokeswoman for federal prosecutors in the Eastern District, declined to comment Wednesday.John Ciampoli, counsel to the Senate RepublicanCampaign Committee, said putting Denenberg on the judicial ballot would constitute a felony -- filing a false instrument with a public agency -- as well a violation of State Board of Election law preventing two or more people from conspiring "to promote or prevent" an election by unlawful means.

"The only explanation for this effort is an attempt to defraud the people and to try pull off a deceitful and cynical switch of candidates," said Ciampoli, a former Nassau County attorney.

Jacobs said Ciampoli's interpretation of the law "is pure nonsense." He added that Denenberg will not run on a Democratic judicial line, eliminating any possible conspiracy.

Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant, said Jacobs is making a mistake putting Denenberg on the judicial ballot. "It makes the process appear corrupt and disgraceful," said Sheinkopf. "It looks like some ridiculous boss rule. The voters won't like it."

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