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Steven Rhoads defeats Rita Kestenbaum in bid to fill David Denenberg's seat in Nassau Legislature

A personal attorney and Wantagh Fire Department captain defeated a former Hempstead Town Board member in a special election Tuesday to fill the Nassau legislative seat vacated last month by David Denenberg, who resigned after pleading guilty to mail fraud.

In the 19th District, Republican Steven Rhoads, 46, defeated Democrat Rita Kestenbaum, 56, by a margin of 58 percent to 41 percent, according to the county board of elections.

"I am humbled and excited by the trust that the people of the 19th District have placed in me," Rhoads said. "I plan to work very hard to justify that trust."

Kestenbaum said she "ran a great campaign but was very disappointed" with the results.

Turnout was 10 percent -- or more than 5,600 total votes cast -- considerably higher than recent special elections in Districts 2 and 12, said Nassau Democratic Board of Elections Commissioner David Gugerty.

District 19 -- covering Bellmore, Freeport, Merrick, North Bellmore, North Merrick, Seaford and Wantagh -- has 22,355 registered Republicans, 16,697 Democrats and 12,270 unaffiliated voters, according to the county elections board. Both candidates live in Bellmore.

Rhoads, a lawyer at Grey & Grey in Farmingdale, previously worked as a deputy bureau chief of the Bureau of Torts and Civil Rights Legislation at the Nassau County attorney's office. He has been a member of the Wantagh Fire Department for 22 years. During the campaign, Rhoads, who ran unsuccessfully against Denenberg in 2005 and 2013, pledged to hold down property taxes to keep young people and seniors from moving away.

Kestenbaum became a gun-control activist after her daughter, Carol, a student at Arizona State University in Tempe, and a friend were killed in 2007 after returning to Carol's off-campus home from a birthday party. The women were killed by an Arizona State student who then took his own life. Kestenbaum, a Hempstead Town Board member in 1999-2000, now runs a nonprofit foundation that she started in her daughter's memory.

Kestenbaum touted her advocacy for victims of superstorm Sandy and pledged to help home and business owners get reimbursements from the state and private insurance companies. Kestenbaum's home sustained about $100,000 in damage from the 2012 storm.

Kestenbaum raised more than $5,700 to date, according to campaign spokesman Andrew Mulvey. Rhoads raised $6,500, according to state Board of Elections records.

Rhoads will serve through the end of the year and can seek a full term in November. Kestenbaum said she will run again in November.

Republicans now hold an 12-7 advantage in the legislature.


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