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2 church members battle it out in 18th Assembly District

They belong to the same church, but to opposite parties. And the incumbent and challenger are battling it out in the 18th Assembly District, which comprises Hempstead, Uniondale, Roosevelt and parts of Freeport, Lakeview, Merrick, West Hempstead and Baldwin.

Republican candidate Derek L. Partee, 58, a retired Nassau County homicide detective and Hempstead resident, wants to unseat 11-term incumbent Democrat Earlene Hooper, who has served in the Assembly for the past 22 years and is now its deputy speaker.

Partee has his work cut out for him in a district where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by more than three to one. And Hooper has enjoyed high vote margins.


Trying to change minds

Still, he believes he can change enough minds to win by stumping for repealing the MTA payroll tax, capping property tax increases and restoring the STAR property-tax rebate program, among other proposals. Partee, who worked 25 years in law enforcement, also believes he can use his background to obtain federal grants to help local communities fight crime, an area where he believes the incumbent falls short.

"She's been in office for 22 years, and I walk outside my door . . . and I hear shots fired at night," he said. "I see garbage on the streets in Roosevelt-Hempstead. Freeport needs cleaning, and we need new roads. The quality of life that we should be accustomed to or deserve is not there."

And he believes people increasingly are tuning into his message.

"I've had such a groundswell of support, people calling me up, coming out and really encouraging me to run against Earlene," said Partee, who lives in Hempstead Village and has a master's degree in public administration from C.W. Post.

Partee, the underdog, is hoping that the third time is the charm. He lost to Robert Troiano last year to replace embattled County Legis. Roger Corbin in the Nassau Legislature's 2nd District. And also last year he lost a bid to become a Hempstead Village board trustee.

He could find winning this time around even more difficult. He acknowledges that he got a late start because he was recuperating from surgery in March for prostate cancer and had to spend time preparing to testify in the fourth retrial of a murder suspect.

Partee has raised nearly $2,300 so far this year, compared with Hooper's nearly $18,500, according to their state Board of Elections filings. His endorsements include the Freeport Police Benevolent Association and the Tax Revolt Party.


Rough to be an incumbent

He has other avid supporters. One is the former four-term mayor of Hempstead, Republican Jim Garner, who believes that Partee is a "great candidate" and that it's a challenging year for incumbents.

"Anything is possible now, given the political climate out there right now," said Garner, who ran unsuccessfully for a fifth term as mayor last year with Partee on the same ticket. "It's rough to be an incumbent right now."

The minister of the challengers' church, Antioch Baptist Church in Hempstead, isn't taking sides.

"Both are fine people," said the Rev. Phillip E. Elliot, who also heads the Nassau County Office of Minority Affairs.

Hooper, 62, who has a master's degree in social work from Adelphi University, was first elected to the Assembly in 1988, when she was the only minority member serving in the Legislature from a suburban area. She didn't return repeated telephone calls requesting an interview.

Hooper's record on education goes back to 1996, when she supported legislation for the state takeover of Roosevelt schools and has helped secure million of dollars to rescue the district.

Last month she began meeting with union members at the Nassau University Medical Center over complaints about working conditions of doctors, nurses and support staff and promised to work on tougher legislation on their behalf, said Jerry Laricchiuta, president of CSEA Nassau Local 830 in Mineola.

"The few times that we needed to get Ms. Hooper's attention she was very attentive," Laricchiuta said. "She seems to represent her area well and pays attention to the problems in her district."

This year, though, she angered some villagers in Freeport when she introduced a bill that would have allowed Freeport's mayor to appoint an outsider as police chief. She later withdrew the bill.

Newsday reported earlier this year that she spent 249 days in Albany last year, exceeding the 109 days the Assembly speaker spent in the capital. She also had the highest reimbursement for travel, lodging and meal expenses of any state lawmaker in 2009 - $41,680.

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