Democratic primary candidates for the 3rd Congressional District (clockwise from...

Democratic primary candidates for the 3rd Congressional District (clockwise from top left): Melanie D'Arrigo, Jon Kaiman, Joshua Lafazan, Robert P. Zimmerman and Reema Rasool. Credit: James Escher; Debbie Egan-Chin

It’s the most wide-open of the congressional primaries on Long Island: a five-way Democratic battle with no clear favorite, no single defining issue and no sure sense of who will come out to vote in the fourth week of August.

It’s the fight to replace Rep. Tom Suozzi of Glen Cove in the 3rd Congressional District, which runs from a sliver of northeast Queens to all of Nassau County’s North Shore and dips south along the Nassau-Suffolk border to Massapequa Park.

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It features community organizer Melanie D’Arrigo, former North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman, county Legis. Joshua Lafazan, businesswoman Reema Rasool and Democratic National Committee member and longtime public relations executive Robert P. Zimmerman.

“It’s the marquee race” on Long Island, said Lawrence Levy, dean of Hofstra University’s National Center for Suburban Studies.

“This would be an unusually competitive primary for a congressional seat anywhere, but particularly on Long Island where elected officials tend to stay in office,” Levy said. “That it’s an open seat is, of course, is why it’s so competitive. But it also reflects divisions within the Democratic Party.”

recommended readingSee primary results from Congress, State Senate races

The five say they support a number of similar issues, backing gun safety, protecting abortion rights and fighting climate change. Bruce Gyory, a political consultant and former adviser to two New York governors, said there is probably “very little disagreement in how they would vote on bills that reach the House floor.”

But the five clearly are targeting different “lanes” within the party, he and other analysts have said.

“Zimmerman is the traditional Democratic liberal. Kaiman is the centrist,” Gyory said. “Lafazan tends toward the conservative side of the base. D’Arrigo is the pure progressive. Rasool is targeting the emerging communities.”

“So a big question will be: Who can cultivate enough voters to say, ‘Yeah, I like their approach,’” Gyory said.

Zimmerman, 67, of Great Neck has lined up an array of high-profile and heavy-hitter endorsements, including the AFL-CIO and at least nine other unions, former Sen. Hillary Clinton, the LGBTQ Victory Fund and the Queens County Democratic Committee.

Kaiman, 60, of Great Neck, can make a case for having the highest name recognition in the district because he led North Hempstead town for five terms. While he doesn’t have as much union backing as Zimmerman, he recently won the endorsement of 32BJ, the union of building maintenance, janitorial and custodial workers. It is widely regarded as having one of the best political operations among New York unions.

“They have a very well-honed and sophisticated get-out-the-vote operation,” Gyory said.

Lafazan, 28, of Woodbury, had a slight money advantage as of the end of July, having raised $1.5 million, just ahead of Zimmerman’s $1.2 million. He was the first out with an ad and he has Suozzi’s endorsement, even using the “common sense Democrat” tag that Suozzi used in his unsuccessful gubernatorial run.

Rasool, 43, of Jericho, has been emphasizing her status as the first South Asian to be on the ballot in the 3rd Congressional District. Though she trails her rivals in fundraising, with $82,946 total, she has been pushing grassroots efforts to get out supporters.

D’Arrigo, 41, of Port Washington, says she has the most endorsements from organizations, including the Long Island Progressive Coalition and the Working Families Party. She backs a 2% wealth tax on individuals making more than $50 million annually.

D’Arrigo sought to use a recent online debate to distinguish herself from the field and cast doubts about Lafazan.

In a forum hosted by Schneps Media and amNewYork, D’Arrigo criticized Lafazan for changing his voter enrollment from independent to Democrat just months ago and for accepting the Conservative Party endorsement when he ran for county legislature.

D’Arrigo also questioned why Lafazan sponsored legislation in 2021 that would have made county police and first responders a “protected class” under Nassau’s human rights law and allow them to sue when they face “discrimination” from protesters.

Then-County Executive Laura Curran vetoed the bill after the state attorney general’s office said it might not hold up constitutionally and that there already were existing state protections for police and first responders.

Lafazan said his intent was to help protect police and, once the attorney general weighed in, he listened and decided not to support a veto override.

That prodded Zimmerman to jump in and say Lafazan failed to meet with black leaders and gay and lesbian groups who strongly opposed the legislation, saying it would curtail free speech.

Later, Zimmerman added: “I never took the Conservative [endorsement] like Josh did.”

Lafazan has called the notion “that I’m a conservative is outrageous,” noting he supports gun control and abortion rights.

Lafazan also differed from the field when he said he would follow Suozzi’s lead and join a “problem solvers” caucus in Congress, a bipartisan group that seeks to craft legislation.

The other Democrats derided the caucus as either inefficient, too aligned with corporate interests or not sufficiently representing party values.

“No, I know which side I am on,” Kaiman said, when asked about joining the caucus.

All the candidates said they opposed a oft-proposed Long Island Sound bridge to Connecticut, then fought over who had the strongest claim on the issue.

Lafazan claimed he was the first Nassau official to speak out when then-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed the idea four years ago. But veteran pols Zimmerman and Kaiman noted the idea has been batted around for years and was opposed by almost all Democrats for longer than Lafazan has been involved.

With just days to go before the vote, the final campaign push is going to be important — and unpredictable — said George Arzt, a veteran Democratic consultant who is not involved in this race.

TV and online ads may help but old-fashioned techniques will be needed to get supporters to the polls at a time many voters are taking vacations or otherwise not focused on elections, he said.

“I think you’re going to need to drive people with mail, some social media and lots of street campaigning,” Arzt said. “And in your mail, you’ve got to get out of the pack somehow.”

He added: “It’s going to be hit-and-miss. A lot of it is going to come down to personal connections. What you don’t know is: What message counts in the district?”

3rd Congressional District Democratic primary

  • Melanie D’Arrigo, 41, of Port Washington, is a health care advocate and community organizer. She helped found Be The Rainbow, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community. D’Arrigo helped establish a Nassau County chapter of Sunrise Movement, a nonprofit focused on combating climate change. She received a bachelor's degree from Barnard College and a master of science degree from Long Island University.
  • Jon Kaiman, 60, of Great Neck, has been a deputy Suffolk County executive since 2017. Before that, he worked for two and a half years to help coordinate the Superstorm Sandy recovery effort and chaired the Nassau Interim Finance Authority. He served as North Hempstead town supervisor from 2004 to 2013. He holds a juris doctorate from Hofstra Law School and a master's in public administration from Harvard University.
  • Joshua Lafazan, 28, of Woodbury, is in his third term as a Nassau County legislator. Lafazan works as an adviser to Northwell Health on its corporate social responsibility efforts. He graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree in industrial and labor relations in 2016, earned a master’s in education policy and management from Harvard University in 2017 and is pursuing a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Reema Rasool, 43, of Jericho, is founder of Luxe Consulting Groupe, a business focused on attracting foreign investors to infrastructure projects in the United States. She also founded a support group to unite female entrepreneurs of South Asian descent. She received a bachelor of arts degree and a master's degree in creative writing from New York University.
  • Robert P. Zimmerman, 67, of Great Neck, is co-president and co-founder of the public relations firm ZE Creative Communications. He has been a Democratic National Committee member since 2000. He also worked as an aide to Long Island Rep. Lester Wolff and Rep. James Scheuer, and advised former Rep. Gary Ackerman. He graduated cum laude from Brandeis University and earned an MBA from Fordham University.
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