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4th District: Carolyn McCarthy rejects Washington-insider tag

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy said 20 employers plan to

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy said 20 employers plan to participate in the event at Nassau Community College in Garden City on July 23. (Feb. 4, 2011) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy's challengers in the 4th Congressional District describe her as a Washington insider, but McCarthy says she is still the same nurse-turned-activist she was when first elected 16 years ago.

"I don't come from a political family," McCarthy said. "I got involved by being an activist."

McCarthy said she is running for a ninth term because she wants to keep fighting for what is important to her constituents and to her.

She says she remains focused on her signature issue, gun control, which she took up after her husband was killed and her son severely wounded in the Long Island Rail Road massacre. She said she also would work to protect Social Security and Medicare and to secure aid for small businesses.

Born in Brooklyn, McCarthy is a graduate of Mineola High School and Glen Cove Nursing School. She chose to become a nurse after sitting bedside with a boyfriend who had suffered a serious and ultimately fatal car accident. She worked in the intensive care unit at Glen Cove Hospital.

On Dec. 7, 1993, when gunman Colin Ferguson opened fire in a Hicksville-bound LIRR train, McCarthy's husband, Dennis, was among six passengers he killed; her son, Kevin, was among 19 seriously wounded.

The slayings pushed McCarthy to become a vocal gun-control advocate. She testified often before Congress on the need for stricter regulations. In 1996, after freshman Republican Rep. Dan Frisa voted for a GOP measure that would have lifted a federal assault weapons ban, McCarthy announced she was running for the seat.

Initially a registered Republican, McCarthy got enough Democratic support to become the party's candidate. Though Republicans outnumbered Democrats in the district at the time, she defeated Frisa with 57 percent of the vote. McCarthy, 68, has won re-election every two years since.

McCarthy points to the National Instant Criminal Background Check Database Improvements Act as a key accomplishment.

The measure, signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008, provides grants to states to upgrade their background check technologies. It requires federal agencies to share information through a national database on individuals who are ineligible to buy guns.

McCarthy's opponents this time are Republican Nassau County Legis. Francis X. Becker and New Hyde Park attorney Frank Scaturro, who is on the Conservative Party line.

Both challengers -- hoping the addition of 19,000 Republicans in the district because of redistricting will give them an advantage -- paint McCarthy as an "ultraliberal" Democrat for voting in favor of President Barack Obama's Affordable Health Care law and the $787 million federal stimulus package.

The district, which includes New Hyde Park, Floral Park, the Willistons, Mineola, Garden City, Rockville Centre, Franklin Square, Westbury, East Meadow, Freeport, Oceanside, Long Beach, Wantagh, Bellmore and Merrick, has 189,627 Democrats, 168,191 Republicans and 4,907 Conservatives, according to the Nassau Board of Elections.

"She went to Washington to change Washington, but Washington changed her," Becker said. "Maybe she was a nurse a long time ago, but at the end of the day you got to go to Washington and fight for something."

But McCarthy, who didn't officially switch her Republican party registration until 2003, said she remains close to her constituents and that she has reached across the aisle.

"I'm hoping after this election we see more bipartisanship," she said. "We need more long-term agreement on the economy . . . we need to reach a bipartisan decision to reduce the debt."

McCarthy has outspent her challengers by a wide margin. She has collected $2 million in campaign contributions, including $8,500 from Goldman Sachs, $8,000 from Bank of America and $2,500 from Newsday's parent company, Cablevision. She had spent $1.2 million on her campaign as of Sept. 29, according to federal campaign reports. Becker has spent $107,833, and Scaturro has spent $151,000 during that same period.

But McCarthy says she's not influenced by corporate political action committees.

"I meet with people and groups in my district and I understand their concerns," she said. "My job this election is to make the case that I am the most qualified for the job."

With Robert Brodsky

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