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Sen. Tom Croci retirement spurs jockeying for his seat

Tom Croci in Woodbury on Oct. 22, 2014.

Tom Croci in Woodbury on Oct. 22, 2014. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Two Republican state lawmakers and one Democrat who is a veteran correction officer have declared themselves as candidates to succeed state Sen. Tom Croci in November after the Sayville Republican said he will not seek re-election.

Republican Assemblymen Dean Murray, 53, of East Patchogue, and Andrew Garbarino, 34, of Sayville, said they are ready to make the race for the Third District seat.

Democrat Darrin Green, 52, a 23-year Nassau correction officer from Brentwood who is backed by Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer, said he has been campaigning for several months.

“I’ll continue to fight for some of the same things that Tom did,” Garbarino said of Croci, a Sayville resident. “I think relationships I’ve formed on both sides of the aisle during my six years in the Assembly give me a leg up.”

Murray, who has served more than six years in two separate stints, said “in the Senate with the margin so close . . . you have to have the ability to work together and I think I’ve proven I can do that.”

Republican Brian Egan, Patchogue Village attorney, expressed interest in the race but was not ready to declare.

Green, who is making his first run for office, said, “I know firsthand the struggles our families face with the opioid crisis and fear of gang violence . . . I’m running to bring a fresh perspective on how to tackle these problems.”

The November election is crucial because in the last week five GOP senators, including Sen. William Larkin Jr. of Orange County on Thursday, have announced their retirements at year’s end.

Republicans have a 32-31 edge only because Democrat Simcha Felder of Brooklyn caucuses with GOP senators.

Looking at the Third District race, some Democrats remain concerned about Schaffer’s past ties to Senate Republicans, against whom he often has put up only token opposition.

Michael Gianaris, head of the Senate Democrats’ campaign committee, said he has contacted three elected Democrats whom he would not identify to try to recruit them for the race. Gianaris also has agreed to Schaffer’s request to interview Green.

“We are all trying to put in the same direction and avoid a primary,” Gianaris said.

Suffolk Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) said state officials have reached out to him. He said he told them, “running for Senate is not on my agenda this year.”

Patchogue Village Mayor Paul Pontieri said he was approached, but “at this point I’m not going after it.”

Suffolk Legis. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), a Third District resident, did not return calls for comment.

Schaffer said Green “blew us away” in his interview and has the potential to become Long Island’s first African-American state senator. “Any time a seat becomes open I expect people to reassess if there’s an opportunity for them politically,” Schaffer said. “I know some people may not believe their word is important. But I do. So only if Darrin tells me he isn’t running, would I be open to other candidates.”

Democrats have an 8,000 edge in voter registration in the district.

But Michael Dawidziak, a political consultant who works primarily for Republicans, said the GOP usually holds a “comfortable margin,” particularly in off-year elections because “Democrats do not turn out in the same numbers” as their registration.

Schaffer called the seat a “fair fight” district because of public anger over Republican President Donald Trump and his policies.

- With Yancey Roy

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