Republicans could gain a supermajority in the Nassau Legislature. Newsday political reporter Candice Ferrette gives an overview of the legislature's election in this conversation with NewsdayTV's Macy Egeland. Credit: Staff

The balance of political power in the Nassau County Legislature could tilt this November as four long-serving incumbents step down, leaving the largest number of open seats on the 19-member panel in more 20 years.

Also unique, political watchers say, is that both legislative leaders — Presiding Officer Rich Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) and Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) — are among those not seeking reelection. Two others from the Republican caucus, Denise Ford and Laura Schaefer, are leaving at year's end.

Republicans, who hold a 12-7 majority, say they could gain one more seat, which would provide them the ability to override a county executive's veto and unilaterally decide on some spending and borrowing. Democrats, who have been in the minority since 2010, say they will keep their seven seats and hope to pick up several more in the Nov. 7 election.

New legislative maps, adopted in February, also will be in play for the first time after a contentious six-month redistricting process last year.  

“A veto-proof majority for Republicans in Nassau would be significant,” said Michael Dawidziak, a pollster and political consultant based in Bayport. “Essentially, one party can do anything they want without the other party having any ability to put the brakes on it. Basically you don’t have to talk to the other party at all.”

Dawidziak, who has worked for both Republicans and Democrats in local elections, said some of the seats are “so heavily Republican or so heavily Democratic” that there’s not much opportunity to flip them.

But he contends that when there are more open seats and both sides are running fresh candidates, different dynamics are at play. 

Republicans in Nassau likely have an advantage this year as an "unusual red wave doesn't seem to be abating," said Dawidziak, who believes political waves last for one election cycle. This one, he says, began during the countywide races of 2021 when Republicans won the county executive, district attorney and comptroller races and continued through the congressional elections of 2022 when the GOP swept all four Long Island House seats.    

The impact of new legislative maps, approved through redistricting in February, remains to be seen. The maps significantly changed the constituencies of some districts. 

Nassau County and state Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs said the new boundaries could cause some incumbents to lose name recognition, putting challengers on more even ground. Some districts have added new communities or lost former ones — a factor that could weigh more heavily if turnout is low, he said. 

“In every election you have opportunities," said Jacobs, who believes Democrats can pick up three to four seats. "There’s always a chance in the competitive districts to see upsets."

Nassau County legislators, who serve part-time, 2-year terms, are paid $84,370 annually. There are extra stipends for leadership roles: The presiding officer gets $28,000, minority leader $24,000 and deputy presiding officer $23,000.  

Nicolello, the county’s longest serving legislator, has been in office since the legislature's creation in 1996. He represents the 9th Legislative District, which includes New Hyde Park, Garden City Park, Mineola, Williston Park, East Williston, extending north through Albertson, Roslyn Estates and Plandome. He served as deputy presiding officer and has been presiding officer since 2018, and announced his retirement in March.

Republican Scott Strauss and Democrat Neeraj Kumar are running for Nicolello's seat. Strauss is vice president of corporate security for Northwell Health and former mayor of the Village of Mineola. Kumar, of New Hyde Park, is a laboratory supervisor at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln Medical Center in the Bronx.  

A month after Nicolello announced he wouldn't run, Abrahams said he would not seek reelection after 20 years of service. When he won a special election in 2002, at age 28, Abrahams was the youngest candidate ever to have been elected to the Nassau Legislature.

His district was comprised of Freeport, Uniondale, Roosevelt and a part of East Meadow but has changed almost entirely because of redistricting. The new 1st Legislative District includes most of the villages of Hempstead and Rockville Centre. While 50% of the registered voters are Democrats, the percentage of Republicans has doubled.

Running in the new 1st District are Republican Michael Lucchesi, a financial adviser, and Democrat Scott Davis, a criminal defense attorney. Both live in Rockville Centre. 

Ford, an enrolled Democrat from Long Beach who caucuses with Republicans, was first elected in 2003 not long after her husband, a New York City firefighter, was killed in a blaze in Queens on Father's Day 2001. She is the legislature's third-ranking Republican and chairs its Public Safety Committee. 

Ford's seat in the 4th Legislative District, which both party leaders say is among the most competitive races, pits Democrat Alexis Pace against Republican Patrick Mullaney. Pace is a Long Beach school board trustee who works in pharmaceutical sales. Mullaney, an FDNY lieutenant, has Ford's endorsement. 

Schaefer had been a county legislator for 10 years and has chaired the Planning, Development & The Environment Committee. She was elected to represent a district that includes Garden City, Garden City South, Carle Place, portions of Westbury, Jericho, Hicksville, Bethpage, Plainview, West Hempstead, Hempstead and Franklin Square.   

It has been almost entirely absorbed by neighboring districts under the new legislative map. The newly redrawn district now has more enrolled Democrats represented by Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury), strengthening Bynoe's position.

Schaefer's seat has been eliminated.

Nassau Republican Chairman Joseph Cairo said the party's message of keeping property tax assessment rolls frozen, pushing back against calls to help shelter migrants and rejecting Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul's affordable housing plan — a proposal that failed at the state level this year — will resonate with suburban voters. 

"And don't think the issue of cashless bail has gone away completely. There's still more to be done on that," said Cairo, referring to a 2019 state law that eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies. "They [voters] want Nassau to be as it has been." 

Nassau Democrats are telling voters the local GOP and County Executive Bruce Blakeman, a Republican, "failed in their promise to fix the property tax assessment system" by keeping the tax rolls frozen and weakening the department with changes that will cost the county in the long run, Jacobs said.

"They ran on a platform to fix the assessment system and that hasn't happened. They blame Democrats for crime but rejected the Democrat proposal to hire 150 more police officers last year," Jacobs said. "They are so focused on getting names on signs and given up fixing potholes that they have [undone] the good work Laura Curran and the Democrats did."  

Dawidziak said while bail reform and party infighting over the management of the migrant crisis might help Nassau GOP candidates, an expected federal government shutdown could hurt them. He said Nassau Democrats should take a moderate approach.  

“If I were advising a Democrat, I would say something like, ‘I’m not running as a state Democrat’ or something like, 'I’m going to stand up for my constituents and I’m a Long Island Democrat,'” Dawidziak said.

The balance of political power in the Nassau County Legislature could tilt this November as four long-serving incumbents step down, leaving the largest number of open seats on the 19-member panel in more 20 years.

Also unique, political watchers say, is that both legislative leaders — Presiding Officer Rich Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) and Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) — are among those not seeking reelection. Two others from the Republican caucus, Denise Ford and Laura Schaefer, are leaving at year's end.

Republicans, who hold a 12-7 majority, say they could gain one more seat, which would provide them the ability to override a county executive's veto and unilaterally decide on some spending and borrowing. Democrats, who have been in the minority since 2010, say they will keep their seven seats and hope to pick up several more in the Nov. 7 election.

New legislative maps, adopted in February, also will be in play for the first time after a contentious six-month redistricting process last year.  

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Four longtime incumbent Nassau legislators are stepping down, leaving the most open seats on the 19-member panel in more than 20 years.
  • Legislative leaders Rich Nicolello and Kevan Abrahams are among those not seeking reelection in November. Denise Ford and Laura Schaefer also are leaving.
  • The legislature's balance of political power could tilt further toward the GOP, which needs to win one more seat for a supermajority. Democrats hope to keep their seven seats and pick up three or four more.

“A veto-proof majority for Republicans in Nassau would be significant,” said Michael Dawidziak, a pollster and political consultant based in Bayport. “Essentially, one party can do anything they want without the other party having any ability to put the brakes on it. Basically you don’t have to talk to the other party at all.”

Dawidziak, who has worked for both Republicans and Democrats in local elections, said some of the seats are “so heavily Republican or so heavily Democratic” that there’s not much opportunity to flip them.

But he contends that when there are more open seats and both sides are running fresh candidates, different dynamics are at play. 

GOP advantage?

Republicans in Nassau likely have an advantage this year as an "unusual red wave doesn't seem to be abating," said Dawidziak, who believes political waves last for one election cycle. This one, he says, began during the countywide races of 2021 when Republicans won the county executive, district attorney and comptroller races and continued through the congressional elections of 2022 when the GOP swept all four Long Island House seats.    

The impact of new legislative maps, approved through redistricting in February, remains to be seen. The maps significantly changed the constituencies of some districts. 

Nassau County and state Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs said the new boundaries could cause some incumbents to lose name recognition, putting challengers on more even ground. Some districts have added new communities or lost former ones — a factor that could weigh more heavily if turnout is low, he said. 

“In every election you have opportunities," said Jacobs, who believes Democrats can pick up three to four seats. "There’s always a chance in the competitive districts to see upsets."

Nassau County legislators, who serve part-time, 2-year terms, are paid $84,370 annually. There are extra stipends for leadership roles: The presiding officer gets $28,000, minority leader $24,000 and deputy presiding officer $23,000.  

Nicolello, the county’s longest serving legislator, has been in office since the legislature's creation in 1996. He represents the 9th Legislative District, which includes New Hyde Park, Garden City Park, Mineola, Williston Park, East Williston, extending north through Albertson, Roslyn Estates and Plandome. He served as deputy presiding officer and has been presiding officer since 2018, and announced his retirement in March.

Republican Scott Strauss and Democrat Neeraj Kumar are running for Nicolello's seat. Strauss is vice president of corporate security for Northwell Health and former mayor of the Village of Mineola. Kumar, of New Hyde Park, is a laboratory supervisor at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln Medical Center in the Bronx.  

A month after Nicolello announced he wouldn't run, Abrahams said he would not seek reelection after 20 years of service. When he won a special election in 2002, at age 28, Abrahams was the youngest candidate ever to have been elected to the Nassau Legislature.

His district was comprised of Freeport, Uniondale, Roosevelt and a part of East Meadow but has changed almost entirely because of redistricting. The new 1st Legislative District includes most of the villages of Hempstead and Rockville Centre. While 50% of the registered voters are Democrats, the percentage of Republicans has doubled.

Running in the new 1st District are Republican Michael Lucchesi, a financial adviser, and Democrat Scott Davis, a criminal defense attorney. Both live in Rockville Centre. 

Ford, an enrolled Democrat from Long Beach who caucuses with Republicans, was first elected in 2003 not long after her husband, a New York City firefighter, was killed in a blaze in Queens on Father's Day 2001. She is the legislature's third-ranking Republican and chairs its Public Safety Committee. 

Ford's seat in the 4th Legislative District, which both party leaders say is among the most competitive races, pits Democrat Alexis Pace against Republican Patrick Mullaney. Pace is a Long Beach school board trustee who works in pharmaceutical sales. Mullaney, an FDNY lieutenant, has Ford's endorsement. 

Schaefer had been a county legislator for 10 years and has chaired the Planning, Development & The Environment Committee. She was elected to represent a district that includes Garden City, Garden City South, Carle Place, portions of Westbury, Jericho, Hicksville, Bethpage, Plainview, West Hempstead, Hempstead and Franklin Square.   

It has been almost entirely absorbed by neighboring districts under the new legislative map. The newly redrawn district now has more enrolled Democrats represented by Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury), strengthening Bynoe's position.

Schaefer's seat has been eliminated.

Campaign issues

Nassau Republican Chairman Joseph Cairo said the party's message of keeping property tax assessment rolls frozen, pushing back against calls to help shelter migrants and rejecting Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul's affordable housing plan — a proposal that failed at the state level this year — will resonate with suburban voters. 

"And don't think the issue of cashless bail has gone away completely. There's still more to be done on that," said Cairo, referring to a 2019 state law that eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies. "They [voters] want Nassau to be as it has been." 

Nassau Democrats are telling voters the local GOP and County Executive Bruce Blakeman, a Republican, "failed in their promise to fix the property tax assessment system" by keeping the tax rolls frozen and weakening the department with changes that will cost the county in the long run, Jacobs said.

"They ran on a platform to fix the assessment system and that hasn't happened. They blame Democrats for crime but rejected the Democrat proposal to hire 150 more police officers last year," Jacobs said. "They are so focused on getting names on signs and given up fixing potholes that they have [undone] the good work Laura Curran and the Democrats did."  

Dawidziak said while bail reform and party infighting over the management of the migrant crisis might help Nassau GOP candidates, an expected federal government shutdown could hurt them. He said Nassau Democrats should take a moderate approach.  

“If I were advising a Democrat, I would say something like, ‘I’m not running as a state Democrat’ or something like, 'I’m going to stand up for my constituents and I’m a Long Island Democrat,'” Dawidziak said.

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

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