John Avlon, left, and Nancy Goroff, right, are competing in...

John Avlon, left, and Nancy Goroff, right, are competing in the Democratic primary in the First Congressional District.  Credit: James Escher / Rick Kopstein

Democrats John Avlon and Nancy Goroff both are vying to persuade voters in New York’s 1st Congressional District that they're the best candidate to flip the seat from red to blue and push back against right-wing extremism.

Avlon and Goroff are competing in the June 25 primary for the chance to challenge first-term Republican Nick LaLota of Amityville. Early voting starts Saturday and ends June 23.

Avlon, 51, of Sag Harbor, is a journalist, political commentator and author who left his job at CNN in February to run for Congress.

He has written books about American presidents such as Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, served as editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast news site, worked as a speechwriter for Republican Rudy Giuliani when he was New York City mayor and as a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a nonprofit policy think tank.

“This is the most critical election we've ever faced because we've never had a major party nominee campaign on an authoritarian platform, praising dictators,” Avlon said of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump while campaigning in Southampton Village. “It’s all on the line right now.”

Goroff, 56, of Stony Brook, is a former chair of the Stony Brook University chemistry department who ran unsuccessfully for the 1st District in 2020. She helped found the nonprofit Long Island Strong Schools Alliance which supports progressive candidates in local school board races.

“I'm running so that we can protect our democracy, especially women's reproductive freedom, and protect our communities, both from gun violence and from threats to our environment,” Goroff said. “I'm really excited to bring my problem-solving skills to Congress to deal with these issues and find real-life solutions.”

Suffolk County GOP chairman Jesse Garcia predicted voters would reelect LaLota, arguing that both Goroff and Avlon aren't supportive enough of law enforcement — an assertion both Democratic candidates deny.

“In his last two years, [LaLota] has demonstrated the fortitude, the capabilities and the need to fight for the people of Suffolk County,” Garcia said. “I'm confident that the people of Suffolk County will, once again, vote him back to office.”

Issues

Avlon says he would focus on pocketbook issues such as the high cost of housing and protecting reproductive rights.

Goroff said she would work to codify the rights in Roe v. Wade before it was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court and would oppose a national abortion ban.

Both said they would fight to restore the full state-and-local-tax (SALT) deduction as well as the expanded child tax credit offered during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Past efforts by New York Democrats and Republicans to raise the cap on the SALT deduction from $10,000 have failed. Some GOP members of Congress argue the SALT deduction primarily benefits property owners in high-tax blue states such as New York, while some members on the left call the deduction a giveaway to the wealthy. 

Goroff said she also would work to ban assault weapons and high-capacity gun magazines.

Avlon said he would support an assault weapons ban.

Careers

Goroff grew up in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Illinois, where her parents owned a paint shop, and moved to Stony Brook in 1997. She is married and has two adult children from a previous marriage.

She worked and taught for more than two decades at Stony Brook University, where she ran both a research lab that helped develop solar energy materials and a chemistry department with 300 employees.

Goroff said she has been involved in local politics for many years, noting that she knocked on doors to gain support for creation of councilmanic districts in Brookhaven Town, which voters approved in 2002.

“I went door to door for that,” she recalled. “And I've been supporting candidates locally for decades.”

Goroff ran against former Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in the 1st District in 2020, losing by a margin of 54.8% to 45.1%.

Avlon is veteran journalist who most recently hosted the “Reality Check” segment on CNN, analyzing political events. He started at The Daily Beast as a columnist in 2008, becoming the news organization's top editor. Avlon also worked as a speechwriter for Giuliani during the period of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and during Giuliani's unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign.

Avlon is married to Margaret Hoover, host of PBS' Firing Line and the great-granddaughter of Republican President Herbert Hoover. They have two children.

Avlon, who owns a Manhattan condominium, switched his voter registration to Suffolk County in 2020, county Board of Elections records show. Avlon has not said when he moved to Sag Harbor, only that he purchased his home there in 2017.

Avlon's condo was enrolled in the New York City co-op/condo tax abatement program until February, according to online records from the New York City Department of Taxation and Finance. The program is only available to those who claim their building as their primary residence. Avlon said the condominium's board made the decision to enroll and that the designation does not indicate his residency.

Avlon said he registered as a Democrat only in August because his job as a journalist required him to be neutral.

Voting records show that since 2020, Avlon has voted sometimes in Suffolk County and sometimes by absentee ballot.

Battle for endorsements

Avlon has secured endorsements from Long Island Democrats such as U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and state and Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs. Suffolk Democratic chairman Rich Schaffer is not making an endorsement in the 1st District primary.

Goroff is endorsed by Emily’s List, a political action committee dedicated to electing women; 314 Action PAC, which works to elect scientists; and Brookhaven Town Councilman Jonathan Kornreich and others.

Former Democratic Rep. Steve Israel, who served as chairman of the House Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and has endorsed Avlon, said Democratic candidates must appeal to swing voters while affirming core Democratic values in order to succeed in the district.

“My personal feeling is that given the moderation of the district … if Avlon wins the primary, New York-One is very much at play in the general” election in November, said Israel, of Oyster Bay, who is advising Avlon's campaign. “If he doesn't, it's much harder to win for Democrats.”

Other Democrats say it will be tough for Avlon to win over blue-collar and swing voters.

“If you've been waiting for a media savvy orator to run a campaign like a book tour, John Avlon is your white knight,” said Will Ferraro, a district leader for the Brookhaven Democratic Committee who said he does not support either candidate.

“But there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that a working-class, majority-Republican district will be motivated to vote for an East End-centric campaign hyper focused on ‘Saving Democracy from MAGA,’ ” Ferraro told Newsday. “We've tried that, both in general elections and in a blue-wave midterm. It doesn't work.”

Campaign fundraising

During the fundraising reporting period that ended March 31, Avlon collected $1.1 million and had just over $1 million in the bank, while Goroff raised $323,439 and had $625,490 in the bank, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Avlon's contributors include former U.S. Court of Appeals Judge J. Michael Luttig, a vocal critic of Trump; broadcasters Maury Povich and Connie Chung; and Eric Schmidt, a former CEO of Google.

Goroff's donors include philanthropist Marilyn Simons; actor Alan Alda; and Joanna Fowler, a former member of Brookhaven National Laboratory's chemistry and medical departments. Goroff said she has lent her congressional campaign $1 million.

Outside political action committees also are active in the district primary.

WelcomePAC, which works to flip Republican House seats, has spent $1.35 million to support of Avlon, according to FEC data. 314 Action Fund has spent $66,500 to support Goroff and $78,000 to oppose Avlon.

Swing district

The 1st District is a longtime swing district. It was held by Democrat George Hochbrueckner from 1987 to 1995; Michael Forbes, a Republican turned Democrat, from 1995 to 2001; Republican Felix Grucci, 2001 to 2003; Democrat Tim Bishop, 2003 to 2015; and Zeldin, 2015 to 2023.

The district has 195,332 registered Democrats, 191,491 Republicans and 174,734 voters who are not affiliated with a political party, according to the most recent data from the state Board of Elections.

Both the nonpartisan Cook Political Report and Sabato's Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan political newsletter from the University of Virginia Center for Politics, have labeled the seat as “Likely Republican” this year.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee lists the 1st District as “in play.”

Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball, said redistricting has made the 1st District more Republican and that national Democrats likely will focus more on the 4th Congressional District, represented by first-term Rep. Anthony D'Esposito (R-Island Park). Former Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen, a Rockville Centre Democrat, is challenging D'Esposito in November.

“There are a bunch of Democratic targets in New York and I think it [CD-1] ranks behind several others,” Kondik told Newsday. “We see it sort of on the periphery of the competitive map.”

John Avlon

Age: 51

Home: Sag Harbor

Career/education: Avlon is a journalist, political commentator and author who left his job at CNN in February to run for Congress. He received a bachelor of arts in American studies from Yale University in 1996 and an MBA from Columbia University in 2006.

Nancy Goroff

Age: 56

Home: Stony Brook

Career/education: Goroff is a former chair of the Stony Brook University chemistry department. She ran unsuccessfully for the 1st District in 2020. She received an AB in chemistry from Harvard University in 1990 and a doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1994.

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