The election in New York’s 4th Congressional District pits a Democratic incumbent who says centrism will solve political gridlock in Washington D.C. against a Republican opponent who warns of even greater partisanship if Democrats take control of Congress.

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) is fending off a challenge from Republican opponent Ameer Benno, an attorney from Bellmore, in her bid for a third term representing the South Shore Nassau County district.

Rice, 53, of Garden City, was first elected to the seat in 2014 after serving for nine years as Nassau County district attorney. She pointed in an interview to legislation on veterans’ affairs and federal disaster recovery funding as evidence of her ability to get things done in congress.

Rice, who is also running on the Women’s Equality party line, said she would continue to advocate for tighter gun control laws if re-elected. At a recent rally in Westbury, she pressed for universal background checks and curtailing the sale of AR-15-style rifles.

“Thoughts and prayers don’t do anything,” she said, invoking a common public statement by some politicians after mass shootings, to applause from the more than 100 in attendance.

Benno, 42, has a private law practice headquartered in Manhattan that specializes in civil rights and constitutional law. He has never held elected office, but says his status as a political outsider makes him more attuned than Rice to the problems district residents face.

“I can understand those issues much better than a professional politician could,” he said in an interview.

Improving infrastructure on Long Island, especially the Long Island Rail Road, would be a primary goal if elected, Benno said.

“I see firsthand how awful it is,” he said of the LIRR.

Benno said he would seek to use federal tax benefits to spur public-private partnerships that could bring needed revenue to the transit system. He also said he would pursue federal funding to shore up local flood resiliency infrastructure.

Benno is also running on the Conservative and Reform party lines. He faces an uphill battle in the district, where voters have sent Democrats to Congress for more than two decades. According to the state board of elections, there are 204,544 Democrats and 160,861 Republicans who are registered active voters in the district, which spans communities from Long Beach to Mineola. Rice was re-elected in 2016 with nearly 60 percent of votes.

But Benno said he is a more active participant in community life than Rice, which he said voters will appreciate. He spent a recent afternoon going door to door in Hempstead to meet district residents.

“Has any other candidate knocked on your door?” Benno asked one resident, Andy Ortiz, as Benno handed him a campaign flyer.

“Not really, no,” said Ortiz, 88.

The answer was telling, Benno said.

“We have a representative who’s not visible, not a visible presence in the community,” he said of Rice.

Rice noted in response that her job requires her to be in Washington D.C. for much of the year.

Both candidates said immigration was a primary policy concern. Rice said she supports creating a “path to citizenship” for immigrants known as “dreamers” who were brought to the United States illegally as children. Benno said he would like to expand physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, which he believes could also help cut off the trail of illegal opioids into Long Island and other parts of the country.

Benno previously served as an assistant district attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. He is a member of numerous civic and professional organizations and counts Reps. Peter King (R-Seaford) and Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) as among those who have endorsed his campaign.

Rice is a member of house committees on homeland security and veterans’ affairs. She previously served as an assistant U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia and an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn.

Rice had raised $1,327,309 and spent $1,119,221 by Sept. 30, and had $694,216 cash on hand, according to campaign finance reports. Benno had raised $30,266 and spent $3,908 by June 30, according to the most recent campaign finance filing available. He had $26,358 in cash on hand.

Both candidates have at times been at odds with their political parties. Benno was a registered Democrat until around 2005, when he came to believe that the party “no longer represented [his] values” and became a Republican.

Benno said he is no “cheerleader” for President Donald Trump, whom he called “crass.” But Benno said that “many things he’s done have yielded great results,” expressing particular support for Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Rice, who herself previously had been registered as a Republican, defied the Democratic Party establishment last year when she was one of only four Democratic representatives to vote against Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for House speaker.

“I think it’s time that the leadership torch be passed to the next generation of Democrats,” she said of the vote.

Regardless, said Rice, a self-described moderate, both sides of the aisle must be more amenable to compromise to legislate effectively.

“Right now we have the far right and the far left setting the agenda, and that’s why nothing’s getting done,” she said.

Name: Kathleen Rice

Party: Democrat. She is also running on the Women's Equality line.

Age: 53

Home community: Garden City

Education: Bachelor’s degree from Catholic University of America and law degree from Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center

Career: Representative since 2015. Previously Nassau County district attorney, assistant U.S. attorney in Philadelphia, assistant district attorney in Brooklyn

Family: Single


Name: Ameer Benno

Party: Republican. He is also running on the Conservative and Reform lines.

Age: 42

Home community: Bellmore

Education: Bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and law degree from Cornell University

Career: Attorney with private practice in Manhattan. Previously attorney at civil litigation law firm in Manhattan and assistant district attorney in Manhattan

Family: Married with three children

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