More new women candidates are running on the Republican line in Nassau County this November, part of an effort to help rebrand of one of the oldest GOP clubs in the nation following major victories in 2017 by women Democrats in the county.
Several are first-time Republican candidates who lack political ties but are involved heavily in their communities. They were tapped by Republican Party chairman Joseph Cairo, who is seeking fresh faces and the support of Nassau’s growing number of voters who are not registered with a political party.
“If you asked me two years ago if I would run for public office, I’d have said ‘probably not.’ I didn’t seek this out but now I can’t see myself doing anything else,” said Laura Maier, 40, of Massapequa, who is running for one of three open council seats in the Town of Oyster Bay
Maier, a former health care executive who owns several Dairy Queen and Jersey Mike’s shops, is one of a half-dozen new women candidates in Nassau who until a few months ago had no name recognition and never had signed candidate nominating petitions or knocked on doors for other candidates.
They range in age from early 30s to mid-50s and are mostly private-sector professionals in business and law who are raising children attending the local public schools. One is a registered Democrat.
“Forget the labels Republican and Democrat but look at what the parties are doing and what they stand for today in 2019,” said Cairo, who argued that many unaffiliated swing voters identify with his party’s current platform.
“I don’t believe people in their 50s and 60s are going to associate with AOC and that progressive movement,” he said in a reference to freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx/Queens).
“I think the independent voter in Nassau is going to lean Republican this year and next year based on values [and] not based on party label,” Cairo said.
Cairo took over the Nassau GOP last year with a pledge to diversify the party, including recruiting more women. Cairo, 73, succeeded Joseph Mondello, who led the organization for 35 years, after President Donald Trump appointed Mondello U.S. ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago.
There are 16 women running on the Republican line for nonjudicial public offices in Nassau’s county, town and village races, Nassau County Board of Elections records show.
While the Democrats are running 23 women, the number of women GOP candidates still is higher than in the last two election cycles. There were 11 in 2017, and 12 in 2015.
Republicans say they have been recruiting women candidates with extensive professional resumes who have networks in business and with fellow moms.
“If we have qualified women who want to do it — for whatever office — we are going to run them,” Cairo said. “Change has occurred in the Republican Party. We want to welcome all.”
Cherice Vanderhall, 38, an attorney for the Village of Hempstead, is seeking to unseat Nassau County Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) in the 1st District.
Vanderhall, of North Baldwin, said she had been a lifelong Republican, and believed many issues important to voters in heavily minority communities of Uniondale, Westbury, Hempstead and Freeport had been overlooked by Democrats.
As a black woman, “I knock on doors and people say ‘Wait, you’re a Republican? How?’ “ Vanderhall said.
“Politics is local and I look at the streets and the service we have and I think minority communities fared better under the Republicans,” Vanderhall said.
Abrahams, leader of the Nassau Legislature’s Democratic caucus, has been in office since 2002. Republicans hold an 11-8 majority in the legislature.
“At least if I was elected I would be part of the team that’s in the majority,” Vanderhall said.
Abrahams declined to comment.
Jeanine Driscoll, the GOP candidate for Hempstead Town receiver of taxes, said she and the other new candidates were learning on the campaign trail from more seasoned lawmakers, such as Kate Murray, a former Hempstead supervisor who is running for town clerk.
“I have never been a political animal. It was always more about the community for me,” said Driscoll, 53, an aviation attorney who lives in Bellerose Village. “I’ve never signed a petition. I’ve never knocked on doors … I don’t know if they knew whether I was Republican when they called me.”
Driscoll, a past president of the Junior Women’s Club of Bellerose, said she had the support of many of the club’s 120 members.
“Some of them are Democrats through and through but are showing up to my fundraisers and supporting me because they know I just want to help the community,” Driscoll said.
The Democrats are running Chandra Ortiz, a Baldwin lawyer, against Driscoll.
Larry Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, said Nassau Republicans had tried in the past to get more women on the ballot.
“They have made efforts to run woman candidates, even in competitive races such as county clerk and important judgeships, but it has not been a sustained effort that they’ve invested a lot of money and manpower in,” Levy said. “Now it’s clearly existential — a matter of survival.”
Levy said the Nassau GOP’s strategy of gaining support from swing voters made sense, but only would work if the party supported its women candidates and put them in races they could win.
“If the suburbs are the swing vote then women are the swing vote within that vote,” Levy said. “They tend to be more moderate than men and have been trending more Democratic.”
Republicans “have to make sure they don’t lose the independent and Republican-leaning woman,” Levy said.
Jay Jacobs, chairman of the state and Nassau County Democratic Committees, says women voters in Nassau, “don’t vote Democratic just because we run a woman and they won’t favor the Republicans for the same reason. It’s always about the issues and what the candidates stand for.”
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who won his first public office as Town of Hempstead councilman in 1977, called the effort to diversify the party in Nassau “a political necessity.”
Not only has it become a big push within the party but it has become easier to find women who are interested in running for public office, said King, whose daughter Erin King Sweeney is seeking her second term on the Hempstead council.
“It’s been a deficiency we’ve had,” the congressman said. “It was partially because there were not many women who were interested in running and also negligence on our part.”
Now, King said, “they want to be active and they are finding the party wants them too … We are showing people that the Republican Party is encouraging and it’s not just an old boys club.”