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Battle to succeed Rep. Pete King highlights Long Island primary day

Rep. Peter King speaks outside his home after

Rep. Peter King speaks outside his home after announcing he won't seek re-election on Nov. 11, 2019, in Seaford. Credit: Howard Schnapp

An opportunity to compete in a first-time-in-a-generation chance to fill an open congressional seat highlights Primary Day on Long Island, where turnout and the vote-counting system will be tested by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The battle to replace retiring Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) in a district that covers parts of Nassau and Suffolk counties is the marquee contest Tuesday, with primaries on the Democratic and Republican sides.

Next door, four Democrats are vying in a Suffolk County district for the right to take on Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley). It’s a race that, like the King district, will be watched in Washington.

Albany will have its eye on the five-way Democratic contest at the eastern end of Suffolk, to see who gets to run to replace State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who is retiring after 44 years in office.

The wild cards: How many voters participate? How will local election boards handle a dramatic expansion of absentee balloting that was approved as part of the state’s response to the pandemic? Besides absentee, New Yorkers can participate in “early voting” through Sunday at designated locations, or vote in person on Tuesday at their usual polling locations.

“Boards of elections and voters are going to learn a lot about what they’re willing to do, and how they want to go about it in a unique time in our voting history,” said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University’s National Center for Suburban Studies.

Because of the high number of absentee ballots, results will not be known Tuesday; it could take at least a week for winners to be known.

The election also is testing candidates’ new campaign methods adapted for the pandemic, with an emphasis on social media and phone calls in place of door-to-door.

Here’s a look at some of the races to watch:

2nd Congressional District

Two young state assemblymen are vying for the Republican nod to replace King. But one has his endorsement: Assemb. Andrew Garbarino (R-Sayville).

Garbarino, 35, also has the endorsements of the Nassau and Suffolk Republican leaders, as well as some leading interest groups.

Assemb. Michael LiPetri (R-South Farmingdale), 29, casts himself as the outsider bucking party leaders.

On the Democratic side, party leaders in New York and Washington are lining up behind Jackie Gordon, 55, a Babylon town board member and retired lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve.

Gordon is challenged by Patricia Maher, 60, an attorney and activist who has run for multiple local, state and federal offices on Long Island, including for this same congressional seat in 2014.

Both contests will test the strength and influence of political committees on the Island, Levy said, and whether they can deliver for their preferred candidate.

1st Congressional District

Four Democrats are vying for the party nod: Perry Gershon, who ran in 2018; Gregory-John Fischer, Nancy Goroff and Bridget Fleming.

The fundraising race had been led by Fleming, 59, a county legislator from Sag Harbor. More recently, Goroff, 52, the chairwoman of the chemistry department at Stony Brook University, and Gershon, 58, an East Hampton businessman, pulled ahead. 

Fischer, a business strategist from Calverton, reported no campaign contributions in the April fundraising period.

Other Congress

In CD-3, Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) faces a primary against Melanie D’Arrigo and Michael Weinstock.

In CD-4, Republicans Cindy Grosz and Douglas Tuman are fighting for the right to take on Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) in November.

In CD-5, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Queens) faces challenger Shaniyat Chowdhury.

1st State Senate District

LaValle’s decision to retire gives the Democrats their first realistic shot at this seat in decades. So five of them have jumped in: Valerie Cartright, a Brookhaven town councilwoman; Laura Ahearn, a lawyer and founder of Parents for Megan’s Law; Tommy John Sciavoni, a Southampton town councilman; Skyler Johnson, a Suffolk County Community College student; and Nora Higgins, a public employee union leader.

While Ahearn and Cartright arguably could have the best name recognition, that isn’t always the biggest factor — especially in such an unusual year — said Michael Dawidziak, a Bohemia-based political consultant.

 “Primary victories are about turnout. They’re rarely about issues,” Dawidziak said.

Other State Legislature

With Assemb. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) running for Senate, the 2nd Assembly District is wide open, though it has traditionally supported Republicans.

Two Democrats are vying for the party’s nomination on Tuesday: Laura Jens-Smith, a former Riverhead town supervisor; and William Schleisner, a senior live event coordinator for ViacomCBS.

In the 6th Senate District, Republican Dennis Dunne Sr. is also trying to secure Libertarian Party backing, but is facing Jonathan Gunther for the party’s nomination.

Democratic Presidential Primary

Former Vice President Joe Biden is the lone Democrat still seeking the nomination, with all the other challengers suspending their campaigns. But the primary is continuing in New York in part to select delegates to the Democratic convention — if there is one.

Candidate Andrew Yang and supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders successfully sued the state to prevent it from canceling the primary.

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