At least seven candidates are in the mix to run in a special election for the State Senate seat vacated last week when Dean Skelos was convicted of bribery, extortion and conspiracy charges.
The list of potential Democratic candidates include Assemblymen Todd Kaminsky of Long Beach, Nassau Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Elmont) and Laura Gillen, who ran unsuccessfully for Nassau County Clerk in 2013.
Rumored names among Nassau Republicans include Assemb. Brian Curran (R-Lynbrook), Hempstead Town Councilman Bruce Blakeman and Nassau Legis. Howard Kopel (R-Lawrence) and Denise Ford (R-Long Beach).
Kaminsky, who is considered by many as the frontrunner, is the former acting deputy chief of the Public Integrity Section for the Eastern District of New York. He prosecuted former Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr. (D-Bronx), who was sentenced in June to five years in prison for embezzlement, and former Assemb. Jimmy Meng (D-Queens), who was sentenced to a month in jail in March 2013 for wire fraud. Kaminsky was elected to the Assembly last year to replace Harvey Weisenberg, who retired.
Kaminsky, who is travelling in Israel as part of an Assembly delegation, declined through a spokesman to comment on his interest in the race. After Skelos’ conviction, Kaminsky issued a statement which said he would “do whatever it takes to make serious, lasting reform on behalf of Long Islanders.”
Sen. Mike Gianaris, chairman of the New York State Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, said Kaminsky’s record fighting political corruption is attractive when replacing Skelos.
“Corruption is going to be a front-and-center issue,” Gianaris said. “Todd is a great candidate and will be a great contrast to the Republican candidates, who will have a tough time showing how they are different than Skelos.”
Nassau Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs, who will make the final decision, praised Kaminsky, Solages and Gillen but noted that his main criteria was to find a candidate “who has the best chance of winning.”
Nassau has not elected a Democrat to the State Senate since Craig Johnson was defeated in 2010 by Republican Sen. Jack Martins of Mineola.
Nassau Republican Chairman Joe Mondello declined to comment.
Solages, who was elected in November to his third term in the legislature, said he wants the job to ensure that the district gets increased aid from Albany.
“We are not getting our fair share,” said Solages, whose sister, Michaelle, serves in the Assembly. “There are too many unfunded state mandates.”
Gillen, a commercial litigator from Rockville Centre, lost a 2013 race for clerk against the incumbent, Maureen O’Connell. But Gillen fundraised well and drew more total votes than the top of the ticket Democrat candidate, former county executive Thomas Suozzi, who lost a rematch with County Executive Edward Mangano.
“I am sick of what’s going on in Albany,” said Gillen. “We keep electing the same people to run who are only focused on the special interests.”
Curran, a former Lynbrook mayor who was elected to the Assembly in 2010, did not respond to several requests for comment.
Blakeman, the former presiding officer of the Nassau Legislature, was appointed to the Hempstead Town Board in January and elected to a full term in November. Blakeman has run unsuccessfully for state comptroller, U.S. Senate and most recently Nassau’s Fourth Congressional District against then-Nassau DA Kathleen Rice.
Blakeman said he is undecided about running for State Senate but plans to make a decision in early January.
“There’s a lot of calculus that goes into this decision,” Blakeman said. “I am very happy in my position and I am not sure I can convince myself or my wife that I could run.”
Kopel, first elected to the legislature in 2009, said he has not given much thought to running for the seat but conceded that he was interested “in theory. But no one has approached me yet so I do not consider myself in the mix.”
Ford, who has served in the legislature since 2013, said she would consider running. “I would be surprised if the party picked me,” said Ford, a registered Democrat who caucuses with the Republicans. “But I am keeping my options open.”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has not set a date for a special election but Jacobs said it’s likely targeted for April 19, the date of the New York presidential primary.
Jacobs concedes that Primary Day will create problems – both politically and logistically.
He said the Board of Elections would need to create multiple sets of ballots since all county Democrats and Republicans can vote in their respective primaries although only residents of Skelos’ 9th District could vote for that seat.
The fate of the Democratic primary could also affect turnout, Jacobs said. If former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton clinches the nomination early, while multiple Republicans remain in the presidential race, turnout for Democrats could be low, he said.