Two years ago, a training workshop for politically progressive Long Islanders considering a run for local elected office drew about 50 people.
On Saturday, three times that number packed into a Huntington church to learn strategies for running — and winning.
“This is the result of Trump mobilizing people like I’ve never seen before,” said Aaron Abel, state field director of the Working Families Party, which co-sponsored the events on Saturday and in 2015.
Even before Donald Trump’s November victory, Democrats in recent years have fared poorly in local and state elections nationwide. During Barack Obama’s eight years as president, Democrats lost more than 1,030 governor’s offices and state legislative and congressional seats, according to an Associated Press tally.
Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), a candidate for Nassau County executive who attended Saturday’s workshop, said that in his native Wisconsin, Republicans spent Obama’s tenure recruiting and training candidates for local office.
“As a result, they have this elaborate farm team-type structure” for running candidates for higher office, he said. That sophisticated organization also helped bring voters to the polls to give Trump a narrow victory in the traditionally Democratic-leaning state, he said.
Speakers at the training sessions told the potential candidates how best to target voters, how to hone an effective message, how to craft a good speech and how to raise money.
Valerie Cartright said a similar 2013 training session helped her craft a campaign strategy that won her a seat on the Brookhaven Town board.
Christine Pellegrino, a teacher from West Islip, said she wants to run as the Democratic candidate in the May special election in a South Shore Assembly district because she believes she can have a strong voice on educational policy and funding as a legislator in Albany. But she said she’d need more than good ideas to win.
“Just to say ‘I’m going to run’ is not enough,” she said. “If you don’t have a structure behind you and don’t have an action plan, you will not be as successful.”
Democratic Party chairmen and committees on Long Island typically choose candidates, but those committees are “insular” and have little connection to most voters, said Ron Widelec, a member of the steering committee of Long Island Activists, a group formed by supporters of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and a sponsor of Saturday’s event.
“Part of what’s going on here is to create a parallel, separate system where we can run who we think are much more progressive Democrats who aren’t going to be beholden to the Democratic Party,” Widelec said.