Without help from local party officials, Suffolk Legis. Ricardo Montano Tuesday filed petitions with 2,567 signatures to put himself on the Democratic ballot to take on veteran Republican state Sen. Owen Johnson.
Montano filed the signatures -- far more than the 1,000 minimum needed -- at the Suffolk Board of Elections in Yaphank, making the race the first serious challenge to the Senate's most senior Republican in two decades, when he defeated late Legis. Maxine Postal in 1990. Johnson (R-West Babylon), 83, is seeking a 21st term.
Montano, 62, launched his bid even though Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer, who is also Babylon supervisor, has long indicated his backing for Johnson and gave the county lawmaker no help in gathering signatures.
"I think I have a tremendous shot," said Montano, of Brentwood, who lives 11/2 blocks outside the district but is allowed to run in a reapportionment year. "Johnson's been there too long. After 40 years, people understand his time has come and it's time to go."
However, backers say Johnson, and the Senate GOP's narrow 32-29 majority, better represents suburban interests and has worked cooperatively with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on a host of issues. They also say the veteran senator has a deep reservoir of support from years of delivering for the district and note that Johnson has the Conservative Party endorsement.
"I enacted a property tax cap and reduced spending working with Gov. Cuomo and I look forward to working for two more years to help Long Island," said Johnson in a statement.
Schaffer, who earlier this year personally endorsed Johnson, had no comment Tuesday on Montano's petitions. Schaffer had put up no foe against Johnson, and in the past has run only token opposition, due to loyalty borne of Johnson's help with state legislation to avert 1990s fiscal woes in the town garbage district, a move GOP leaders opposed.
But state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), head of the Senate Democrats campaign committee, said that Montano's petitions prove "he has widespread grassroot support" and that Montano would better "defend the rights of women, the environment and the working class" than Republicans.
Montano said Schaffer's lack of support has jump-started his campaign, and created a backlash among some Democrats.