"This is my home," he said over lunch recently at Commack's Premier Diner. "You talk about the Senate race, sitting in a fundraising office, making calls all over the state; I hated it. Helping a veteran from Greenlawn, who thinks that the government failed him, to get his benefit, there's nothing better in my life."
Diving into the race
At about the time Israel decided against challenging Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), his Republican opponent in the 2nd District race, John Gomez, was steaming over the Metropolitan Transportation Authority payroll tax. That "tipped the scale" to running, Gomez said.
"It's just as bad in Albany as it is in Washington," Gomez said. "It's all one-party rule. I took a look at Israel's record, and I was astounded that he voted so much with the party line. So I dove in."
Israel, 52, is seeking his sixth term in Congress. He serves on the Appropriations Committee, with its power to steer federal projects to Long Island, and is the recruiting chairman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
With help from Vice President Joe Biden, who appeared with Israel at a Manhattan fundraiser after he abandoned the Senate bid, the campaign has $1.76 million, the most recent campaign finance report said.
Gomez, 48, is the owner of a telecommunications consulting firm and a political commentator who hosted a current events talk show on WLIE radio. He's loaned his campaign $25,000, but reported only $84,302 in cash.
Proud of his record
Israel touts his ability to secure federal funding for road projects that helped bring Canon U.S.A.'s North American headquarters to Melville, and his long-standing support for the nation's war veterans.
While many Democrats, who two years ago campaigned on health insurance reform and then this March enacted health care legislation, are no longer trumpeting that issue, Israel highlights his support for the overhaul in a television ad.
"I will absolutely wave the flag on our decision to stop insurance companies from denying treatment to people," he said. "I am very proud of that."
With the Bush tax cuts for households earning more than $250,000 set to expire, Israel said he will continue to push to peg income tax rates to the cost of living or inflation, given the relatively higher incomes and cost of living on Long Island.
Israel admits the odds of such legislation passing are long, but says, "My constituents deserve somebody who is going to defend them. I bristle when I hear the president say that you can't repeal the tax cuts for millionaires and then says that a family making $250,000 on Long Island are millionaires."
Following GOP's line
Both Altschuler and Gomez are businessmen, first-time candidates running as outsiders. But while Altschuler has saturated his district with advertising largely paid for with his own fortune, Gomez gets the word out in small gatherings and face-to-face meetings.
The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election analysis newsletter, rates the seat a safe hold for Israel, and it does not appear on Democratic lists of competitive races, though the National Republican Congressional Committee on Friday declared Gomez "a contender." "I'm the underdog," Gomez said.
Gomez wants to repeal health insurance reform; opposes legislation to cap industrial emissions and allow companies to trade pollution allowances; supports extension of tax cuts for people making more than $250,000 and says he would have opposed economic stimulus funding.
The existing tax system, Gomez said, creates a disincentive to succeed. He would prefer a "flat tax" that eliminates income-based tax brackets.
"Year after year, you just feel as though the harder you work, the government was just sucking your success right out of you," he said.
He said, he said
Part of Gomez's strategy is to tie Israel to the national Democratic leadership, which he says is unpopular in the district.
Asked to name an issue on which he agrees with Obama, or parts with the current national GOP leadership, Gomez drew a blank. "There's got to be something," he said. "No, I don't think there is really, off the top of my head."
Israel calls Gomez "a right-wing radio talk show host with extreme views that do not reflect the majority of people in this community." Gomez dubs Israel an "earmark specialist" more focused on bringing federal spending projects to the district than on keeping taxes low.
The contenders: The 2nd Congressional District
Rep. Steve Israel
Home: Dix Hills
Family: Wife Marlene Budd is a Suffolk County Family Court judge; two daughters
Career: Partner, Israel-Norman Communications 1992-1997; member Huntington Town Board, 1993-2001; U.S. Congress, 2001-present. Serves on Appropriations Committee and its Select Intelligence Oversight Panel. Recruiting chairman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee
Education: B.A., University of Houston, 1984; J.D., Fordham University Law School, 1992
Family: Wife, Cindi, is physical education teacher in the Valley Stream School District; one daughter
Career: Attorney, Mohen & Treacy, 1992-95; independent wireless telecommunications consultant, 1995-98; president & CEO, Eastern Field Services Corp., 1998-present; host of the "John Gomez Show" on WLIE radio, 2001-2003; television and radio commentator, 1993-2008
Career: Financial analyst and fireworks pyrotechnician