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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

Scientist had the right primary formula

Nancy Goroff of Stony Brook, chaired the university's

Nancy Goroff of Stony Brook, chaired the university's chemistry department until taking a leave of absence to campaign last year. Credit: James Escher

Stony Brook scientist Nancy Goroff claimed victory in the Democratic primary for CD1 after a days-long count of paper ballots. 

She called it a “spirited” primary in a statement, and it was. The race featured 2018 Democratic contender Perry Gershon, who came within 4 percentage points of defeating Rep. Lee Zeldin last cycle, and Suffolk County Legis. Bridget Fleming, whose prosecutorial background and government experience had excited some supporters hoping to counter Zeldin’s military record. 

There was also a lot of money in the primary: Goroff loaned her campaign $1 million in May and another $150,000 down the stretch in June. She followed the example of Gershon, who had pumped hundreds of thousands into his 2018 primary bid and did the same this time around. 

Access to money is crucial in November’s election against Zeldin, whose races have been fundraising draws and whose cash on hand exceeds $2 million, as of June filings. 

Beyond her personal sums, Goroff’s campaign also has benefited from dozens of large contributions from employees of quantitative hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, where her ex-husband, Glen Whitney, used to work. 

That sets up yet another nationally watched election featuring money from affiliates of Renaissance, famous (politically speaking) for the Republican spending of a former co-chief, Robert Mercer, plus founder Jim Simons’ Democratic donations. 

But the science background of Goroff, who took a leave of absence from the Stony Brook University chemistry department ahead of the primary, provides a new storyline from past unsuccessful Democratic attempts to beat Zeldin, a close ally of President Donald Trump. Amid a pandemic, it’s likely one Goroff will continue to lean into, as in this section of her victory statement: “It is past time that scientists have a seat at the table.”