James F. Gaughran of Northport, Democratic candidate for the 5th...

James F. Gaughran of Northport, Democratic candidate for the 5th Senate District. Credit: James Escher

Two years ago, James F. Gaughran lost a bitterly contested State Senate race to longtime incumbent Carl L. Marcellino. The margin was small — about 1,700 votes of more than 146,000 cast.

Our judgment in 2016 was that Gaughran was the better candidate, and nothing has happened to change that assessment. If anything, it is even more true today.

Marcellino, 75, has represented his district well in his 23 years in office. His environmental record, in particular, is strong, with dozens of good bills passed. The Syosset Republican has been effective at constituent service. But his accomplishments are mostly in the past. No longer the vigorous warrior he once was, he soldiers on without the relish for the job he once radiated. And his better instincts are boxed in by a Republican Party desperate to retain its one-vote margin in the Senate. Marcellino has to toe the line and that’s disappointing.

Gaughran, 61, a Democrat from Northport, has deep legislative experience, an important complement to his eagerness to solve problems in Albany. Currently the chairman of the Suffolk County Water Authority, Gaughran served previously in the Suffolk County Legislature and before that on the Huntington Town Board.

Gaughran promises to be independent, citing times he voted against his party as a county lawmaker. That contrariness will be essential if Democrats take over the Senate. Gaughran says he would be part of a caucus of moderates and suburbanites from around the state who would protect Long Island against a New York City-centric agenda.

On the flip side, Gaughran says Democrats would not block important legislation on issues like voting reform. He favors early voting, no-excuse absentee balloting and an easier process of registration. He says redistricting can be done by an independent group and, critically for Long Island, would put an end to candidates running on multiple party lines.

Gaughran also is pushing a proposal to help strapped Long Island taxpayers: Legalize sports betting and give the tax revenue to school districts, which would have to reduce property taxes by the same amount they receive. It’s the kind of inventive thinking Senate Republicans rarely demonstrate.

And Gaughran’s environmental advocacy — he understands intimately the region’s problems with drinking and surface water — makes him an appropriate policy heir to Marcellino. Gaughran wants to expand or build new sewage treatment plants and monitor existing ones more closely. He supports using state funds for grants to help homeowners replace cesspools with high-tech treatment systems, favors consolidation of Nassau County’s many water providers, and urges a plastic-bag ban.

Marcellino has been a fine and capable public servant. But it’s time to turn the seat over to someone new. Newsday endorses Gaughran. — The editorial board