Starting March 1, The Point will be available to Newsday subscribers only. Don’t want to miss The Point? Click here to subscribe at a special rate.

Daily Point

Rice's exit leaves House seat wide open

Laura Curran began the day with a surprise endorsement of Robert Zimmerman in the Democratic scramble in the 3rd Congressional District to replace Rep. Tom Suozzi, who is running for governor instead of reelection. Why would Curran use her political capital so early in primary, the wags wanted to know.

Before the morning had ended, however, Curran’s name was being mentioned as a candidate to run in neighboring CD4 after Katheen Rice usurped the political news cycle with her own surprise that she was not seeking reelection. Curran, who was traveling Tuesday and did not return a request for comment, is considered unlikely to jump in, but another Democrat named Laura is seriously considering it.

Former Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen, who lost a bid for reelection in 2019 to Don Clavin, told The Point she is seriously considering making the run but said among the many factors she is weighing is separation from her family. Gillen said she was surprised by Rice’s decision, although she is in Rice’s circle and hired her sister-in-law, Cheryl Rice, as one of her assistants during her tenure at the town.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky had been eyeing Rice’s seat for a while before deciding to run for Nassau County district attorney last year, prompted by the surprise decision by Madeline Singas to seek a seat on the Court of Appeals. Kaminsky brought the Albany baggage of bail reform to what had been considered a sleepy Nassau County executive race. He lost badly and Curran became collateral damage. Had he not run, she probably would have won a second term and Kaminsky might have cakewalked to Congress. Having depleted a multimillion dollar campaign war chest on the DA’s race, he is not considered likely to run.

Until Tuesday, the only Democratic challenger with a fundraising committee was political newcomer and physician Muzibul Huq of Elmont. Now a fistful of other possible Democratic contenders are measuring the curtains, while Republicans say wait just a minute.

Rice, a moderate, was formidable because she was able to do well in the Republican stronghold of Garden City, her hometown, defeating current Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, a Republican, in 2014. President Joe Biden carried CD4 by 12 points in 2020, and while that majority was nipped a bit by redistricting, it is still considered a safe blue seat.

The National Republican Congressional Committee said it will target the seat in its drive to take back the House of Representatives, but so far only Bill Staniford, a former U.S. Marine from Lawrence who once was an executive at the internet real estate firm Property Shark, said he was in the race. He reported raising $247,000 in the first quarter as he seeks the GOP and Conservative Party nominations. Now household Nassau County GOP names, some currently in state office and local offices, and others who once were, are circulated as possible candidates.

And just like that, the newly elevated blood sport of Long Island congressional districts continues apace.

— Rita Ciolli @ritaciolli

Talking Point

GOP reassesses its options

Last October, as Election Day approached and Nassau County Republicans braced for the likelihood that standard-bearer Bruce Blakeman would lose his bid to unseat Laura Curran, legislative Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello repeated his call for a voter referendum on whether the county assessor should be elected.

"Nassau residents have a right to decide if they want an elected assessor," Nicolello said in a statement four months ago. "It is clear from the County Executive’s attempt to appoint someone who lacks assessing experience and certifications, that the only question is whether the Nassau Assessor will be elected and responsive to the people or a political appointee as the county executive wants."

The Republicans running the legislature had even gone so far as to approve a referendum in April that would have let the public weigh in. But Curran issued a veto the Republicans could not overcome.

Then Blakeman won.

Now the Republicans have a clear path for a referendum to convert the post to an elected one, but no apparent desire. That’s because with Blakeman’s victory they also gained the right to appoint an assessor themselves under the current system.

The county had an elected assessor (the only county in New York that did) until a referendum changed that in 2008. The rules for the past 14 years have demanded the appointee be approved by the legislature and fully qualified within three years of getting the position. But the spot has almost always been filled by an interim appointee who does not have those qualifications.

Only Curran appointee David Moog has ever officially been confirmed. And perhaps it helped. Moog managed to get a new and mostly accurate assessment done after a 10-year freeze, but since he retired, the county has reverted to two years of frozen values.

The position is currently held on an interim basis by Robin Laveman, who was put up for the permanent spot by Curran and has been in the process of completing her licensing and qualifications but was not confirmed by the legislature.

Asked whether Nicolello would still pursue a referendum now that it would kill the party's own ability to appoint, a spokesperson answered via email, "The Nassau Legislature’s Majority Members are acutely focused on working with the County’s new Administration to fix the broken assessment system. We are considering all options to enhance fairness, accuracy and accountability."

And in a 25-minute news conference on assessment held Tuesday morning by Blakeman and Comptroller Elaine Phillips, the method of choosing assessors did not rate even a mention.

— Lane Filler @lanefiller

Pencil Point

Driven protest goes viral

Credit: Gary McCoy, Shiloh, IL

For more cartoons, visit www.newsday.com/nationalcartoons

Final Point

Grab the popcorn

Now primary season has really begun.

The first candidate panel with all the heavy-hitter CD1 Democratic candidates is set for Feb. 24 at 7 p.m., co-hosted by the Southampton and Brookhaven Town Democratic committees.

The virtual event will feature Suffolk County Legislators Bridget Fleming and Kara Hahn, as well as Jackie Gordon, the 2020 CD2 contender whose Copiague home has been redistricted into CD1.

And for those interested in watching the candidates slug it out for the first time, a required registration link is available on the groups’ websites.

"It is a public event," said Gordon Herr, the Southampton party committee chairman. The opponents will be on screen at the same time to answer questions, which Herr said are supposed to be applicable to all the candidates, not specific for each one.

The Southampton organization hasn’t done a discussion like this since 2018, when Perry Gershon emerged from a crowded primary.

This time, Herr added, the event is meant to allow voters to see who they think is "best qualified" and most "electable" in the general election.

The event should provide an early sense of how the three candidates are differentiating themselves on issues and on resources to flip a red seat blue.

— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Did you miss an issue of The Point? Browse past newsletters here.