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Politicking on Long Island

Daily Point

Astorino paints himself bluer than LI’s Zeldin

Meet and greet Rob Astorino once again. He’s the former Westchester County executive, a Republican who ran against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in 2014. He says he’s planning to try it again next year, even though Rep. Lee Zeldin of Long Island has already lined up enough county GOP support across the state to make him the still-very-early favorite for the nomination.

During his first interview of the day on the Len Berman and Michael Riedel radio show on 710-AM Astorino claimed he has a better shot than other Republicans to capture the big prize because he was elected countywide in Democratic-dominated Westchester in 2009 and 2013. He said to prevail, he needs to win over "an enormous amount of Democrats" with a platform that reflects current GOP criticism of how blue-state New York is run with regard to taxes, jobs and crime.

Astorino thus compares his general-election chances favorably against those of Zeldin, who he said has succeeded by winning a redder Suffolk district.

One seasoned Republican operative also noted to The Point that while both candidates position themselves for now as the anti-Cuomo, not everyone in his party believes the currently-embattled incumbent will try for a record fourth term. If Cuomo demurs, the Democratic candidate, for better or worse, will not have Cuomo’s record to run on.

Of the two, Zeldin has stronger career options, at least in politics. "If Lee remains in the House, which we expect to win back next year, he can move up" in Washington, the GOP’er said. Then again, if Zeldin stays the course, who knows -- Astorino could join the ticket for comptroller.

Naturally an association with Donald Trump, still toxic for many New York voters, comes up, at least for now. Astorino had served as a talking-head on the ex-president’s behalf, in such venues as CNN. Given his position in Washington, however, Zeldin showed a more involved alignment of interests with Trump all through the Capitol insurrection, impeachments, and false claims of a "rigged’’ election.

On that topic Astorino noted to reporters that in his unsuccessful state Senate run last fall, Trump was a burden on the local ticket, having lost Westchester by 37 percentage points.

The most immediate question is who in New York’s GOP ranks will care about the former president and how much. Astorino told his radio hosts, "Trump isn’t there now. Next year he’ll have been more than a year removed."

— Dan Janison @Danjanison

Talking Point

Who is that masked, er, unmasked donor?

It’s a strange in-between time for political fundraising and politicking on Long Island.

COVID-19 is still circulating but infection rates are dropping and vaccinations are ticking up, as reflected in the different styles of indoor gatherings hosted by candidates.

That means virtual events are still on the calendar, like a meet-the-county-legislative-candidate evening with the Republican Women of Huntington this week. But the usual backslappers like a "May the ‘Fourth’ Be With You" fundraiser last week for Brookhaven Town Councilman Neil Foley, at Porters on the Lane in Bellport, are also back. An attendee told The Point the shindig was very crowded inside with masks not particularly visible. Foley said the event stayed under capacity limits and had an outdoor portion, and that he has been vaccinated.

State rules on gatherings have been swiftly changing recently, compounding the sense of vertigo. A spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said there are no special restrictions for indoor political fundraisers, just the current indoor limits. Earlier this month Cuomo replaced most business capacity limits based on the percentage of maximum occupancy with the space necessary to maintain six feet of social distancing, effective May 19. Large-scale indoor event venues have separate rules.

Still, some candidates and political attendees are eyeing each other’s setups. CD3 Republican hopeful George Santos this week pointed to photos of an unmasked, indoor gathering featuring incumbent Tom Suozzi. (Santos has had his own share of questionable pandemic socializing much earlier.)

Suozzi said the weekend victory party was at Antun’s by Minar in Hicksville, hosted by Indian-American supporters. He told The Point attendees were required to have been vaccinated.

Across Long Island, there are more cash bars, cocktail receptions, dinners and golf outings to come, and perhaps more people will get more comfortable with being at what recently would have been called a big "spreader" event if infections keep dropping and vaccinations keep rising.

"It was just great to see everybody," Foley said of the Bellport event. "I think people are excited to get back to the new normal."

— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

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Final Point

What Nassau’s comptroller candidates have in common

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran officially launched her re-election campaign on Tuesday, but it’s been a little quieter on the comptroller front so far.

The Point caught up with the Democratic and Republican candidates for an update on what Ryan Cronin and Elaine Phillips have been up to since they were last in the public eye.

Both lost State Senate races--Cronin came up short against Kemp Hannon both in 2012 and 2016, including by less than 5,000 votes his first time. Phillips served one term and was booted by Democrat Anna Kaplan in the relatively blue-wave 2018 cycle.

Since then, Phillips, who previously had a career in financial services, started working for North Carolina-based financial advisory firm CAPTRUST, which she says she got to know while she was mayor of Flower Hill and chairing a committee looking for a new investment advisor for the Roslyn fire department’s LOSAP, or Length of Service Award Program, that provides retirement benefits. The committee ultimately landed on CAPTRUST.

"When I lost my reelection, they actually reached out to me and said, you know, since you hired us for the first LOSAP, we've got quite a few other ones here on Long Island, and would you consider coming over and running the business," she said.

Her name was recently in the mix to head the Long Island Association, before she decided to make the run for the open comptroller seat. After leaving the Senate she joined the nonprofit boards of the hunger-relief organization Island Harvest and SCO Family of Services.

Cronin said that since his last campaign he’s been focusing on his family--he has three- and six-year-old daughters--and his law career as a partner at Blank Rome.

His track record in plaintiff litigation there includes representing victims of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, families affected by the Fisher-Price Rock ’n Play which has been linked to infant deaths, and, during COVID-19, helping companies negotiate commercial leases.

Both candidates were eager to point to their private sector backgrounds as preparation for the public office being vacated by Democrat Jack Schnirman who decided not to seek a second term after his prior experience as the Long Beach City Manager caused him a whole lot of problems.

— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

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