Good afternoon and welcome to The Point! Today we remain on tsunami watch while updating you on the latest wave of intrigue enveloping the upcoming congressional races on Long Island.
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Today in Long Island congressional politics
Joshua Sauberman, a former policy analyst at the United Nations who has funded documentaries about inequality, is hoping to give freshman Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi a run for his money — from the left.
Sauberman officially announces his run for Congress Tuesday afternoon in his hometown of Syosset, supporting progressive issues like universal health care. That’s one of the main bones of contention between Suozzi and progressives such as the Long Island Activists, an organization that wants a single-payer system for health care and has hounded his town hall meetings. Progressives also are frustrated over Suozzi’s love for the middle and his constant touting that he is a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus in the House.
Long Island Activists steering committee member Ron Widelec says Sauberman is applying for the group’s endorsement. In score cards for Suozzi and Sauberman on 20 priority bills, Suozzi got 30 percent and Sauberman got 100, Widelec told The Point.
“On policy he is great,” Widelec said of Sauberman in a text message. “We are looking closely at anything related to Suozzi because he is so far from what we are looking for” in a member of Congress.
Sauberman, however, will have a tough road in mounting a primary campaign against one of the most recognizable political figures on the Island, a politician with more than $1 million in campaign funds.
Sauberman, 35, seems to have had trouble even filling out his Federal Election Commission filings, mixing up the categorization of spending and contributions. That filing also showed him mostly self-funding. The challenger told The Point that his treasurer will file an amendment to FEC filings Tuesday and that the campaign picked up $10,000 between Jan. 16 and Jan. 31.
Money could be a major problem if Sauberman can’t afford the costly field organization needed to collect the required 1,250 signatures, which means he needs about three times as many, to quality for the June 26 federal primary ballot.
Otherwise, he’ll have to rely on inspiring an army of volunteers who already seem to have set their sights on another liberal challenger who wants to topple a GOP giant.
Proxy war in CD2
In the 2nd District, Liuba Grechen Shirley steadily marches on in her campaign to take out Republican Rep. Peter King, reaching out to female Democrats on Long Island and holding fundraisers in Brooklyn.
However, the real battle to watch is the one shaping up that features Grechen Shirley and Long Island progressives against Suffolk County Democratic leader Rich Schaffer, whom they feel is too willing to work with Republicans.
Schaffer has little choice but to support mainstream Democrat DuWayne Gregory, who is the presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature, one of Schaffer’s remaining power bases. Gregory lost by 24 percentage points to King in 2016. King has a reputation for defending Long Island even if it means taking on his own party, and that has earned him the tacit support of some powerful Democrats and labor groups.
Insiders who see the Democratic primary between Gregory and Grechen Shirley as a proxy war between Schaffer and County Executive Steve Bellone are already breaking out the popcorn. Grechen Shirley seems to have gone after her party leader as much as she has King. She has told people that she expects Schaffer to thwart her at every turn in getting the Democratic nomination, especially in her effort to collect enough petition signatures to get on the primary ballot.
So those weekend LIRR trains leaving Atlantic Terminal to canvass suburban progressives are more likely to switch at Jamaica to the Babylon line than the Huntington one.
Speaking of primary ballots . . .
Getting on the Democratic primary ballot in the 1st District won’t be much of a problem for Kate Browning, the former Suffolk legislator considered the person most likely to best the field of seven wanting to take on Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin. Browning’s real problem will be raising enough money to compete with Zeldin, who raises more and more cash as he moves to the far right.
Zeldin, who recently has gone over the top in the #ReleaseTheMemo insanity of the House of Representatives, is now a go-to cable news guest because he will offer a reliably extreme point of view. He did so Monday night on CNN in an interview with Anderson Cooper, at one point accusing California Democrat Adam Schiff, the minority leader of the House Intelligence Committee, of being “full of Schiff.”
In turn, that interview resulted in Zeldin being eviscerated Tuesday by Joe Scarborough on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” for advising President Donald Trump not to talk to special counsel Robert Mueller.
“Republican congressmen are going on CNN and saying that the president’s too stupid to talk to Mueller,” said Scarborough. These TV appearances raise Zeldin’s national profile as a righteous defender of the president, and that can be counted on to bring in the campaign dough.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee lists Zeldin and King as two of 50 targeted districts for its Facebook campaigns, but the real big Democratic dollars are uncommitted so far. While Zeldin is considered more vulnerable than King because of his rigid embrace of Trump and former strategist Steve Bannon, the war chest of the two-term Republican is daunting. Filings show he has $1.3 million.
However, one high-ranking Democrat is making a shrewd bet. Queens Rep. Joseph Crowley, fourth in the party’s leadership chain in the House and with an eye on moving up, has signed a joint fundraising agreement with Browning. As part of his Better Days Fund, Crowley will ask his donors to give to Browning and 11 other Democratic challengers across the country.
And it’s only February.
Plus over in the sleepy 4th Congressional District
The quietest congressional seat on Long Island is Kathleen Rice’s. So far, she has no primary or general election opponents.
Rice’s most recent campaign finance filings suggest a bit of complacency. She ended 2017 with $717,775.57, after raising $691,388.77 for the year.
That’s a weak performance for an incumbent. Lee Zeldin and Tom Suozzi each raised substantially more than $1 million last year (Peter King raised less than $500,000, but his campaign fund has $2.8 million). The average House member nationwide raised more than $800,000 in 2017, according to Federal Election Commission data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Nevertheless, Rice’s low balance is only comparative and doesn’t mean a wealthy Republican can just walk into a competitive race in the 4th District. Democrats have nearly a 9 percentage point registration advantage in the district. Combine that with the price tag for running for Congress (the average House candidate spent just over $1 million in 2016) and Rice still has a dramatic advantage over any opponent who might emerge.
Rita Ciolli, Mark Chiusano and Sam Guzik