Democratic presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks Sept. 15...

Democratic presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks Sept. 15 at a Hispanic Heritage Month event in Los Angeles. Credit: Getty Images/Mario Tama

Daily Point

Anti-vax presidential hopeful plans grassroots campaign

Hours before Republican contenders for the presidential nomination gathered in California for their second debate Wednesday night, more than two dozen Long Islanders gathered on Zoom to rally behind a different presidential candidate: Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Kennedy, who is running as a Democrat, has generated interest particularly among those who support his opposition to vaccination and vaccine requirements. And it was clear from the start of what was billed as a “Long Island volunteer meeting” for the Kennedy campaign that his local supporters felt the same. As they made introductions, several participants cited Kennedy’s vaccine stance as a reason they were getting involved.

What was also clear, however, is that the Kennedy campaign is still ramping up, as staffers hope to generate more interest and build on a passionate base of volunteers to get him on the ballot for the 2024 presidential primary in New York.

“We’re a little bit behind the eight ball, but that doesn’t mean we should stop,” said a Kennedy campaign coordinator who identified himself only as Prince. “It means we should move faster and harder. With your help, we can do this.”

The campaign is relying on a grassroots strategy. Volunteers said they hoped to reach potential voters at farmers markets, carnivals, and other Long Island events. Flyers and leaflets, as of now, are only available online, requiring volunteers to print them to take them to events and hand them out.

“We have to be diligent and organized and focused in how we approach canvassing and the campaign, in how do we educate about Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and why he’s important to us,” said Carin Winter, who said she was a Kennedy 2024 grassroots coordinator for Long Island.

Kennedy has received waves of media attention, some of which has waned recently. But for the Long Islanders backing him, the effort — and the passion behind it — is ramping up.

“I really, truly in my heart believe he’s on a mission to help humanity and will make the world a better place, and that we will as well,” Winter said on the Zoom call.

At least one of the call’s participants has significant political experience. Former Nassau County Legis. Lisanne Guzzetta — formerly known as Lisanne Altmann — offered her services, noting that her interest in Kennedy began with his commitment to the environment but expanded from there.

“I’m also somebody who didn’t vaccinate my kids much,” Guzzetta said. “I very much follow him and believe in what he’s doing when it comes to vaccines.”

It was clear that the campaign hopes to tap into Long Island’s interest in those issues.

“We need an outsider like Mr. Kennedy to save the country, to unite the country,” said coordinator Prince. “We’re only going to accomplish that feat by talking to voters one by one. It’s emotional, your passion for Mr. Kennedy, and you want that to rub off on someone else.”

— Randi F. Marshall

Pencil Point

Debate dodger

Credit: The Buffalo News/Adam Zyglis

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Reference Point

Editorial board wins some, loses some

The Newsday editorial from Sept. 28, 1944.

The Newsday editorial from Sept. 28, 1944.

There is an old saying in journalism that a newspaper’s favorite story is “[Name of newspaper] gets results.”

Seventy-nine years ago, in the early days of Newsday’s existence, the editorial board was feeling pretty good about its success in attracting support for one of its causes — the creation of off-track betting or, as it was called then, off-course betting.

“We don’t often take time off for self-praise. And we don’t intend to in this piece,” the board wrote. “But if we point with pardonable pride to the fact that our ‘voice in the wilderness’ campaign to legalize off-course betting has added a new vocal chord, put it down to the same feeling you get when your baby’s first tooth becomes visible.”

In a Sept. 28, 1944 piece called “New Support For Off-Course Bets,” the board welcomed a Monmouth (New Jersey) grand jury which advocated “legalized betting parlors where a citizen may place a bet on a horse at his convenience.”

The grand jury apparently had been tasked with investigating illegal gambling in the county and discovered to no one’s surprise that it was “extensive.” The board quoted the grand jury as concluding, “We believe that the evils of promiscuous racketeer bookmaking could be and should be overcome by the state legalizing through legislation, the placement of horse bets at officially licensed betting parlors.”

Newsday’s board concurred, arguing that a bill to legalize off-track betting would virtually eliminate illegal bookmaking and give the state “at least $72 million” in revenue from taxes on gambling.

It wasn’t until 1970 — 26 years later — that the State Legislature passed its first bill legalizing off-track betting, rendering the campaign the political equivalent of the grueling 1.5-mile Belmont Stakes. But how did the Newsday board’s predictions fare?

The bill did not end illegal gambling, virtually or otherwise. Though New York-specific figures are hard to come by, the American Gaming Association estimates that Americans bet more than $510 billion a year illegally and a 2019 study by personal finance website WalletHub ranked New York 12th in the nation in the number of people arrested for illegal gambling; that was before the arrest of six people in Brooklyn in 2022 and seven people in Rochester in 2023 for running multimillion-dollar illegal sports betting operations. But the money payoff from legal betting easily outpaced the board’s rosy prediction: New York earned $693 million in tax revenue from sports gambling last year, boosted by the approval of mobile betting.

In other words, depending on how you look at it, the board won one and lost one, which is neither a great result in team sports nor enough to turn a profit in the gambling game.

— Michael Dobie, Amanda Fiscina-Wells

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