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Midterm Elections: Congressional Races to Watch in New York

U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), foreground and his GOP challenger, Randy Altschuler, at a recent meet the candidates forum. (Joel Cairo/Long Island Press)

How the rest of the country votes next week for Congress could have a direct impact on New York’s political and financial future.


The Senate, which was reported to be on the verge of flipping to the Republicans, seems to be a Democratic stronghold for now, judging by the latest opinion polls. That means that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who was appointed by Gov. David Paterson to replace Hillary Clinton, will likely still be “the hottest” senator, at least according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who himself may not be around Capitol Hill much longer depending what happens in Nevada. Gillibrand is currently leading her Republican foe, Joseph DioGuardi, by double digits. Sen. Charles Schumer, who reportedly might replace Reid if the Nevadan loses his Senate seat, is far ahead of his opponent, Jay Townsend, who has never run for public office before.

If the Democrats fail to hold onto the House of Representatives, as some pundits predict, then Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) will lose her Health, Families and Communities subcommittee and Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Roslyn Heights), will no longer be the vice chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee nor chairman of the Middle East and South Asia subcommittee. Other key New York Democrats in a position to funnel money to the Empire State and wield influence on issues New Yorkers care about would lose their leadership roles, too. On the other hand, Long Island’s lone Republican, Peter King (R-Seaford), would move higher up on Capitol Hill, becoming chairman of the Homeland Security Committee and become second in charge of the powerful Financial Services committee. His Democratic challenger is Howard Kudler, who said the only thing he was getting from his party in his uphill fight against the entrenched incumbent is “an education in politics.”

Right now, Democrats represent 27 of New York’s 29 Congressional districts (which will drop by two seats next year after redistricting). The national Republican Party has eight of these Democrats in their cross-hairs.

“We have changed the guard,” says Ackerman, referring to the Obama administration. “Now we have to guard the change.” Ackerman’s Republican challenger in the 5th District, James Milano, who also has the Conservative line, is still a registered Democrat in Queens. A staunch opponent of “Obamacare,” Milano is an emergency room physician at the St. Francis Heart Center in Roslyn. Also on the ballot is Elizabeth Berney, a corporate litigation attorney from Great Neck, who’s running on the Tax Revolt Party line. Ackerman is clearly the frontrunner in this one.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills), the five-term incumbent in the 2nd District, may be feeling the heat from his Republican challenger John Gomez, who is calling the former Huntington Town board member a “Socialist.” But he’s not sweating it because, he says, liberal Democrats are castigating him for “being too conservative” and that puts him “right in the middle.” His race is not competitive.

But McCarthy and Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) are in the thick of it, with national implications should they lose. In the 4th District, Nassau County Legis. Francis Becker (R-Lynbrook) claims to be surging against McCarthy, now serving her 14th year in Congress. His campaign manager says the Republicans “smell blood,” and the GOP intends to bolster his so-far anemic advertising campaign. He received support from the National Rifle Association, and she’s gotten the endorsements of the Nassau County Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and the Nassau County Detectives’ Association. Her campaign paints Becker as a Tea Party Republican, pointing out that his campaign had less than $22,000 on hand as of Oct. 13, compared to her $541,053 tally. But this time around, it may be the secret donor money that really tips the scale.

“We’re all petrified of a millionaire coming into the race,” McCarthy tells the Press. “I don’t want to spend my whole life raising money!”

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