“Of the five races on Long Island there’s no question that mine is the most competitive,” Bishop says. “In part it’s driven by the nature of the district. It’s got 35,000 more Republicans than Democrats, and it has more registered Conservatives than any other Congressional district in the state. The other thing that drives it is that I’m running against a guy who has dropped $2 million of his own money into the race.”
Randy Altschuler, Bishop’s Republican challenger, is a self-made millionaire, an entrepreneur with a degree in German literature from Princeton and an MBA from Harvard who did real estate investing for the Blackstone Group before starting his own company, Office Tiger (named after the Princeton tiger mascot, he says). Office Tiger specialized in providing “professional support services,” he tells the Press, with 500 employees in the United States and “about 3,500 around the world.” (The Bishop campaign calls it “outsourcing.”) He sold that company in 2006, and two years later formed a new one, called Cloud Blue, which “recycles old IT equipment for large corporations.”
Altschuler moved to St. James three years ago with his wife Cheryl, who is a pediatrician. This fall he won a bloody primary fight against George Demos, a Wall Street lawyer, and Chris Cox, former President Richard Nixon’s grandson and the son of the current New York State Republican Chairman Ed Cox.
Bishop wasn’t surprised that Altschuler won. He had “the best organization,” Bishop says, “and he worked the hardest. I was surprised that Demos came in second.”
Altschuler believes that he is simply the best-equipped to replace Bishop.
“When I look now at the men and women who are in Congress, [I see that] most of them have had very little if any private-sector experience,” Altschuler says. “They’ve never met a payroll before; they haven’t managed a budget. So when you’re talking about health-care reform, or taxes and spending, they’re doing that in the bubble of being career politicians or maybe they were in academia, or maybe they were lawyers. There’s nothing wrong with lawyers; I mean lawyers are small businessmen, too, but they are not businessmen. While there’s a role for all those people, I think there’s an important role for business people, particularly right now when you look at where the economy is. I think you need somebody who has that practical background.”
Bishop, who was president of Southampton College before he ran for Congress, doesn’t see it like that. “He talks as if the only experience one should bring to the table to be a member of Congress is to have been a private business owner. He talks as if anything other than that is not acceptable. Now, I was in the private sector for 29 years. I was not a business owner; I ran a not-for-profit called a college for 16 of those 29 years and I’m very proud of that. But because I’m not an entrepreneur, not a business owner, that makes me in his view somehow not qualified.”
Besides Altschuler’s own contribution, and a recent $85,000 television advertising expenditure from the National Republican Congressional Committee, Bishop claims he’s also battling untold sums of financial support from two right-wing groups that don’t have to disclose their donors, thanks to the Citizens United decision by the Republican-dominated U.S. Supreme Court: the 60 Plus Association, a self-described alternative to the AARP, and the Alliance for America’s Future, which has Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter Mary on its board.
“One of the things I’ve tried to adopt in my life is to not worry about things that I can’t control, and I can’t control how really rich people spend their money, or how really profitable businesses spend their money,” says Bishop, who garnered support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to counter the other side’s contribution. Under the law, its donors have to be reported. “I’m just not going to lose sleep over things like that. But it certainly raises the bar that I’m not just running against Randy Altschuler and his millions, I’m running against millions being brought into the race by shadowy special interest groups that have no obligation to disclose their donors.”
According to the latest Sienna poll, Bishop is leading Altschuler by 12 points (51-39), but he’s not slacking off. In fact, as we went to press, President Bill Clinton was speaking on Bishop’s behalf to students at Stony Brook University.
“Bill Clinton always appealed to cross-over voters,” says Lawrence C. Levy, executive director of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University. “It’s great news that he’s coming: he can rally the base and raise a lot of money. It’s bad news that the national [Democratic] party thinks they need him there.”
But having “the big dawg,” as the former president is known in some political circles, is a move that Bishop feels he must make at this time. Whether it’s enough to keep Altschuler in check won’t be revealed until next week.