ALBANY OR BUST
Is Montano ready to make the move upstate? His opponent, Phil Boyle, has been in the Assembly for 14 years, and is comfortable in Albany. The Democratic legislator certainly seemed at ease in his element while having a late lunch at Tango, an Argentinian steakhouse in Central Islip as a steady stream of acquaintances came by his table to chat. He says he wants to go north—and he cites his experience growing up listening to his father Armando Montano, who served in the Assembly for over a decade and a half.
“I’m 62,” Montano says with a smile. “I can’t afford to pass up this opportunity!”
He believes he’ll make a difference in Albany.
“We’re not looking at imposing taxes on working and middle classes,” says Montano. “There’s a great contrast between what I believe as a Democrat and what my opponent believes as a Republican… The Republicans have been in control of this seat for 40 years and the demographics have changed.
“I have nothing against Phil Boyle,” he adds. “Everyone tells me he’s a nice guy, but I can’t name one thing that he’s done.”
His good feeling about his opponent may not last much longer because some people in his district have recently been receiving “push polls,” in which callers purporting to be conducting an election survey are really disseminating criticism of a candidate. One man in Bay Shore, a retired union worker, got one and it made him so angry he intends to volunteer for Montano’s campaign.
“They describe Boyle like Jesus Christ and Montano like the devil!” he tells the Press.
Boyle’s campaign has not been linked to the push-poll calls.
“I like Rick,” says Boyle, 51, as he’s going to door to door in one of the richest neighborhoods in his district, Bayberry Point, where the mansions and Spanish-style villas, some built in the 1920s, are far apart, and sports cars are parked in the circular driveways and boats are tied up to the canals in back. And where, he says in answer to a reporter’s question, property taxes could be “at least $50,000.”
This year the Republicans in the State Senate redrew the Fourth Senate District and conveniently cut out almost all of Montano’s Ninth Legislative District.
“It would be a disaster for Dean Skelos to lose that seat,” says a well-connected political insider—not a Republican—who didn’t want his name used because of his close ties to both sides. “It’s in his own backyard!”
Boyle insists that if the Democrats took over the State Senate it would lead to “utter chaos,” as he said it was when they were in charge in 2009 and 2010 and made New York City issues their priority.
“We need to make sure we maintain a Long Island-based majority in the State Senate,” says Boyle. “This is not about Republican versus Democrat—this is about Long Island versus New York City.”
His years in Albany have taught him a lesson in humility.
“To be effective as a minority Assembly person, you need to be able to put your ego aside,” Boyle says.
To Montano’s way of thinking, Boyle’s experience in the Republican minority “means you go up there and for the most part do nothing because you have no power,” he says. But he doesn’t see himself facing the same situation in the State Senate. “When we win this seat,” Montano says, “this could determine the balance of power in New York State.”
That won’t happen, says Scott Reif, a spokesman for Skelos.
“We believe we’re going to win this seat,” says Reif. “We believe we’re going to expand our majority. It’s very important to keep all nine seats on Long Island in Republican hands. That’s been very good for Long Island.”
State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) differs.
“We’re very optimistic about Rick’s chances,” says Gianaris, head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. “I think they’re seeing the same numbers that we’re seeing, and those numbers indicate that we’re returning to the majority in January.”
He believes that Boyle’s conservative views on women’s reproductive rights and fair pay, as well as his opposition to raising the minimum wage make the Republican—with whom he’d served in the Assembly before being elected to the State Senate himself—“out of touch with the people of Suffolk County.” And he scoffs at the charge leveled by Boyle’s backers that Montano would be nothing but a Democratic pawn for the city.
“In a Democratic majority, a Senator Rick Montano would actually have a lot more influence than a Senator Phil Boyle would have in a conference with many [Republican] senators from Long Island,” he says. “A Democratic member from Suffolk would have an outsized voice within our conference.”
Of course, anyone who’s tangled with Montano would know that’s probably an understatement.
One of those guys is Suffolk Democratic Chairman Rich Schaffer, who’s publicly supported Sen. Owen Johnson over the years—much to the legislator’s displeasure. But now that the 83-year-old senator is retiring, Schaffer is fully backing Montano. The issue, Schaffer tells the Press, “was always about the relationship I had with Owen….He went against the Republican Party when the Town of Babylon was experiencing great financial difficulty…and helped us get through that difficult period without [us] having to declare bankruptcy.”
Now, Schaffer says, “We support Rick Montano. [He] has been an important part of the legislative caucus and I think he’ll take the same philosophies of protecting our suburban interests to the State Legislature.”
Schaffer’s counterpart, Suffolk Republican Chairman John Jay LaValle, tells the Press that “Phil Boyle’s going to win handily.” Still, the chairman notes, “Phil’s taking nothing for granted. He’s knocking on doors. He’s doing everything he can possibly do…. I do expect that that’s going to equate to votes at the ballot box.”
New York State Republican Chairman Ed Cox says he’s known Boyle “for a long while” and “he is one of the best political minds that we have!”
Independence Party Chairman Frank MacKay previously endorsed Boyle when he ran for the Assembly and he’s proudly giving Boyle his party’s line in the State Senate race.
“Phil Boyle would maintain more of an Owen Johnson-type agenda,” MacKay tells the Press, adding that he’s been impressed by Boyle’s stamina. “He’s working 18 hours a day—I’ve never seen anybody work this hard in a campaign!”
Montano says he hasn’t been slouching off, either.
“People tell me I look great,” he says with a laugh. “I’ve lost 10 pounds!”
A former federal prosecutor, Montano relishes making his case that he’ll win this open seat. He says he’s counting on voter turnout of 65 percent or more—the last presidential election yielded about 75 percent, he says—and that “our data clearly shows that Obama’s going to win this district.” His major concern is about ticket-splitting, considering that the Independence Party line might take between 5 and 7 percent of the vote. “What I’m telling people is stay on the [Democratic] line! That’s our key to victory.”
How many voters cast their ballots for the Independence Party’s candidates may not be so pivotal in this State Senate race but it could make the difference in the First Congressional District, many observers say, since Bishop got more than 7,000 votes in 2010 and won’t be listed on their ballot spot this time—and that has got Democratic operatives worried.