My political career started in the early 1960s, when I was a young reporter and then a speechwriter for political candidates. My hometown of Long Beach was one of only two Democratic areas on all of Long Island. Once you ventured outside the city, it was all Republican in every town, village and hamlet. In my first of 13 campaigns for the State Assembly, without Long Beach Democrats my margin of victory would have been small, or I would have lost.
Time goes by quickly, and a snapshot of our county shows that the vaunted Republican machine is facing its strongest challenge in over 100 years. Enrollment numbers have changed drastically. According to the state Board of Elections, Nassau has 345,787 Democrats and 321,852 Republicans. Once upon a time, any new residents of the county were encouraged to register Republican if they wanted their streets snow-plowed in the winter. Those days are gone.
More and more New York City dwellers with no political affiliation are crossing the Queens-Nassau border. Some don’t want to be associated with any political party, so they leave their forms blank. That accounts for the fact that there are over 200,000 registered voters with no party enrollment. But over the past 10 years, the Democratic Party has attracted more voters than the Republicans, and their number is growing.
It’s true that, year after year, the Nassau Republican Party has achieved numerous successes at the ballot box. Other than judicial nominations, Republican candidates for office have done quite well. But 2017 is a different year, and the tea leaves show that there’s much for the party to worry about. Indictments of Nassau and town officials contributed last year to the loss of a State Senate seat, and this year there are many more contested positions, which means there’s a need for tons of money and lots of foot soldiers.
With Republican County Executive Ed Mangano leaving office, there are two newcomers seeking that powerful position. Former State Sen. Jack Martins is the Republican candidate, being challenged by Laura Curran, a Democratic county legislator. Money won’t be an issue for the Democratic ticket, with well over $1 million in hand and money coming in at a rapid pace. No doubt the Republicans will raise significant money as well, but there’s a dark cloud over the GOP campaign that doesn’t help.
Beyond the troubles in the county, the two towns run by Republicans are feeling their own angst. Oyster Bay, which is as Republican as any enclave on Long Island, will see a bitter and close contest for town supervisor in November. Former State Assemblyman Joseph Saladino is the Republican candidate, and he’s being challenged by Marc Herman. The indictments of former Supervisor John Venditto hurt last year, and could inflict more damage this year.
Once upon a time, Oyster Bay was as politically predictable as Big Ben’s chimes in London. That is no longer the case. With many new voters in town and a lot of political unrest, the supervisor race will be a tossup, with the polls currently favoring Herman. In conversations with Oyster Bay residents of both parties, there is a undercurrent of unhappiness with the Republican Party, no doubt caused by some of the dysfunction in Washington.
The Town of Hempstead, traditionally Republican, is facing internal upheaval among its own rank and file. Two Town Board members, Erin King Sweeney and Bruce Blakeman, are challenging the actions of Town Supervisor Tony Santino. That bitterness has flared into the open at Town Board meetings, and is creating a climate of uncertainty with the party regulars. There’s no way to heal that rift, and it could create some stress on Election Day. There’s not much doubt that the Republicans will hold on in November, but it may not be the usual landslide.
What was once unthinkable — the idea of Democratic victories in Nassau County — is now close to becoming a reality. The Republican Party is still very much alive, and knows how to rally the troops on Election Day, but this year that might not be enough to stop the new energy that is helping the Democrats.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.