Candidates jockey for King’s seat

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It’s hard to replace a King, or at least it will be after U.S. Rep. Peter King retires from public office when his current congressional term ends next year.

King, 75, an-nounced his retirement from the 2nd Congressional District on Nov. 11, having served in Congress since January 1993. Before that, he was an at-large Town of Hempstead Council member and the Nassau County comptroller. His announcement came only weeks after his daughter Erin King Sweeney, a Hempstead Town Board member representing the 5th District, went pblic with her decision not to seek re-election to the council on which her father once served.

One day before King made his announcement, he spoke to Nassau County Republican Chairman Joseph Cairo about his decision. “It was disappointing,” Cairo said. “We go back to the 1970s and are both Notre Dame alumni. He’s a great guy. I’m very sorry to hear the news.”

Cairo must now find a replacement candidate for King in the next election, which he admitted will be difficult. “It’s an important seat to fill, and it’s important to his constituents,” Cairo said. “We now have to find someone to try and approach his level of passion, and we’re in the early process of doing that.”

Cairo did mention a few possible candidates who might run for King’s seat, including State Assemblyman Michael LiPetri and newly elected Oyster Bay Council member Laura Maier.

LiPetri, 29, represents the 9th Assembly District, which overlaps with King’s district and includes Massapequa, Massapequa Park and South Farmingdale on the Nassau County side and West Babylon, Babylon, West Islip and Brightwaters on the Suffolk County side. He is also a Massapequa resident. This would give him insight into a few areas of King’s current district. LiPetri is also a graduate of Albany Law School and was a member of the New York City Law Department.

Laura Maier, 40, won a seat on Oyster Bay’s Town Board earlier this month. She will be sworn in January. This is her first foray into politics. Maier was previously a small businesswoman, owning a Dairy Queen franchise in Massapequa and two Jersey Mike’s Subs locations — in Farmingdale and Massapequa. She is a Massapequa resident and member of the Massapequa Chamber of Commerce. She was also a health management administrator.

Cairo noted that these thoughts are preliminary, and that there is a process to determine who will run for King’s seat. He also said he would work closely with Suffolk Republicans to gain more insight into their preferences and the candidates they might deem worthy of the party’s support.

On Thursday, Nov. 21, Suffolk County Republican Commissioner of the Elections Board Nick LaLota announced on his Facebook page that he would be throwing his hat into the race for King's Congressional seat in 2020.

"From an early age, I have had a strong desire to serve our great country," LaLota wrote. "As an Annapolis graduate and former Naval Officer who deployed overseas three times, I was instilled with the Navy's motto of 'Ship, shipmate, then self.' Now, as a family man with an amazing wife and three beautiful daughters, I am eager to get to Washington and put the mission of protecting hard-working American families first."

Across the aisle, the Nassau County Democratic Party is now also in the early stages of identifying a potential candidate after the news of King’s retirement broke last week.

“It presents an opportunity to take a seat that would otherwise be very difficult,” said Jay Jacobs, the Nassau County Democratic Committee chairman. “It is a tough seat. The district he has leans Republican, but without a popular incumbent the seat becomes a potential pickup.”

Jacobs added that he is not worried for the Republicans, who have

a “good bench” of options. “They won’t have a shortage of possible replacements,” Jacobs said.

The Democratic Party has named Babylon Town Board member Jackie Gordon as a possible early candidate for King’s seat. Gordon, 54, is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and resident of Copiague, another 2nd District community. In May, she announced her intention to run against Peter King for his congressional seat.

Liuba Grechen Shirley, 37, is an Amityville resident who ran a close race against King in 2018, coming closer to beating him than any candidate in at least a generation. King won the seesaw battle with 53.1 percent of the vote. Grechen Shirley received more than 113,000 votes. On Nov. 18, she announced that she is expecting her third child and will not run for King’s seat in the next election.

Grechen Shirley made history when the Federal Election Commission ruled that she could use campaign funds to pay for daycare during her congressional run. Currently, she runs a nonprofit, VoteMama, which supports Democratic mothers running for office at any level across the country.

As for what Jacobs thought of the race for the 2nd District, he echoed the same worries that Cairo holds in trying to find a candidate who could have the name recognition that King had.

“King has not been one to avoid controversy,” Jacobs said. “He has very strong opinions on policy that create very strong reactions. People either love him or don’t, but I’ve always found him to be a professional.”

Jacobs added that although King’s “public comments were anything but moderate,” behind the scenes he worked across the aisle with Democrats. “Peter worked across party lines,” Cairo said. “You have to work across them. It is necessary in government to see things accomplished.”

Republican Christopher Carini, of Seaford, who was recently elected to replace Erin King Sweeney on the Hempstead Town Board and is a former Port Authority police officer, said of King’s retirement, “It’s unfortunate, and it’s a big loss for law enforcement.”

Steve Rhoads, the Republican Nassau County legislator representing the 19th District, added that King was a “tenacious fighter [who let] nothing stand in the way of him fighting for his constituents.”

District 15 Republican Legislator John Ferretti, of Levittown, said that King “led the fight for Long Island.”