In a stunning upset, Republican Melissa Miller defeated City Council Vice President Anthony Eramo on Tuesday in the race for an open seat in the 20th State Assembly District — the first Republican to win the seat in more than 50 years.
Eramo, a Democrat serving his second term on the council, campaigned heavily in the district and ran on a platform of fighting corruption, reducing taxes, advocating for Hurricane Sandy victims and the environment, and lobbying for more education aid. With strong support from labor unions, as well as the Working Families, Women’s Equality and Independence parties, he was widely expected to win, and results had him winning his hometown of Long Beach by a 2-to-1 margin.
And in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans, and with an Assembly controlled by a Democratic majority, Eramo seemed poised for an easy win.
But as the evening went on, the mood at Westbury Manor, where Nassau County Democrats gathered to watch the election results, began to change as numbers showed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump ahead of Hillary Clinton, the favorite.
“I was very confident when New York came in early for the presidential race that that would bode well across the board for Democrats here,” said Joe Brand, chairman of the Long Beach Democratic Committee. “But as the results were coming in and didn’t reflect that, that’s when everyone started getting nervous. I think Trump had a tremendous effect on the Assembly race.”
Miller collected 27,259 votes to Eramo’s 24,093, or 52 percent to 46 percent. Despite strong voter turnout, some observers said that support for Trump and Miller among voters in conservative districts such as the Five Towns hurt Eramo outside Long Beach and other areas.
Long Beach voters turned out in record numbers for the Democratic candidates. Even in the West End, Eramo’s neighborhood but a typical Republican stronghold, where Trump beat Clinton, Eramo won.
Miller, 52, an Atlantic Beach resident, is a political newcomer, but is known for her community advocacy. She spent the better part of the last three years advocating for the legalization of medicinal marijuana, which is seen by many as a useful treatment for those who suffer from a range of maladies, including the severe seizures that Miller’s son, Oliver, 16, endures daily because of a stroke that he suffered before he was born.
She ran on a platform of fighting corruption, and said she wasn’t a career politician. “I’m excited,” Miller said. “I plan to find out what my constituents want and find out what’s important to them and their issues. I have a platform I plan on continuing to follow by fighting to maintain the tax cap and getting more accessibility and disability awareness. I have every intention of fighting and advocating in Albany.”
Long Beach Republican Committee Chairman Jim Moriarty called Miller a “breath of fresh air for local politics.” He added that although she lost in Long Beach, she did better than expected.
“Her winning this seat is absolutely a stunning victory,” Moriarty said. “I think we all had a lot of confidence that she was going to run a very strong race, and she was a good candidate in that she came across as a very sincere, dedicated person that you’d like to see in politics. But the fact that she could pull off this win, there really aren’t words to describe how stunning this is. It’s the first time a Republican was elected to this Assembly seat since 1962.”
Eramo could not be reached for comment. City Councilwoman Eileen Goggin, meanwhile, was elected as a Nassau County District Court judge, capturing a seat in 2nd District Court, which covers the Town of Hempstead and Long Beach.
The win means there will now be just one open seat on the council. As early as last week, council members had discussed making leadership changes in anticipation of wins by both Eramo and Goggin, and Councilwoman Anissa Moore was widely expected to be named council president at the Nov. 15 meeting, which was likely to be Eramo’s last, according to political insiders.
But with only one seat open, that rotation could now change, with some saying that Eramo — a year into a four-year term — could be named president and Moore vice president. Council members declined to comment.
There had also been talk of the council appointing replacements to fill both Eramo’s and Goggin’s seats. Those rumored to be in the running included Dave Yolinsky, a former Long Beach professional firefighter; Marv McMoore Jr., president of the College Democrats of America and a lifelong Long Beach resident; former City Council President Fran Adelson; Matt Adler, a teacher; John Bendo, president of the West End Neighbors Civic Association; Sam Pinto, a firefighter and the president of the Eastholme Civic Association; and former City Manager Ed Eaton, among others.
“Right now it’s tough to say, because we were all kind of anticipating and planning for the more current seat to be vacated by Anthony,” said Brand, who declined to speculate on who may be appointed.
Jeff Bessen contributed to this story.