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Long Beach City Council incumbents to face primary challengers

Three Democratic candidates announce plan to run in June primary

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In what is shaping up to be a crowded City Council race this year, three longtime Long Beach residents announced Tuesday that they intend to run in a Democratic primary in June.

West End resident Liz Treston, a well-known community advocate and the chair of the Long Beach Community Organizations Active in Disasters; Karen McInnis, a financial executive who also lives in the West End; and Ron Paganini, a retired city worker and former union leader, said in a news release that they plan to challenge incumbent City Council President Anthony Eramo and Vice President Chumi Diamond, who are up for re-election this year and have announced their candidacies.

The challengers, however, did not take aim at Councilwoman Anissa Moore, a Democrat whose seat is also up. The Long Beach Republican Committee issued a news release Tuesday announcing that Moore was running on the Republican line as part of a coalition ticket.

Last month, the Democratic-led State Senate passed a series of voting reforms that consolidated federal and state primaries, to be held on June 25 in New York instead of September. Candidates must begin collecting petition signatures on Feb. 26 and submit them to the Nassau County Board of Elections in about a month to get on the ballot.

Treston, McInnis and Paganini said they are running on a platform of “restoring integrity, trust and stability to both the city and the local Democratic brand,” particularly in the wake of a fiscal crisis — Long Beach topped the state’s fiscal stress list last year — and “questionable” separation payouts made to current and former employees in 2017 that led to an audit now under way by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

“The current administration promised transparency and fiscal responsibility,” Treston, the Herald’s 2018 Person of the Year, said in a statement. “Instead they’ve doubled down on secrecy and nepotism and more than doubled the city’s debt.”

Over six years after Hurricane Sandy, Treston, McInnis and Paganini noted, many residents who were displaced by the storm have yet to return home, the city has become increasingly unaffordable under the current administration and its long-term debt has ballooned to more than $100 million over the past several years.

City officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

McInnis is vice president of finance and strategic planning for the Association of American Publishers, a trade association representing the leading book, journal and educational publishers in the U.S. In a statement, she said, “The city needs to install budgetary and management controls to ensure we’re accountable to our residents. Under President Eramo and Vice President Diamond, the city has not taken a single substantive step toward getting a handle on this fiscal nightmare.”

The challengers also said that city officials have not done enough to advocate for the community’s health care needs since South Nassau Communities Hospital “scaled back” its plan to redevelop the former Long Beach Medical Center property after Sandy.

“We need elected representatives who will not only listen to residents, but fight tooth and nail for their interests,” Paganini said in a statement. “That’s exactly what our team is going to do. It’s exactly what this current administration hasn’t done.”

Eramo could not be reached for comment. Diamond issued a statement defending the city’s accomplishments, saying, “For the past two years I had the pleasure of serving the residents of Long Beach. I would be honored to be given another term to continue building on the progress we’ve made. I look forward to a spirited primary debating the issues facing our beautiful community, and allowing the voters to decide this June.”

The primary announcement comes at a time when city Democrats are divided among the Long Beach Democratic Committee, part of the county committee’s Long Beach zone, whose members have the power to nominate candidates; the Independent Democratic Club of Long Beach, some of whose members sit on the Long Beach committee; and a third, loose-knit group of Democrats.

A number of party members said they expected a primary this year. Nassau and Long Beach Democratic Committee members did not announce candidates for City Council at the county committee’s nominating convention on Feb. 13 at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City.

On Feb. 7, county Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Jacobs spoke at a Long Beach committee meeting in an attempt to unify the local party, according to people with knowledge of the meeting. Local Democrats said that Jacobs announced the launch of an online poll — which has since closed — in part to gauge which candidates residents would support in a primary, and whether they thought the city was heading in the right direction, among other questions.

Two years ago, Jacobs backed incumbents Scott Mandel and Diamond for City Council, as well as newcomer John Bendo, in a primary — a slate that won the general election — but not three Democrats who received the nomination at the committee’s Democratic convention that year.

As of Tuesday, Jacobs had yet to announce whom he would support in the council race. He did not immediately return calls requesting comment.

“We’d be thrilled to have the county’s backing, and we do have constant dialogue with them,” McInnis told the Herald, “but we’re going to move forward with what’s in the best interests of Long Beach.”