By Ronald J. Rosenberg
New York state’s missing U.S. senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, recently surfaced on Long Island. That must mean that Gillibrand finally got around to analyzing November’s election results and the near-death experience that will be seared into Gov. Kathy Hochul’s memory.
Say what you will about our senior senator, Chuck Schumer — and there’s much to say — at least he knows where Long Island is. Before he became majority leader, Schumer seemed to be on the Island every weekend, holding news conferences on topics ranging from baby products to the width of airline seats. He understood the power of Long Island’s potent voter base and its propensity to swing right or left, depending on issues and personalities.
Schumer has been in our faces, like him or not, because he understands politics and the importance of engaging voters. He has long recognized that if you take Long Island for granted, you do so at your own political peril.
Gillibrand? She has long been absent on issues. Absent on voter engagement. Absent on personal appearances. Just plain absent. Even Newsday was compelled at one point to ask, “Where is she?”
Well, you can tell that she has checked the calendar, and discovered that re-election is just two years away. Last month she met with journalists in Melville. In what was described as a wide-ranging discussion, Gillibrand announced that Long Island’s “red wave” would end in 2024. While suggesting that her party was trounced in November because “a lot of Long Island is libertarian,” she added, “I intend to run for re-election and win the state back, along with Long Island.”
These are bold words from someone who has failed to make a serious connection with Long Island voters. Over the years, Gillibrand has made a handful of announcements about federal programs, with little evidence that she pursued them specifically for our region, or even the state. In some instances, she has simply piggybacked off press statements from Schumer’s office.
To be fair, a search reveals that she held a town hall meeting at Hofstra in October. At that event, in which she engaged with students, the focus was the Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion. She told the Herald that she was in favor of term-limiting the justices. Ironically, that’s a suggestion she has not proffered for members of the Senate.
Gillibrand described herself as “very progressive” in her Melville interview, which raises the question: Just how far out of step is she with the majority of New Yorkers and those Long Island “libertarians” who voted in the last election cycle? Does she appreciate that being “very progressive” may serve to short-circuit a primary challenge from the left, but leaves her totally at odds with moderates in both parties?
Being frightened of a left-wing primary challenge led Hochul to ignore such profound issues as crime, high taxes, and municipal zoning authority. Her election night turned rather tense as returns demonstrated that a state with nearly twice as many Democrats as Republicans wasn’t going to give her the margin of victory her consultants were touting.
Former Rep. Lee Zeldin has given no indication of what he plans to do for the next two years. He has been mentioned as a potential choice as the next state GOP chairman, who could infuse new blood and strategic vision into that position. There is also speculation that he could run for Senate, confronting Gillibrand’s progressive candidacy with the grounded policies of moderates and conservatives who want an engaged senator who knows the difference between AOC and the LIE.
Another Long Islander who would make a formidable opponent to Gillibrand is Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman. He has quickly established his credentials as a tireless campaigner who embraces policies that are welcomed by those who describe themselves as Republicans, as well as independents who are in search of common sense. Comfortable before the media, popular “at home” and dedicated to public service, Blakeman would be an attractive candidate on many levels.
While two years is a lifetime in politics, Gillibrand’s recent return to Long Island is like Halley’s Comet, an event that happens very rarely. And her description of our red wave as the product of a bunch of libertarians is a reflection of the fact that she may visit every once in a while, but she doesn’t know us. And never has.
Ronald J. Rosenberg has been an attorney for 42 years, concentrating in commercial litigation and transactions, and real estate, municipal, zoning and land use law. He founded the Garden City law firm Rosenberg Calica & Birney in 1999.