Given the announcement that Steve Israel will not be seeking reelection this term, the race for the House of Representatives in New York Congressional District 3 is an open contest in 2016. This surprising turn of events presents an exciting opportunity for the GOP to take this seat for the first time in 16 years, but only if the nomination process is reformed. The 2016 Presidential primary races in both major parties should be a clear message that hyper partisanship and a perceived disregard for the issues that matter most to Americans have made the average voter hungry for someone from outside the party establishment – someone who is not beholden to lobbyists or influenced by money from donor elites, crony capitalists, or big labor.
Now is the time for “we the people” of NY CD-3 to start considering a more open and transparent approach to selecting candidates. The proverbial smoke filled room needs to be cleared. Voters should be able to hear from the candidates directly via debates and meetings at local venues, not filtered through the press or party bosses.
From the standpoint of most of his constituents, Steve Israel’s decision to bow out of the 2016 race was unexpected to say the least. As Nancy Pelosi’s protégé, Israel was well positioned to replace Pelosi as the House Minority Leader or even Speaker if the Democrats were able to retake the House. Additionally, Israel, who is 58 years old, must defer receiving his federal pension until he turns 60 because he will have served less than the requisite 20 years. So why would he decide to write his second book just now? Is he really weary of political fund-raising? Or is there more to this decision?
Some have criticized Mr. Israel’s poor, or even unethical, performance as Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) chair, a job bestowed upon him by his mentor Pelosi in an effort to win back the House after the “shellacking” the party received in the 2010 elections. Rumors abounding throughout the political blogosphere have suggested that Israel was more concerned with preserving his own seat rather than winning races for other Democrat candidates nationwide. Some have even suggested that it could have been due to Israel’s rare stray from the party line, taking a stand against the Iran Nuclear Deal. Either way, it appears that Steve Israel was encouraged not to run by the powers that be.
So the race is on. The Cook report lists the Partisan Voter Index (PVI) for New York’s CD-3 as “EVEN” but with a large number of independents that have consistently turned out for Israel, even in 2004 when George Bush took the District. While this is not a slam-dunk for the GOP, today’s climate suggests that a credible candidate, free from ties to the party establishment, could appeal to those independents and fed up party faithful and take this district in 2016.
So how do we find the best candidate to run on the GOP ticket? Since 2000, local GOP leaders have dominated the selection process and supported many flawed candidates to run against Steve Israel. Frustration is rampant among independent Republicans in CD-3. In 2016, we are unwilling to simply fall in line and let the party bosses choose our candidate from those who have risen through the ranks, paid their dues, and spent time working at the clubhouse. It is time to encourage grass roots candidates, the citizen – politician, to come forward and make their case to the voter.
Several names have been mentioned in the local press – State Senator Jack Martins (who has filed the FEC paperwork), retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel David “Bull” Gurfein (who has filed the FEC paperwork), Grant Lally (who ran against Israel in 2014), Stephen A. Labate (who ran in the GOP primary in 2014 against Lally), State Assemblyman Chad A. Lupinacci, State Assemblyman Andrew Raia, Suffolk Legislator Robert Trotta, Huntington town Councilman Eugene Cook, and Anthony E. Tolda. Most hold political office at the local level. Are there others from the private sector, citizen – politicians like those who built our nation, who are ready to join the fight for the future of this country? Additionally, how much do we know about the positions of any of these candidates on issues of national importance? Voters want to know more about a candidate’s stand on the issues before they give their support, and these candidates should be heard free from the filter of the party’s kingmakers.
How can freethinking Republicans accomplish this without allowing the party infrastructure to dictate whom our candidate will be? We should take a lesson from Donald Trump who, like him or not, has used the mainstream and social media to his great advantage. In the age of Facebook, Twitter, crowd funding opportunities, YouTube, and local news feeds, the so-called citizen politician can put together a vigorous campaign on a shoestring.
Let’s start the conversation. Let’s fight to ensure that the voters of NY CD-3 get every opportunity to hear ALL of the candidates present their views in open, well advertised, and public venues. Choosing the right person will be key to winning this seat. “We the people” want to make that selection, not the entrenched party leaders.
Dr. Corinne A. Michels, PhD