When Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) first was elected to Congress in 1992, his district was entirely in Nassau County.
Now, as King gets ready to retire after 28 years in the House of Representatives, congressional boundaries have shifted through reapportionment to the point where 2/3rds of his district is in Suffolk. The 2nd District now is more than 25% nonwhite, according to census data. (King originally was elected in New Yorks 3rd congressional district, and since 2013 has represented the 2nd).
The demographic changes and the impending departure of a popular, longtime incumbent have spurred Republicans and Democrats to devote hundreds of thousands of dollars to campaign contributions and ad blitzes to boost the contenders for the seat: Republican Andrew Garbarino and Democrat Jackie Gordon.
Garbarino, who represents the 7th state Assembly district, and Gordon, a former Babylon Town Councilwoman, have been highlighting their parties’ signature issues and vowing to work alongside both Democrats and Republicans.
Garbarino, 36, of Bayport, an attorney and the son of the Islip Republican chairman, is stressing his support for law enforcement and the backing he has received from powerful police unions.
Gordon, 55, of Copiague, a former U.S. Army combat veteran and public school teacher, is emphasizing her support of the Affordable Care Act, which congressional Republicans want to repeal.
In an interview, Gordon praised King’s achievements in Congress, including his work in securing federal recovery money for New York after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and superstorm Sandy in 2012.
But Gordon argued that over the years, many of the district’s residents had received less than their fair share of federal funding.
“Representation matters,” said Gordon, who immigrated from Bodles, Jamaica at age seven.
“Sometimes people who are disenfranchised … are sometimes left behind” because their representatives “may not realize that their needs need to be addressed. And so that’s one of the reasons that I’m running.”
Garbarino, an attorney, expressed hope he could connect with voters and assure them he’s the most qualified to succeed King. He’s gone door-to-door with King, including meeting last week with neighbors on King’s block in Seaford.
“If I have to go against my party, if I have to go against the Democrats, then I will. Because I will do what’s best for Long Island,” Garbarino said.
“At the end of the day I have to live with myself,” he said.
The 2nd District stretches along the South Shore in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
It includes majority white and Republican areas in communities in Nassau such as Seaford, Massapequa and Levittown.
The Suffolk portion has communities with significant minority populations that lean Democratic, including Wyandanch, Brentwood and Central Islip.
Democrats outnumber Republicans in the 2nd, by a margin of 164,059 to 151,993. There also are 118,382 voters not affiliated with any political party, 17,500 Independence Party members and 8,405 Conservatives, according to state Board of Elections.
In 2018, King beat Democrat Liuba Grechen Shirley, of Amityville, by a margin of 128,078 votes to 113,074.
“I would basically describe it as blue-collar conservative,” King said of the district. There are “traditional communities” with “a lot of union people, lot of police unions, firefighters … basically people that have great respect for the cops.”
Generally, political discussions aren’t ideologically driven, King said.
“There’s no wild causes here; basically it’s a bread and butter district. These are real communities, most of the people have lived here awhile … They’re basically normal people.”
Suffolk Democratic Chairman Richard Schaffer said: “It’s the quintessential suburban swing district that could be a bellwether in the country.”
Voters want “someone to be moderate, they’re not looking for a far to the left, or far to the right because it’s a blue collar, middle class district, [a] classic swing district,” Schaffer said.
So far, Gordon has raised $3.5 million for the race, compared with Garbarino’s $1.2 million, according to the most recent federal campaign filings posted Friday.
Gordon ended the third quarter of 2020 with $928,182 cash-on-hand, compared with Garbarino’s $344,994.
Among Gordon’s donors are national groups including ActBlue, EMILY’s List and Hold the House Victory Fund that aim to advance Democratic candidates and flip House seats in GOP districts.
Garbarino has received contributions from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Businesses and American Israeli PAC, federal filings show.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report, a Washington D.C. newsletter that analyzes and rates Congressional elections and other major races, lists the 2nd District race as a “toss up.”
While outside Democratic groups are pouring money into the race, and providing endorsements, “there’s just a lot of Republican DNA in that district,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of the elections newsletter Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics,
Kondik called it “a very competitive race and we’ve had Republicans narrowly favored in that district, but Gordon has a lot more money.”
In television commercials, Garbarino stresses his support of the “Back the Blue” campaign that seeks to boost support for local police. His ads use images of political figures including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx/Queens), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“It’s crazy, with crime on the rise, Democrats would defund the police. Republicans, they’ll defend the blue,” a narrator says.
“I grew up here on Long Island. My values are just like yours: defend the middle class, keep taxes down, and respect law enforcement,” Garbarino, wearing a navy blazer and collared shirt, says in the ad.
Gordon’s message emphasizes bipartisanship and health care.
Her campaign ads feature a montage of photos and videos of her in at various stages: Immigrant, military police officer, single mother, guidance counselor and yoga instructor.
“I’ve served under Democrats and Republicans, I’ve been to basic, and I’ve taught yoga,” she says in the ad, while seated at a kitchen table with a coffee mug in front of her.
“There are people in Washington who think being different is a threat — that don’t want to see women who look like me challenging the old boys club,” she says.
Gordon disputed Garbarino’s suggestion that Democrats would be bad for police.
“I support law enforcement. I am law enforcement,” Gordon said in an interview. “I bring law enforcement together with the community to bridge the divide.”
“I was in the military for 29 years, and 27 years of those I was a military police officer.”
She continued: “Since I’m 20 years old, my job has been public safety and keeping our community safe.”
Gordon, who grew up in Queens after coming to the U.S., said she was inspired to join the Army at age 20, while a student at Hunter College in Manhattan in the 1980s. She recalled seeing an Army commercial with the slogan: “We do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day.”
During a 29-year career in the Army, she served as a platoon leader in Germany during Operation Desert Storm in 1990-91; an operations officer in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; a battle captain in Baghdad during the invasion of Iraq in 2003; and as commander of the 310th Military Police Battalion in Afghanistan in 2012.
Gordon retired in 2014 with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
Gordon served as a Babylon Town Board member for 13 years. She taught for 10 years in Brooklyn and Half Hollow Hills, and was a school guidance counselor at Wilson Technological Center in Dix Hills.
Gordon said that if elected she would rely heavily on lessons she learned in the military.
“I’ve been in the military for 29 years, and not once did I look to my left or my right, and ask anyone if they were Democrat or Republican, because it didn’t matter,” Gordon said.
“Two things matter: “One, we had each other’s backs. And two, we were going to accomplish the mission,” she said.
Garbarino said if elected to Congress he would press for more federal coronavirus relief funding. He argued that any relief package should include more “targeted federal money to small business owners.”
He doesn’t believe Congress, in considering more aid to state and local governments, should, “write a blank check to New York State.”
“But I also don’t want to see Suffolk County workers lose their jobs. I don’t want to see cops fired or teachers laid off,” Garbarino said.
Garbarino said as an Assembly member, he supported Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s moves to shut down in-person activities to curb the pandemic. He said he also backs Cuomo’s efforts to phase-in the reopening of the economy.
Garbarino also supports repeal of the $10,000 cap on deductions for state and local taxes on federal tax returns.
Garbarino first was elected to the Assembly in 2012. He is the ranking minority member of the Committee on Insurance, and also sits on the Codes, Health, Higher Education and Racing and Wagering Committees
He graduated from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. with a bachelor’s degree in history. He went earned a law degree from Hofstra University, where he saw Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lecture.
Garbarino is an attorney at the family law firm that bears his father William Garbarino’s name.
His dad also is Republican Party chairman leader in Islip Town, but “I don’t always agree with him,” Andrew Garbarino quipped.
Garbarino said he was drawn to public service as a way of “preserving the way of life” he knew as a child.
“I think the South Shore of Long Island is the best place to live,” he said.
2nd CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT CANDIDATES
Education/career: Graduate of Hunter College in Manhattan; Master’s Degree in Counselor Education, CUNY Queens College; U.S. Army Reserve, 1984-2014 (retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel); teacher in New York City and Half Hollow Hills public schools; Babylon Town Board member, 2007-2020.
Family: Single; two adult children
Education/career: Bachelor’s Degree from George Washington University, Washington, D.C.; law degree from Hofstra University’s Maurice A. Deane School of Law; attorney, law firm of William R. Garbarino, Sayville.
Family: Single; No children