By the end of next month, Long Island will have held three special elections—each on a different day—to fill two vacant seats in the Nassau County legislature and one in the Suffolk County legislature.
The first special election happens next Tuesday for Nassau’s 12th Legislative District, followed two weeks later by the special election for the 19th Legislative District. The Suffolk County special election for the 12th Legislative District is in six weeks. Two of the six candidates are named Kennedy—and they’re both Republicans, although one’s a man, the other a woman.
From a political standpoint, the outcome of Nassau’s two special elections could be more significant than what happens in Suffolk, where the Democrats already hold a commanding margin in the county legislature. If the Republicans can win both Nassau special elections, then they would need to gain just another seat in the Nassau Legislature to control a super majority of 13 votes—they now have 10 of the 19 legislative seats—and that margin would enable the GOP to approve borrowing measures without needing Democratic support. The Nassau Interim Finance Authority, which is the state-imposed fiscal control board, has projected that the county is facing a $150 million budget deficit.
In the Suffolk legislature, Democrats currently hold 10 of the 18 seats, the Republicans have five, the Working Families Party and the Independence Party have one each, and the remaining vacant seat is up for the special election at the end of March.
The first special election will be on Feb. 24 to fill the vacancy created by former Legis. Michael Venditto (R-Massapequa) winning his race to the New York State Senate. Venditto, whose father, John Venditto, is Oyster Bay town supervisor, had won his seat in the county legislature thanks to a special election held in 2012 after Republican Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapeuqa) suddenly died in Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano’s office. Interestingly, the Republican candidate in this special election is Schmitt’s son-in-law, James Kennedy, 42, whose mother-in-law, Lois Schmitt, is running his campaign. Kennedy serves on the Nassau Board of Elections. His Democratic challenger is Joseph Stufano, 53, a biomedical engineer who is also from Massapequa.
The other Nassau special election will be held on March 10 to fill the 19th Legislative District seat left vacant by former Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick), who resigned after pleading guilty of charging more than $2 million worth of legal services over eight years that he never provided. This special election pits Rita Kestenbaum, 56, who’s running on the Democratic and Working Families party lines, against Steven Rhoads, 46, who has the Republican, Conservative and Independence party lines and the Tax Revolt party designation. Kestenbaum, a former member of the Hempstead Town Board, is a Bellmore resident who became a gun control activist in 2007 after her 20-year-old daughter was shot to death on the night of her birthday outside her off-campus apartment in Tempe, Arizona, by a disturbed young man who then turned the gun on himself. Afterwards, Kestenbaum set up a foundation and has worked closely with the Long Island Crisis Center. Rhoads, also a Bellmore resident, is a personal injury attorney who twice tried to unseat Denenberg.
In Nassau’s Legislative District 12, 46 percent of the 56,625 registered voters are Republicans (25,813 voters) and 26 percent are Democrats (14,710 voters). In Nassau’s Legislative District 19, 41 percent of the 54,355 registered voters are Republicans (22,304 voters) and 31 percent are Democrats (16,708 voters).
The third special election, in Suffolk’s 12th Legislative District, will be help on March 31 to fill the seat held by former Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), who won his bid to become Suffolk County comptroller last November. He’d previously been overwhelmingly re-elected as a legislator with 83 percent of the vote. In the comptroller’s race, Kennedy’s Democratic challenger, James Gaughran, had tried to make an issue out of Kennedy’s hiring his wife, Leslie, on his staff in 2007 as an aide and promoting her over the years. But the voters didn’t buy it, perhaps as Kennedy himself frequently said publicly, his wife works just as hard—if not harder—than he does in serving their legislative district which mostly covers Smithtown but has a sliver of Brookhaven. Now Leslie Kennedy, 58, will be running for the seat herself.
Kennedy’s Democratic challenger, Deborah Monaco, 55, is reportedly not going to run “an active campaign,” according to Suffolk County Democratic Chairman Rich Schaffer, due to time constraints and other factors. She has been the secretary of the Suffolk Democratic Committee and has a job at the Suffolk Board of Elections. In this Suffolk district, Republicans have 20,202 registered voters compared to the Democrats’ 14,563 registered voters.
In all these special elections, turnout will definitely be a huge factor, magnifying the impact of any voter who braves the weather and goes to the polls. Last February, only 4.29 percent of the registered voters in Nassau Legislative District 2 turned out for the special election which Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury) won against Republican Pepitz Blanchard.
—With Jamie Zahl and Timothy Bolger