Women Eye More Gains in Long Island’s Congressional Primaries

l. to r.: Kate Browning, Elaine DiMasi, Liuba Grechen Shirley and Vivian Viloria-Fisher.

Three women trying to unseat U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) have already made history as they outnumber men — a local first — in a five-way Democratic primary that voters will decide this month.

In Long Island’s two other June 26 congressional primaries, two men are challenging U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Queens) and a man and woman are vying to run against U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford). But females are trying to make Zeldin’s East End district the next upset after women made historic wins in last year’s elections, most notably new Nassau County Executive Laura Curran.

“Women are getting more active in electoral politics,” says Suffolk Democratic Chairman Rich Schaffer. “We have a number of women county legislators and women who serve in various town positions, so we’re glad to see them taking the next step for the congressional.”

Twenty percent of Congress is female — 23 in the U.S. Senate and 84 in the U.S. House of Representatives. Carolyn McCarthy became LI’s first congresswoman in 1997 and her successor, U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), is the only member of the fairer sex in the Island’s five-member congressional contingent.

The female trio lining up against Zeldin includes former Brookhaven National Lab physicist Elaine DiMasi of Ronkonkoma, plus two term-limited ex-Suffolk County legislators: Vivian Viloria-Fisher of East Setauket and Kate Browning of Shirley, who’s considered one of two favorites in the race.

The other favorite is businessman Perry Gershon of East Hampton. Rounding out the ballot is David Pechefsky of Port Jefferson, who comes from a career government and nonprofit work.

“Our campaign continues to build a broad coalition of grassroots supporters, unions and elected officials who believe my blue-collar background and experience winning tough elections in a highly Republican district makes me the best candidate to beat Lee Zeldin,” said Browning, an Irish immigrant and longtime Working Families Party member who switched her registration to Democrat last year.

Viloria-Fisher, who was born in the Dominican Republic, touted herself as the first Latina ever elected in Suffolk, which gives her a unique perspective on the hot-button immigration issue.

“I will bring a fresh new face to the representation of [the district] in Washington, DC.,” she said during a candidate forum, according to Riverhead Local.

DiMasi’s main issue is defending the environment and science from President Donald Trump’s loosening of environmental regulations.

“Voters know that science is a powerful force,” says DiMasi. “We’re in the fight of our lives against those who treat it as a farce.”

In the primary to challenge King, Suffolk Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) is facing a challenger of his own while looking for a rematch against LI’s senior congressman, who’s district straddles the Nassau-Suffolk line. Liuba Grechen Shirley, a community organizer and economic expert from Amityville, made national headlines when she successfully lobbied the Federal Election Commission to become the first woman to use campaign funds for child care while on the trail.

“It’s time to take down the institutional barriers blocking mothers from running for office,” Grechen Shirley wrote in a Washington Post editorial. “And if I’m going to win, then I need a babysitter.”

King, like Zeldin, is predictably confident in his chances of re-election despite punditry espousing a coming so-called blue wave of Democratic voters turning the mid-term elections into a referendum on Trump’s Republican policies and his allies in the GOP congressional majority.

Also confident is Meeks, the only congressional incumbent facing challengers on Long Island in the lone all-male primary on local ballots. While Meeks’ district is mostly in Queens, he also represents parts of southwestern Nassau. His challengers include Mizan Choudhury, a businessman from Bellrose, and Carl Achille, an Elmont civic activist.

That race aside, it appears this primary will be a test of whether women will surf the blue wave to more possible Election Day upsets.

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