GOP Rep. Peter King announced Monday that he would not seek a 15th term in his competitive Long Island seat, and plenty of politicians from both parties are showing interest in running to succeed him. New York’s 2nd Congressional District swung to Donald Trump by a 53-44 margin after backing Barack Obama 52-47, it snapped back in the 2018 midterms, giving Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo a 51-47 win.
We’ll start with the GOP side. First up, here are potential candidates who have publicly expressed interest in running:
- State Sen. Phil Boyle
- Suffolk County Legislature Minority Leader Tom Cilmi
- Suffolk County Board of Elections member Nick LaLota
- Former Rep. and 2000 Senate nominee Rick Lazio
- Assemblyman Michael LiPetri
Cilmi and LaLota both said they were close to getting in. Cilmi said that “my heart is 100% in it,” and that he plans "to officially declare candidacy at some point." LaLota declared, “I’m speaking with family, friends and supporters and everyone thinks it’s a good idea.”
Newsday also says that Islip Town Councilman John Cochrane, Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino, and Islip Councilwoman Trish Bergin Weichbrodt have each expressed interest as well, but there are no quotes from them.
Crain's New York Business and Roll Call also mentioned several other Republicans are possible contenders:
- Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick
- Former state Sen. Chuck Fuschillo
- Nassau County Legislator James Kennedy
- Islip Town Councilwoman Mary Kate Mullen
- Hempstead Town Clerk Kate Murray
- Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino
Suffolk County GOP chair John Jay LaValle also name-dropped Oyster Bay Councilman Steve Labriola as a possibility as well.
On the Democratic side, Babylon Town Councilor Jackie Gordon was running for months before King retired, and she still has the primary to herself. However, 2018 nominee Liuba Grechen Shirley, who lost to King 53-47, said Monday that she was “'seriously considering'” another try.
Newsday writes that state Sen. Monica Martinez is “supposedly interested in running, according to some in her circle.” However, City & State notes that Martinez was already backing Gordon’s campaign. Former Assemblywoman Christine Pellegrino was also mentioned as a possibility in Craine’s, though she’s reportedly more interested in a state Senate bid.
A few other Democrats have also said no to running:
Whoever ends up winning this open seat will do so under very different circumstances than King in did in 1992. King’s first district, which was numbered the 3rd, was entirely located in Nassau County. However, Suffolk County makes up three-quarters of the seat King is retiring from, which is now called the 2nd District, while the balance is in Nassau County.
King himself is a product of the once almighty Nassau County GOP machine. As Steve Kornacki details in his must read 2011 article on the rise of King and the fall of the Nassau County GOP, party chair Joseph Margiotta was one of the most powerful Republicans anywhere in the country when King was starting his career. King was a Margiotta ally when he won a seat on the Hempstead town council in 1977, and he was elevated to Nassau County comptroller four years later.
Margiotta, though, was found guilty of fraud and extortion in the early 1980s, and he had to give up his powerful post to go to prison in 1982. That year, King was the one member of the 70-person party committee who opposed Margiotta’s plan to essentially keep control of the Nassau GOP from jail by installing a Hempstead councilman named Joe Mondello as nominal leader.
However, King’s defiance would actually help him. Mondello was anxious to prove that he, rather than Margiotta, was the real party chair, and he cultivated King as an ally. King also would spend years reminding voters that he had stood up to the once-powerful Margiotta.
King planned to run for county executive in 1989 when incumbent Francis Purcell planned to retire, but Purcell disrupted things when he decided to resign early. Mondello supported another candidate for the appointment to succeed Purcell, but he didn’t forget about King. In 1992, after New York’s congressional map was dramatically redrawn, Mondello made sure that King was nominated for the new and open 3rd District.
King faced a tough battle to win that seat, though, against wealthy Democrat Steve Orlins. Bill Clinton was making inroads in the once-solidly Republican Nassau County, and Orlins attacked King as the product of a political machine that was driving up massive deficits at home. Orlins also reminded voters about King’s full-throated support for the the Irish Republican Army; just a few years before their campaign, King infamously said, “If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the IRA for it.” Orlins also went after King’s opposition to abortion, calling him a “zealot and an extremist.”
King, though, scored points by reminding voters that Orlins had only started renting a home in Long Island once this seat became open. King also made sure to highlight how he stood up to the old party boss Margiotta when it mattered. While Clinton narrowly carried the seat, King ended up winning 50-46. This would be the only time that King failed to win by double digits until his final campaign last year.
King spent his time in Congress as a usually reliably Republican vote especially on social issues like abortion, but he made sure to break from the party mainstream on key issues to appease his suburban base. King defended unions after they became a conservative punching bag, and he supported gun safety measures after the 1993 Long Island Rail Road massacre. King also opposed impeaching Clinton, and the congressman decried how Speaker Newt Gingrich was turning the party into a group of “hillbillies at revival meetings.”
King’s seat swung to the right after the Sept. 11 attacks, and he positioned himself as a security-obsessed loudmouth. Most infamously, King held hearings in 2011 where he questioning the loyalty of Muslim Americans.
The Nassau County machine collapsed in the 1990s and early 2000s, but King continued to do well at home: New York Democrats would win every one of the state’s 29 congressional districts at one time or another between 2002 and 2011 except for King’s seat. King would continue to win with ease after the 2012 round of redistricting shifted his seat well into Suffolk County until 2018, when Liuba Grechen Shirley gave him what was by far the closest re-election campaign of his long career.
King himself continued to vote his party’s way on most issues while also trashing his party’s leadership well into the last years of his career. Hurricane Sandy devastated the Northeast, including King’s seat, in 2012, and the congressman was furious after GOP leaders adjourned Congress in early January without passing a relief bill. King declared, “These Republicans have no problem finding New York when they’re out raising millions of dollars,” and he continued, “They’re in New York all the time filling their pockets with money from New Yorkers.”
King went on, “I’m saying right now, anyone from New York or New Jersey who contributes one penny to congressional Republicans is out of their minds. Because what they did last night was put a knife in the back of New Yorkers and New Jerseyans. It was an absolute disgrace.” King would win another three terms as a member of the party he had encouraged donors to snub.
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