Five Democrats vie for win in 3rd Congressional District primary

Five Democrats vie for win in 3rd Congressional District primary
Five Democrats are running in the 3rd Congressional District primary election on Aug. 23. (Photos courtesy of the candidates)

Five Democratic candidates are running in New York’s 3rd Congressional District primary election on Aug. 23.

The crowded field of Democrats includes activism Melanie D’Arrigo, former Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman, Nassau County Legislator Josh Lafazan, Reema Rasool and Great Neck businessman Robert Zimmerman. The winner of the primary election will face Republican George Santos in the district’s November general election.

The candidates are all running for the seat left vacant by U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) who ran in the state’s gubernatorial primary race in June, only to lose to Gov. Kathy Hochul.

D’Arrigo, 41, is a progressive activist from Port Washington who previously ran against Suozzi for the same seat in 2020. While Suozzi won the primary and ultimately the general election, D’Arrigo received 25.7 percent of the primary vote.

A native of Lindenhurst, D’Arrigo graduated from Barnard College and earned a Master of Science degree from the School of Health Professions at Long Island University, and later worked as an allied health professional for health care companies Optum and Cigna.

D’Arrigo said she represents the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party working hard to bring this party back to its FDR roots.” In a virtual interview with Blank Slate Media earlier this year, she emphasized her comittment to work for “middle-class families” throughout the district.

On bail reform, D’Arrigo said she supports the reforms and considers them important civil rights legislation. On the overall issue of public safety, the Port Washington resident believes that investing in green spaces, education and healthcare for example would tackle the root cause of crime in the community.

D’Arrigo supports Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, campaign finance reform, immigration reform, student loan forgiveness and free public education, among others. Some notable endorsements include the National Organization for Women PAC, Brand New Congress, Her Bold Move, Empire State Indivisible, Moms in Office and Progressive Women of NY, among others.

Kaiman, 59, of Great Neck, was the North Hempstead town supervisor from 2004 through 2013 and is currently the deputy executive for Suffolk County, a position he has held since 2017.

He has also served as a Nassau County District Court judge, state adviser for SuperStorm Sandy Recovery, and chairman of the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority.

He ran an unsuccessful congressional campaign in 2016. 

Kaiman, in a virtual interview, said he vows to instill voters’ faith in the Democratic Party following a wave of Republican candidates elected throughout Nassau County and New York this past November.

He pointed to the bail reform issue in the state while acknowledging that the matter has become so polarizing he believes it may undermine the ability to show people that Democrats can govern. Of the methods to resolve the issue, Kaiman stressed the need to give judges “the ability to discern the public safety concerns that need to be addressed.”

In February, Kaiman released a guidance document on public safety that called for better laws to give judges better resources.

Kaiman said that Congress needs to get back to the basics and if elected he will be a voice to engage in discussions to find common ground. He said he believes the Biden administration is showing leadership and poise in its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and he emphasized the country should be providing as much support as possible overseas. 

Kaiman also pledged his support for universal health care and the Affordable Care Act while still expanding and amending it, but he does not support Medicare For All. Notable endorsements come from Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and the Laborers’ International Union of North America.

Lafazan, 28, of Woodbury, became Nassau County’s youngest-ever legislator upon his election to the Nassau County Legislature in November 2017. He received one of the biggest endorsements of the congressional race after he was lauded by Suozzi for being a “common-sense Democrat.”

In previous elections, Lafazan ran as an independent who caucused with the Democrats. Lafazan has also run on the Conservative line, saying in previous interviews that he did so due to his Republican-controlled district.

Despite having run on the Conservative line, Lafazan reiterated he is “unequivocally pro-choice” and that countless amounts of elected officials receive endorsements from a variety of groups.

Lafazan has since re-enrolled as a Democrat for his congressional run. The legislator described himself in the interview as “a Democrat who represents a Trump district.” 

He stressed the need for universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons on the federal level during a virtual interview. Lafazan said he is not a supporter of defunding the police but said there is “absolutely a need” for police reform and more diversity in policing by communities.

Bail reform is another issue Lafazan said he hopes can be remedied and that prior fixes to the state laws, enacted in 2020, have not been enough. Giving judicial discretion back to judges and ensuring that an individual who cannot afford a lawyer not be in jail longer than one who can are two aspects, he said, that need to be addressed.

Lafazan emphasized the importance of retaining Democratic representation in the 3rd Congressional District and that he is the sole candidate who is able to do so against Santos.

Rasool, 43, of Jericho has described herself as an activist for women’s rights and supports codifying abortion rights established under Roe v. Wade into law. She is a small-business owner and the founder of Luxe Consulting Group.

Rasool received a bachelor of arts degree and master’s degree in creative writing from New York University. She said that high tax rates are impeding on the lives of middle-class families and small-business owners trying to stay afloat financially.

Living in both New York City and Long Island, she said, has given her a first-hand example on the importance of addressing climate change. Politicians, Rasool said, should be more focused on environmental justice, health and economic issues rather than themselves, emphasizing the need for Medicare For All.

She has also expressed her support for a federal ban on all assault weapons and universal background checks on every firearm purchase.

Zimmerman, 67, is co-president of ZE Creative Communications on Bond Street in Great Neck, a public relations firm he started 33 years ago with Ron Edelson and a Democratic national committeeman. 

If elected, Zimmerman would become the first openly gay member of Congress from Long Island and Queens.

Zimmerman previously worked as a congressional aide on Capitol Hill for Congressmen Lester Wolff, James Scheuer and Gary Ackerman. His advocacy has also led to his being nominated by President Bill Clinton to serve on the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Presidential Commission on the Arts and by President Barack Obama to serve on the National Council on the Humanities. 

If elected, Zimmerman said it will be his job to find issues where common ground can be shared and bipartisanship can thrive, despite what he calls dangerous rhetoric from the other side. The businessman referred to numerous pieces of legislation in state governments aimed at compromising voting, abortion and the LGBTQ+ community’s rights, among other things, as threats to the country’s fabric. 

He took note of the red wave that swept through the district and parts of Long Island last November where Republicans won all countywide posts. He reiterated that the district is still winnable but messaging has played a major role in voters’ minds. 

Regarding bail reform, Zimmerman said he supports it while acknowledging the need for change. He called the law passed by the state Legislature “counterproductive” and “ultimately ineffective,” calling for judges to be given more discretion in determining who is a danger to society. 

Notable endorsements for Zimmerman include former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng, former Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, state Assemblyman Charles Lavine and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

Lafazan raised the most money in the second quarter of 2022 among candidates running in the 3rd Congressional District, according to the Federal Election Commission.

The legislator raised $532,219.50 from April through June, bringing his campaign fund-raising total to $1,535,002, good enough for second among all candidates and first among Democrats running for the district.

Zimmerman, who raised $324,342.39 in the second quarter, trailed Lafazan among the Democrats, bringing the Great Neck candidate’s campaign fund-raising total to $1,241,256.27.

In the first quarter, Zimmerman raised the most money with $916,913.88. Kaiman raised $196,466 in the second quarter. The quarter brings Kaiman’s campaign total to $582,271.20. Kaiman’s in-state individual contributions total $324,449, according to FEC filings.

D’Arrigo raised $79,357.20 in the second quarter, giving her a total of $376,329.05 raised since the start of her campaign. $5,050 of her fundraising total has come from political committees.

Rasool raised $20,390 in the second quarter, bringing her campaign fund-raising total to $82,946.

New district maps were submitted recently by a court-appointed special master and have been viewed as more neutral compared to ones that were rejected by a state appeals court earlier this year.

While the 3rd Congressional District under the new proposal does not extend as far west as the Bronx or Westchester, it does stretch to more southern parts of Nassau County, such as Hicksville and Massapequa. The new lines do exclude the parts of the district that now stretch into Suffolk County, mainly Huntington and Smithtown.

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