North Shore voters chose Democrat Tom Suozzi over Republican Jack Martins on Tuesday to represent the 3rd Congressional District, keeping retiring Rep. Steve Israel’s seat in Democratic hands.
Suozzi, a former Nassau County executive, won 48.45 percent of the vote to state Sen. Martins’ 44.02 percent, a tighter margin than polls had predicted.
The win is Suozzi’s first in 11 years and brings him some political redemption after losing his last three elections.
But the victory was tempered by Republican Donald Trump taking the White House and his party maintaining control in both houses of Congress.
“We need to really do some soul-searching,” Suozzi told a crowd of about 200 supporters at the Milleridge Inn in Jericho. “We have to figure out what’s going on in this country and figure out how to bring people back together again to work together to actually address the problems that we face in this country.”
Voters also re-elected Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice over Republican David Gurfein, a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer and businessman from Manhasset, in the 4th Congressional District.
Rice, a former Nassau County district attorney from Garden City, won a second term with 54.26 percent of the vote to Gurfein’s 37.1 percent.
The 3rd District race tightened in the week leading up to the election — Suozzi’s lead shrunk to 7 percentage points from 16 in early October in a Nov. 3 Siena College poll.
Martins, a former Mineola mayor who now lives in Old Westbury, proved a popular candidate but continually struggled with name recognition.
About half the voters in two Siena polls said they did not know Martins or had no opinion of him, despite his six years representing most of the district’s Nassau County portion in the state Senate.
Martins said he would continue to stress tax cuts, environmental issues and job creation while he spends time in the private sector to determine his next career move.
“While the outcome was not what we hoped and the race is over, it does not mean we will stop fighting for the ideals on which we ran,” Martins said in a statement early Wednesday morning.
About 59 percent of the district’s active registered voters cast votes in the district stretching from northeast Queens to northwest Suffolk County.
Suozzi carried the Nassau County portion, about 53 percent of the district, by about 4 percentage points while Martins won the Suffolk section by about 3 points. But Suozzi won the smaller Queens portion by more than 12,000 votes after campaigning heavily there.
“[I] made a point of playing to my strengths and trying to build up a margin where I was strong,” Suozzi said.
Martins and Suozzi emerged from a crowded pack of candidates who eyed Israel’s seat after he announced his retirement in January. Martins was picked as the GOP nominee in March, while Suozzi spent another three months fighting off four other Democrats to win his party’s primary in June.
Martins later became embroiled over the summer in a protracted but ultimately successful legal fight to avoid a GOP primary against Philip Pidot, an upstart conservative challenger.
Suozzi pledged to fight powerful interests to make big changes in Washington, just as he did in Nassau and Glen Cove.
His message seized on the pent-up frustration with the political establishment that has defined this election cycle, a theme that dovetailed with Trump’s campaign.
Martins touted his work across the aisle in Albany to pass key legislation as proof he could do the same in Congress.
Using a landmark gun control law and last year’s paid family leave plan as examples, Martins sought to convince voters he could broker compromises and move issues forward.
Martins and Suozzi differed on a few major issues such as immigration and health care reform. But when the race between two political moderates got heated, it was not over policy but rather their political pasts.
Martins’ campaign and the National Republican Congressional Committee attacked Suozzi hard for the large tax hikes he imposed as county executive and for pay raises he took in that office and as mayor of Glen Cove.
Suozzi defended his administration, touting the 13 bond upgrades that resulted from his tax hikes, and his efforts to trim the county workforce and renegotiate labor contracts. Martins also raised taxes and took raises, he noted.
Suozzi criticized Martins’ tepid support for Trump as “phoney-baloney political talk,” while Martins charged Suozzi would not be independent enough with Democrat Hillary Clinton in the White House.
While Democrats picked up a few U.S. Senate seats, Trump’s upset victory helped the GOP keep its power in Congress.
That will make it difficult for Suozzi and other House Democrats to advance their agendas. But it does not detract from Suozzi’s goal of creating change by working with lawmakers from both parties, he said.
“I’ll play the cards I’ve been dealt, and I don’t think it’s about Democrat and Republican,” Suozzi said. “I think that’s what’s hurting the country, is that people have been too partisan for too long.”
In southwest Nassau County’s 4th Congressional District, Rice pledged to continue the bipartisan work she started in her first term that resulted in two bills she sponsored becoming law. She said she wanted to focus more intently on immigration reform and rebuilding infrastructure.
“I told you that my priority was to get things done, to get real results — not to get myself reelected,” Rice told supporters Tuesday night at the Garden City Hotel. “And that’s exactly what I’ve tried to do every single day since I was sworn into office.”
Gurfein launched a 3rd Congressional District campaign — his first run for public office — in September 2015, but chose to run in southwest Nassau County’s 4th District after Martins won the GOP nomination on the North Shore.
Touting his military and business records, Gurfein argued he had the experience and knowledge necessary to support national security and economic growth, which he said ought to be the federal government’s main priorities.
Gurfein did not comment on the results Tuesday night, but he thanked supporters in a video posted to Facebook Wednesday morning.
“I’m honored to have been a part of this democratic process and our incredible country,” he said, later adding, “We may have lost this battle, but we have not lost this war.”
Gurfein and Rice differed widely on nearly every major political issue, from immigration and foreign policy to tax reform and gun control.
Gurfein charged Rice’s foreign policy stances endangered national security, while Rice called Gurfein a “demagogue” who relied too heavily on the military.
Rice got endorsements from labor unions and local Republican officials, while Gurfein got support from law enforcement unions and officials such as U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford).
Stephen Romano contributed reporting.