There are four would-be congressional candidates hoping to take on Democratic incumbent Tim Bishop in the fall, but none will get the nomination during the county GOP convention tonight (Thursday) in Islandia.
The Republican leadership has instead agreed to an “open primary,” giving each candidate an equal shot at winning the nod though the September 14 ballot.
Riverhead GOP leader Nancy Reyer said the GOP committee chairs on the East End had jointly decided against naming a candidate. There will be no convention drama “unless somebody comes up on the floor with a surprise, and that’s always possible.”
She described each of the candidates as worthy of the party’s support and said each is educated and well-spoken.
The field against Mr. Bishop opened up when the Tea Party’s choice, former CIA officer Gary Berntsen, recently decided to switch targets and go after veteran Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer. Still, the race isn’t wide open. The county Conservative Party has thrown its support behind businessman Randy Altschuler, one of the four hopeful Bishop challengers.
Mr. Berntsen’s switch “was a game-changer,” said Southold GOP leader Denis Noncarrow. “This is wild. There’s just so many people running. In previous years, there was nobody looking to dive into this.”
Besides Mr. Altschuler, the others seeking the GOP line for Congress are Chris Cox, a grandson of Richard Nixon; Shelter Island resident George Demos, a former enforcement attorney for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick of Smithtown. Party officials believe the eventual nominee will need to raise between $1 and $2 million to run a credible race against the incumbent, who is seeking his fifth term.
With one exception, the candidates avoided direct criticism of each other this week. Jim Teese, Assemblyman Fitzpatrick’s campaign director, took issue with Mr. Altschuler’s Conservative backing. “The first time he registered to vote was at age 30 and he chose the Green Party,” Mr. Teese said. He blasted the Conservative leadership for “disrespecting” Mr. Fitzpatrick, previously recognized by the state Conservative Party as the most conservative member of the Assembly, according to Mr. Teese.
An open GOP primary “is kind of the next best thing for us since it was clear they were reluctant to make a choice,” Mr. Teese added.
Mr. Altschuler, an entrepreneur who resides in St. James, as does Mr. Fitzpatrick, did not fire back.
An open primary “is good for the GOP and good for democracy,” he said. “All the candidates are good guys and I’d happily vote for any of us to beat Tim Bishop.”
Mr. Cox, a New York businessman whose family has long maintained a summer home in Westhampton Beach, welcomes a primary because “it will allow a thoughtful dialogue between the candidates and voters on pertinent issues,” said Michael Levoff, his campaign communications director. Mr. Cox’s father, Ed Cox, became state GOP chairman last September. He his married to Patricia Nixon, daughter of the former president.
Mr. Teese and Mr. Demos both make reference to the 1978 congressional contest in the first district, the last time the party held an open primary. At that time, Conservative Smithtown County Legislator William Carney won the nomination and went on to win the seat held for 18 years by Riverhead Democrat Otis Pike. At different times, Mr. Teese and Mr. Fitzpatrick both worked on Mr. Carney’s staff.
“This is a truly historic moment in Long Island politics and is a tremendous step towards ending the era of backroom deals,” said Mr. Demos, who now lives in Brookhaven. “The people will chose their own candidate based on whom they believe will best represent our community and not based on the candidate’s personal wealth or pedigree.”