TROY GUSTAVSON PHOTO
Jennifer Maertz (right) seeks to unseat State Sen. Kenneth LaValle in November. With her at a campaign gathering Sunday in Orient are Jeri Woodhouse (left) and former candidate Regina Calcaterra.
Newly anointed Democratic state Senate candidate Jennifer Maertz wants voters to know she’s no placeholder for Regina Calcaterra. In November, Ms. Maertz, 34, whose name will appear on both the Democratic and Working Families lines, will face Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). A veteran in Albany, he has held the seat since 1976.
“I would never get into this as a placeholder,” said Ms. Maertz, a Rocky Point resident. “Now I have the torch and I’m carrying it forward.”
Ms. Maertz was a member of Ms. Calcaterra’s team, joining her on the campaign trail until the former candidate was knocked off the ballot in August after a judge agreed with a Republican challenger that she failed to meet a requirement for five years of continuous residency in New York.
Speaking to a group of supporters in Orient Sunday afternoon, Ms. Calcaterra said of her former campaign worker, “She knows the concerns of district residents because she campaigned with me. People were talking about their dreams and wishes and she heard it.”
“We could not find doors where people weren’t upset with Albany,” Ms. Maertz said at the Orient event of her door-to-door campaigning with Ms. Calcaterra. “They know what’s going on and they don’t like what’s going on,” she said. “We need to root out waste” she added, and provide “transparency” in government.
“It’s the same campaign,” Ms. Maertz said, asserting that she and Ms. Calcaterra had identical views on issues. They share a belief that Albany needs ethics reforms; a determination to revise the school aid formula that penalizes Long Islanders, who educate 17 percent of state students but get 12 percent of state school funds; a dedication to bringing jobs back to Long Island; and a commitment to a pro-choice agenda and marriage equality.
What Ms. Maertz lacks, she admitted, is name recognition with voters. That’s why she’s making the rounds of her district, which includes both the North and South forks, Riverhead and eastern Brookhaven. Ms. Maertz, like Ms. Calcaterra, is a litigating attorney for the GEICO insurance company. She got an MBA degree after earning her law degree because she thought having management and leadership skills would help with her law career, she said. She has worked with children in classrooms as a paraprofessional, served on the North Shore Youth Council Board and as a member of the Rocky Point Civic Association and is vice chair of the Brookhaven Democratic Committee.
Ms. Maertz previously dipped a toe into elective politics in Brookhaven, seeking the Democratic nomination to run for Town Board in 2009. But party leaders gave the nod to John Leonard, an aide to state Sen. Brian Foley (D-Blue Point). This year, she answered a call that came first from those same party leaders who had abandoned her a year ago, then from Ms. Calcaterra. They needed someone who could hit the ground running, Ms. Maertz said.
Ms. Calcaterra said she had abandoned further legal appeals in her candidacy case because she wanted to give voters an alternative to Senator LaValle. If she had persisted with the litigation, there would have been no time to run another candidate in her place, she said.
“Anyone who challenges the status quo is a threat to the Republican Party,” Ms. Calcaterra said.
The GOP did challenge Ms. Maertz’s place on the ballot, but this time the court ruled in favor of the candidate.
Ms. Calcaterra turned over her campaign office in Rocky Point to Ms. Maertz and many of her former staff members are on board with the new candidate.
While Ms. Calcaterra acknowledges she still has an interest in seeking public office some day, she’s not focused on any particular spot at this time, she said.
“I hope she does win,” Ms. Calcaterra said of her successor, pledging that if Ms. Maertz is elected in November, she will back her again for the seat in two years.