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Primary 2020: Gershon emerges as front-runner for Democratic Congressional nod; Jens-Smith likely winner for Assembly

Preliminary results from Tuesday’s Democratic primary show Perry Gershon of East Hampton as the narrow leader in the four-way race for the 1st Congressional District.

No winner has yet been declared in a race that likely won’t be decided for weeks. The winner will challenge Republican incumbent Lee Zeldin in November. Mr. Zeldin is seeking his fourth term.

Mr. Gershon has earned 35.39% of the votes while scientist Nancy Goroff, 52, of Stony Brook is second with 34.27%. The two are separated by just 164 votes with Mr. Gershon receiving the support of 5,166 residents so far to 5,002 for Ms. Goroff.

County Legislator Bridget Fleming is in third with just under 28%. She trails the leader by more than 1,100 votes.

“We are neck and neck,” Ms. Fleming said to her supporters on a Zoom call just after 11 p.m.

Greg Fischer, who also lost a bid for the Riverhead school board last week, received just over 2% of the initial round of votes.

Tuesday’s numbers account only for the in-person votes and early voting. The mail-in absentee ballots have not been counted. Absentee ballots mailed by June 23 will be accepted until June 30, more than a week later, and ballots are not expected to be officially tabulated for a week or two after that, which leads to around mid-July, according to officials.

The Board of Elections mailed about 100,000 absentee ballots throughout the county. As many as 70,000 have already been received. The surge in absentee ballots was due to the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Andrew Cuomo had signed an executive order allowing any registered voter to send in an application for an absentee ballot. In normal elections, absentee ballots are reserved for those who meet certain criteria, such as not being in the state during the election.

There were 22,240 total votes in the 2018 Democratic primary. Mr. Gershon won that primary and then lost the general election against Mr. Zeldin. Mr. Gershon never really stopped campaigning after that loss and formally announced in April 2019 his intention to seek the Democratic nomination again.

Kathryn Casey Quigley, chairwoman of the Southold Town Democratic Committee, spoke during the Zoom call with Ms. Fleming’s supporters. She said no matter which candidate wins the Congressional primary, the party will get behind that person to defeat Mr. Zeldin. She said she endorsed Ms. Fleming and pointed to her “spirit, leadership, tenacity and fighting energy.”

Former Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, 57, of Laurel is the likely Democratic winner in her race for Assembly against William Schleisner, 36, of Sound Beach. The results Tuesday showed Ms. Jens-Smith with a commanding lead of nearly 78% of the votes. Initial results showed Ms. Jens-Smith with 1,772 votes compared to 500 for Mr. Schleisner.

Ms. Jens-Smith’s win would set up a race against Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who is the Republican candidate. The two sparred at times during their two years together on the Town Board.

Ms. Jens-Smith lost her re-election bid for town supervisor last November, as voters elected Republican newcomer Yvette Aguiar.

Five candidates are running for State Senate for the seat vacated by Ken LaValle. Laura Ahearn, 56, of Port Jefferson was the narrow leader with 31% of the votes. Valerie Cartright, 44, of Port Jefferson Station was second with just under 28% and Tommy John Schiavoni, 56, of North Haven was third with just below 24%. Ms. Ahearn’s lead over Ms. Cartright amounts to just 240 votes.

The winner will challenge Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) for the Senate seat.

Democratic voters still had the chance to weigh in on the presidential race, even after Joe Biden had become the presumptive candidate. The presidential primary had originally been scheduled for April, but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Mr. Biden was on pace to win New York, based on results from State Board of Elections.

New York was one of five states to hold their primary Tuesday.

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