Phillips wins as GOP holds state Senate

The Island Now

In two hotly contested state Legislature races, Republican Elaine Phillips defeated Democrat Adam Haber in the 7th Senate district, while Democrat Anthony D’Urso defeated Republican Matt Varvaro on Tuesday night.
In two other state races, Democrat Charles Lavine comfortably retained his seat in the 13th Assembly district against Republican Jeffrey Vitale, while Republican Ed Ra decisively defeated Democrat Gary Port to retain his seat in the 19th Assembly district.
In a tight race to replace outgoing state Sen. Jack Martins in the 7th Senate district, Phillips defeated her opponent, Democrat Adam Haber, by 4,161 votes, out of 127,308 cast.
Haber, an East Hills businessman, received 59,169 votes on the Democratic line to his opponent’s 58,455 Republican votes, but 5,490 Conservative Party votes pushed Phillips over the top in the race for a 52 percent to 48 percent victory.
“When I began this campaign six months ago, I asked the voters of this district to look at my record of cutting taxes, working to enact strong ethics and protect the environment,” she said. “Voters agreed that we need a Senator who listens to our communities and who will stand up for Long Island.”
“I am so very grateful and humbled by their support, and ready to get to work to create the bright future that every Long Islander deserves,” said Phillips, who is Flower Hill’s village mayor.
She was seeking her first term in the state Legislature.
Phillips received more than a dozen law enforcement endorsements, as well as endorsements from public government and school employee unions.
The loss is Haber’s second in the 7th Senate district after Martins defeated him to win re-election in 2014.
He said he was “terribly disappointed” about the result of his race, but offered his support for Phillips.
“I worked my tail off and I wanted to serve the community,” Haber said. “I wish Elaine Phillips well and if I can help to make her community a better place, I’m here.”
He said that the one thing he had “peace” about was his efforts during the campaign.
“I didn’t take a day off for months,” Haber said. “I did as much as you can physically can do. I left it all out there.”
“My life will skip a couple beats,” he added. “But I’ll find my groove again.”
Throughout his campaign, Haber had received notable endorsements from top Democratic officials including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and state Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Haber serves on the Roslyn school board and previously on the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, which oversees Nassau County spending.
Phillips, who worked in the financial services industry with Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan, had said a Haber victory would tilt the state Senate to a party dominated by New York City.
The state Legislature, she said, needed a balance between Republicans and Democrats.
But Haber argued that the Senate GOP has failed and a Democratic majority would benefit the state.
The GOP has retained control of the Senate, in part, as a result of this race.
Both candidates had attacked each other’s record, with Phillips arguing that the Roslyn school district has had the highest tax rate of any school district since her opponent joined the board in 2009 and Haber referring to an audit released in December 2012 by DiNapoli’s office, which he said showed “how poorly” the Village of Flower Hill was run. Phillips was not on the board at the time of the audit.
The race saw a bit of controversy last month after Haber slammed a social media advertisement depicting him as a character from “Fiddler on the Roof” as anti-Semitic.
The Phillips campaign said they had nothing to do with the advertisement.
Both candidates agreed that Long Island schools needed to receive more state aid and both said they would fight for better ethics in the state Legislature.
D’Urso defeats Varvaro
In another tight race to replace outgoing state Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel in the 16th Assembly district, Democrat Anthony D’Urso defeated Republican Matt Varvaro by 1,412 votes of the 52,254 cast.
D’Urso, a former North Hempstead Town Councilman, received 26,825 total votes to Varvaro’s 25,413 for a 51 percent to 49 percent victory.
D’Urso said he was happy to achieve his goal of reaching the state Assembly.
“I will commit to working very hard for the people of this district,” he said. “I commit to trying to do all the right things to elevate families that are struggling.”
He said Schimel, and her predecessor, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, had big shoes to fill, but he wanted to carry on their “tradition of progressiveness.”
“I will also not just follow their trail, but blaze a trail of my own,” D’Urso said. “I always say, I cannot guarantee results, but I will sure as hell try.”
Throughout the campaign, he had touted his records of accomplishments, having served as North Hempstead Town councilman from 1992 through 2005 and working for the New York City Department of Housing since 1971 and eventually rising to serve as the assistant commissioner of the Division of Architecture/Engineering and Construction.
D’Urso’s  campaign was focused on fighting ethics in Albany, including eliminating outside income for state legislators and ending the LLC loophole, and tackling high school property taxes.
Although it was his first run for office, Varvaro has served as a researcher on Joe Lhota’s campaign for New York City mayor in 2013, as a legislative aide to North Hempstead Town Councilwoman Dina De Giorgio in 2014 and as a research director for former New York City Gov. George Pataki’s campaign for president last year.
His campaign has also focused on stopping corruption, including setting an eight-year term limit for legislators, eliminating the LLC loophole and reforming the state’s “weak” ethics boards.
Varvaro had said he wanted to reform the state’s education standards to include more technology use in the classroom and reform the state’s tax code by lowering tax rates and eliminating certain tax breaks.  
He had attacked his opponent’s knowledge of the issues impacting the 16th Assembly District, specifically heroin addiction on Long Island.
But D’Urso has said that heroin and opiate addiction has been a problem on Long Island and that more resources should be used for addiction treatment and for law enforcement to catch drug suppliers.
Lavine defeats Vitale
The six-term Democratic incumbent, Lavine, soundly defeated Vitale in an election to represent the 13th Assembly District.
“It’s very gratifying to know that I have the support of the people of the 13th Assembly District,” Lavine said. “I thank them from the bottom of my heart for their support.”
Lavine received 31,339 votes, which amounted to 56 percent of the electorate; while Vitale garnered 18,425 votes, which comprised 33 percent. The green party candidate, Jeffrey Peress, won 609 votes for a 1 percent share of the ballots cast.
“This was a tough race,” Vitale said. “I learned what it takes to run a campaign and I’m very happy about that.”
Lavine and Vitale differed significantly on issues ranging from corruption to abortion to the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump.
The district covers Roslyn, Glen Cove, Jericho and Plainview as well as parts of Manhasset, Westbury, East Hills and Bayville.
Lavine serves in Albany as chair of the Assembly Committee on Ethics and Guidance and co-chair of the New York State Legislative Ethics Commission. Before his time in office, he worked as an attorney for the Legal Aid Society and then as a criminal defense attorney in private practice.
Vitale, a grant writer for the Town of Oyster Bay, had never run for public office before this race. He expressed an interest in giving it another shot.
Lavine reaffirmed his gratitude for the voters in district, with whom he said he has become familiar.
“This has been 12 years in office,” he said. “I have gotten to know a lot of them and they’ve gotten to know me.”
Ra defeats Port
Ra received 28,507 votes to Port’s 18,976, good for a 55 percent to 34 percent victory, in winning re-election in the 19th Assembly District beating Port.
A resident of Franklin Square, Ra has held a seat in the Assembly since 2010 and is the ranking minority member of the Education Committee.
“I’m very grateful that I got re-elected by the great people of the 19th Assembly District,” Ra said. “I’m ready to continue serving them.”
The 19th Assembly District covers parts of the Town of Hempstead, the Town of North Hempstead and the Town of Oyster Bay.
With recent corruption issues in the Assembly, Ra pledged to fight for an ethics reform, implementing term limits and an internal evaluation of the Legislature that ultimately leads to the stripping of leaders’ absolute power.
“Even though this is a victory, we still have a lot today,” Ra said. “Republicans have put forth a lot of plans, but there is a long way to go and we’re going to get started on fixing thing, starting with an ethics reform and finding a better way to evaluate teachers.”
Port, a divorce lawyer from West Hempstead, has opposed Ra in the last three elections.
During the campaign, Port repeatedly criticized Ra, saying his career was built on patronage and nepotism, referring to Ra’s first job working under his father as the Hempstead town attorney.
Ra responded by touting his work ethic and noting his re-election in a tough district.
Ra said because of the presidential election, people wanted to talk to him about the election on a national stage, but he made it a point to talk to his constituents about local issues.
To combat corruption, Port said Assembly members should be limited to four or five terms, and the election cycle should be changed from every two years to four years to eliminate corruption created by the allocation of money in short terms.
Both Ra and Port opposed the Long Island Rail Road’s third track expansion, citing the lack of information as their main concern.
However, Port said he believes the idea is good in theory, but the environmental impact aspect needs to be researched more.

By Joe Nikic, Stephen Romano and Max Zahn

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