Anti-Donald Trump effect in Assembly special election?
By David M. Schwartz
Updated May 24, 2017 8:07 PM
Progressive groups and some political party leaders said Tuesday’s upset victory by Democrat Christine Pellegrino in a district that voted heavily for President Donald Trump may signal further Democratic gains in November’s general elections.
But while some said anti-Trump sentiment boosted Pellegrino, Conservatives, Republicans and some of Pellegrino’s union backers pointed to local factors that influenced the election.
They cited Republican corruption scandals in Oyster Bay that may have driven down turnout in GOP strongholds such as Massapequa, and infighting among Suffolk Conservatives and Republicans.
Pellegrino, a teacher from West Islip, defeated Conservative Tom Gargiulo by 58 percent to 42 percent, according to unofficial election results. She won 5,590 votes to 4,049 for Gargiulo, who also had the Republican and Independence Party lines.
Turnout was just below 10 percent, not including absentee ballots that have yet to be counted.
The race presented the first test locally at the ballot box of whether progressive anger that surfaced after Trump’s election could help put candidates into office.
“Progressive energy is not just showing up to protest in this moment. We now have a pretty important data point that progressives are showing up at the polls as well,” said Daniel Altschuler, director of Make the Road Action, the political arm of the Long Island-based immigrant rights group.
New York State Conservative chairman Mike Long said Pellegrino’s victory should serve as a wake-up call for Conservatives and Republicans.
Progressives “are energized. They’re energized because they lost the election and haven’t gotten over the fact,” that Hillary Clinton or Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) lost the presidential election. “Our people have to understand they can’t be complacent.”
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) whose congressional district includes the 9th Assembly District, said: “I think it should be a wake-up call for Republicans and Conservatives this November in Nassau and Suffolk. Democrats do have an energized base.”
King also blamed “a breakdown” between Conservatives, Republicans and the Independence Party, which all backed Gargiulo. “The parties are not united,” he said.
On Wednesday, the results were a rallying point in progressive circles, largely because Trump got 60 percent of the vote in 9th Assembly District in November to Clinton’s 37 percent.
Andy Pallotta, president of New York State United Teachers, which backed Pellegrino, said the union played a major role in Pellegrino’s victory.
While part of the underlying cause could be anti-Trump sentiment, “it was not the dominant piece,” Pallotta said.
“This is good old fashioned unionism, getting out there and speaking to people,” Pallotta said.
Union volunteers made 40,000 calls in the district and did extensive outreach to the 5,800 NYSUT members who live in the 9th District. NYSUT also funneled $200,000 to an independent expenditure committee that backed Pellegrino over Gargiulo, a retired special education teacher and high school basketball coach.
Suffolk GOP chairman John Jay LaValle said Gargiulo’s loss had nothing to do with Trump.
Instead, LaValle blamed ties between Conservatives and Democrats. Suffolk Conservatives had pushed Gargiulo, vice chairman of the Babylon Conservative Party. Gargiulo works for Babylon Town Supervisor Richard Schaffer, who also is the Suffolk Democratic Chairman.
“Tom Gargiulo was not campaigning with Donald Trump. He was campaigning with Babylon Democrats. The Republican-Conservative base rejected that,” LaValle said.
Schaffer said he stayed neutral in the race because of a past contribution from NYSUT meant for a Democratic State Senate candidate that Schaffer said is under investigation.
Schaffer denied he supported Gargiulo. He said Pellegrino was helped by anti-Trump anger that generated new energy in the Democratic Party, and issues in Nassau County that hurt Republicans.
Joseph Mondello, Nassau Republican Chairman, declined to comment. Frank Tinari, Suffolk County Conservative Chairman, did not return a call for comment Wednesday.