By David M. Schwartz
Updated May 18, 2017 7:04 PM
In the special election Tuesday in the 9th Assembly District, labor unions and progressive activists are pouring money and volunteers into Democrat Christine Pellegrino’s campaign in hopes of capitalizing on opposition to Republican President Donald Trump.
Conservatives, meanwhile, see a chance to elect party member Tom Gargiulo, who if elected would become the Conservatives’ only member in the State Legislature.
“This is a grass roots effort,” Gargiulo, 59, who also has Republican and Independence Party backing, said as he campaigned at Babylon Town’s Spangle Drive Senior Center on Wednesday. “I want to be a voice in the community to help people out.”
Rhoda Newman, 89, of North Babylon, liked what she heard. “He’s a good man, he’s personable and knowledgeable,” she said of Gargiulo.
Pellegrino, 48, shook hands Tuesday as school voters left the West Babylon administrative building polling place.
“I’m a mom, I’m a teacher. I’m not a politician,” Pellegrino said.
“Are you the anti-Common Core one?” asked Gail Sherwood, 54 of West Babylon.
“Yes,” Pellegrino said.
Sherwood, a retired Long Island Rail Road worker, told Pellegrino she had her vote.
Gargiulo, of Babylon Village, is a retired Eastern Suffolk BOCES teacher who coaches girls basketball at Wyandanch High School and works part-time at youth centers for the Town of Babylon. He also is vice chairman of the Babylon Conservative Party.
Pellegrino, of West Islip, teaches in the Baldwin School District. She is active in the anti-Common Core curriculum “opt out” movement and served as a Democratic National Convention delegate for Sen. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Pellegrino also has the Working Families Party line.
Typically, Democrats scarcely compete in the Ninth, a horseshoe-shaped district on the Nassau-Suffolk county line that includes Massapequa, West Babylon, Babylon Village, West Islip and West Bay Shore. Republicans hold a 13 percentage point edge in voter registration. President Donald Trump won the district with 60 percent of the vote.
The seat opened when Assemb. Joseph Saladino, who beat Democrat Brendan Cunningham by 23,000 votes in November, was appointed Oyster Bay supervisor.
If Pellegrino wins, “this is going to send a message all across the country,” said Lisa Tyson, executive director of Long Island Progressive Coalition and a state committee member of the Working Families Party.
“I feel like I’m riding a wave,” Pellegrino said as she campaigned Tuesday.
She attacked Gargiulo for not supporting Suffolk County’s attempts to collect restitution from former county Conservative Chairman Edward Walsh, a former county sheriff’s lieutenant who was convicted on federal charges of taking $200,000 in county pay while politicking, gambling and golfing.
Gargiulo said Walsh “was always a gentleman. He made mistakes. He’s a nice man and was always a fair guy.”
Gargiulo has been surprised at the amount of money the teacher’s union has spent on the race.
“I was a teacher for 32 years, so I don’t really understand it,” Gargiulo said. “Two hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money. You could do something with a youth center or something with that type of money.”
Democrats say that in a low-turnout special election with progressives and union members motivated by opposition to Trump, they have hope. New York State United Teachers, for instance, has funneled $200,000 to an independent expenditure committee, Teachers for Christine.
Pellegrino is backed by most Suffolk and Nassau Democratic leaders.