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Election 2018: Zeldin wins third term, defeats Perry Gershon in 1st District

Before a crowd of jubilant supporters late Tuesday night, Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) vowed to work together with everyone to find common ground toward improving the community, while also saying the country must find a way to unite in what has become a turbulent political climate. 

“In our country, we encourage disagreement, we encourage debate,” he said. “That’s the American way … Our country needs to do a better job coming together and everyone you’re looking at on this stage I believe is completely committed to that for the sake of our community, our state and our country.”

Voters in New York’s 1st Congressional District re-elected Mr. Zeldin to a third term in a hotly contested midterm election in which the incumbent defeated Democratic challenger Perry Gershon.

On a day that saw record turnout for a midterm, Mr. Zeldin secured just under 53 percent of the vote, a much closer race than the 16-point win he posted in 2016. Mr. Gershon tallied 46 percent while Kate Browning, who did not actively campaign after losing June’s Democratic primary, earned just over 1 percent on the Women’s Equality line.

Mr. Zeldin, 38, secured 130,919 votes compared to Mr. Gershon’s 115,795, according to preliminary results from the Suffolk County Board of Elections.

“They were talking about a blue wave that didn’t happen,” said Republican Suffolk County chairman John Jay LaValle.

Mr. Zeldin touted a surging economy, improved national security, weakened MS-13, secured borders and ISIS being defeated as some of the accomplishments achieved during his tenure.

“This race offered a clear contrast of results or resistance,” Mr. Zeldin said in his acceptance speech, which began just before 11:30 p.m. at the GOP viewing party at Stereo Garden in Patchogue. “We were campaigning on results and that is what won at the end of the day.”

It was a victory for the GOP locally, but Mr. Zeldin will now return to Washington as a minority member of the House of Representatives. After controlling all three branches of the federal government for the past two years, the GOP lost control of the House Tuesday, in what has been widely interpreted as a rebuke of President Donald Trump. Democrats gained at least 27 House seats to surpass the 218 needed to become the majority party. Republicans did gain seats in the Senate, including key wins in Indiana and Missouri, and will remain its majority party.

Mr. Gershon, of East Hampton, conceded the race just after 11 p.m., when he addressed his supporters at Democratic headquarters in Hauppauge.

“It’s not the outcome we wanted, but life goes on. We’re so much better off than we were two years ago,” said Mr. Gershon, 56, who remained upbeat in his remarks and didn’t discount the possibility of running for office again. “I got into this after I woke up two years ago and saw Donald Trump as president and said, ‘I got to fight back.’ … We didn’t win here, but what I hear, we took back the House, which means we are going to put a check on this president.”

Voter turnout in the 1st District reached nearly 250,000 — far higher than for the last midterm election, when the total ballot count was 172,757. It was the first time this century that voter turnout in the district topped 50 percent in a non-presidential year. High district turnout has typically boded well for Democratic candidates, who have won in every non-presidential year since 2002 for which turnout exceeded 42 percent.

Mr. Gershon’s vote total surpassed any posted by former Democratic congressman Tim Bishop in a non-presidential year. Mr. Bishop’s best performance in a midterm election came in 2006, when he received 104,360 votes.

Mr. Gershon encouraged his supporters to hold Mr. Zeldin accountable for fighting to repeal the SALT cap.

“Let’s challenge Lee to fight to protect all of us and get that SALT cap repealed,” he said. “When we put the bill on the floor, it won’t be me, but we’re going to put a bill on the floor to repeal the SALT cap and let’s see Lee Zeldin stand up for all of us.”

Mr. Zeldin thanked Mr. Gershon and his supporters during his speech Tuesday night, saying it was great to see so many people active in the electoral process. In an election night press release, Mr. Zeldin even quoted the band Rage Against the Machine: “Good, better, best. You can never let it rest, until your good becomes your better, and your better becomes your best.”

In his speech, he said: “Whether your candidate comes in first or second, whether I come in first or second, it’s important that we are all coming together after the election.

“We have some important work ahead, so let’s get it done,” he added, as the crowd erupted into chants of “Lee! Lee! Lee!”

In the 1st State Senate District race, Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) easily won re-election, with 58 percent of the vote, over Democratic challenger Greg Fischer. However, it was Mr. LaValle’s narrowest margin of victory since his first Senate race in 1976. The preliminary results showed that Mr. Fischer had nearly reached his vote totals from 2016, a presidential year in which almost 30,000 more people voted in the NY-1.

In the 2nd Assembly District, North Fork Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) also cruised to re-election with 60 percent of the vote, defeating Democratic challenger Rona Smith, 73, of Greenport.

While Mr. LaValle will return to the state Senate, Republicans will now find themselves in the minority there. A key win for Democrats came in the 3rd District, where Monica Martinez defeated Republican Dean Murray with 51 percent of the vote. In Nassau County, Democrat Kevin Thomas, an attorney, upset incumbent Kemp Hannon in the 6th Senate District, which Mr. Hannon had represented since 1990.

State Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said in a tweet Tuesday night that the voters had elected a clear Democratic majority to the state Senate.

“We will finally give New Yorkers the progressive leadership they have been demanding,” she said.

Speaking at the GOP event Tuesday night, Mr. Palumbo, 48, said progressive ideals are “not what Republicans are about.”

“What we need to do, folks, is keep our fingers crossed and hope the Republicans hold the Senate,” he said before the results became official. “Because my house is obviously very Democratic, but we need to hold the Senate to be Republican.”

As it turned out, Republicans, who had a one-seat advantage in the state Senate, did lose control.

Mr. Palumbo said in an interview in October that with redistricting slated for 2020, if the Republicans lose the Senate now, it will be difficult to regain it.

The current Senate majority leader is John Flanagan of Smithtown. He will likely lose that post. Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, a Conservative Democrat who caucused with Republicans, will probably now caucus with Democrats, Mr. Palumbo said.

Democrats last won the majority in the Senate in 2009, but lost it the following year, when their majority leader at the time was indicted.

Republicans have controlled the Senate for most of the past 50 years.

At the head of the state government, Democrat Andrew Cuomo won re-election as governor, securing 58 percent of the vote and defeating Republican challenger Marc Molinaro. The Associated Press called the race just a few minutes after polls closed.

Democrats Thomas DiNapoli (64 percent) and Letitia James (60 percent) won their respective elections for state comptroller and attorney general.

For U.S. Senate, incumbent Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand defeated Republican Chele Chiavacci Farley, taking 64 percent of the vote.

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman came up short in his bid to win the county comptroller seat. Incumbent Republican John Kennedy Jr. earned 51 percent of the vote to secure re-election. In a race that garnered more attention than in most years, the Surrogate’s Court position went to Democrat Theresa Whelan, who defeated Tara Scully with 55 percent of the vote.


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Photo caption: Lee Zeldin celebrates Tuesday night at the Stereo Garden in Patchogue with his family and supporters. (Credit: John Griffin)