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Former Suffolk BOE commissioner, Nick LaLota, announces campaign for Congress; Zeldin picks lieutenant governor

Nick LaLota of Amityville is the likely Republican candidate for the 1st Congressional District seat that incumbent Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) is vacating to run for governor. 

Mr. LaLota is a former Suffolk County Board of Elections commissioner and a former trustee in the Village of Amityville. He served in the U.S. Navy for eight years and most recently has been named the chief of staff for Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer Kevin McCarrick (R-Lindenhurst).

Mr. LaLota said the 1st District is now “very gerrymandered” after the recent redistricting was finalized. The district includes parts of all of Suffolk’s 10 towns and a portion of the Town of Oyster Bay in Nassau County. Portions of the south shore that had been in the 1st District are now part of the 2nd District.

“I think the partisans in Albany really did the public a disservice by chopping this district up and making it almost unrecognizable from the previous district,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

Mr. LoLata, who had screened for the previous congressional seat a few years ago, doesn’t live in 1st District, but he said he plans to move. The Constitution requires that members of the House of Representatives live in the state they represent when elected, but not necessarily in the same district.

“Although the state Constitution merely requires one to be a resident of the state in order to run, I think that voters of the district have a fair expectation that a member of Congress actually live in the district,” he said.

Mr. LaLota, 43, grew up in Bay Shore and graduated from St. Anthony’s High School, and then graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2000. He was commissioned as an officer and served overseas on three deployments before leaving the Navy in 2007.

His nomination as the Republican candidate doesn’t become official until Friday, but he says he has the backing of all 10 Republican town leaders, as well as the backing of the Suffolk County Conservative Party leader. Several other candidates had announced campaigns, including Robert Cornicelli of St. James, who had currently raised the most funds.

Mr. LaLota plans to continue working for the county and then use vacation time as the election nears to have time to campaign.

In announcing his run for Congress Tuesday, Mr. LaLota wrote that the issues facing Congress require strong leaders.

“Lee Zeldin’s successor must respect Americans’ freedoms, understand the impact of national security decisions and have the courage to slash federal spending that is causing inflation — the hidden tax.”

Mr. Zeldin has served four terms in Congress and is the presumptive nominee for governor by both the Republican and Conservative parties. On Wednesday, he announced that Alison Esposito, an NYPD deputy inspector, will run alongside him as lieutenant governor. He will try to defeat current Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, who accepted the Democratic nomination last week.

Alison Esposito at Wednesday’s announcement. (Credit: Zeldin campaign)

“Deputy Inspector Alison Esposito is a fighter who has served a long time here at the NYPD and has instilled fear in the hearts of criminals everywhere,” Mr. Zeldin said in a statement.

Ms. Esposito’s statement centered on crime, saying “flawed liberal policies … have surrendered our streets to criminals.

“My job was to protect the innocent and to keep the people of the City of New York safe,” she added. “Now my job is to keep the people of the State of New York safe.”

Democrats eye primary

The race for the Democratic nomination will head to a primary.

Candidates include County Legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Bridget Fleming (D-Sag Harbor), and former Babylon Town Councilwoman Jackie Gordon, who announced she would in the 1st District after the recent redistricting.

“We’ve got three dynamic female candidates running in the First Congressional District,” said Keith Davies, a spokesperson for the Democratic committee. “They’ve all been proven vote getters in Suffolk County and we will be excited about whoever wins the primary.

“We’ve got a good relationship with all of them. We will not endorse, but we’re excited for whoever it is. Suffolk County has a good choice in all of them.”

The primary is set for June 28. In the 2020 election, four Democratic candidates vied to run against Mr. Zeldin and Nancy Goroff won. She ultimately lost in the general election to Mr. Zeldin.

Mr. Davies said the Democrats favor choosing candidates by a primary. 

“A primary is still the best way to get a strong candidate,” he said. “As Democrats, we like to let the people elect who they want running, and not a screening committee. We’d rather have all the Democratic voters in Suffolk County make the choice.”