Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Johnson beats O'Connell

(Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara) (Feb 6, 2007)

Newsday
The Days of Joe Mondello and his Vaunted Nassau Republican Machine are over..politics in Nassau County will never be the same again....and that is a good thing........andy
In a race that drew big money, big-name supporters and voters in unusually big numbers, Democrat Craig Johnson on Tuesday won the special election for a Nassau state Senate seat and cut the Republican majority in the chamber to just four votes.With all 264 precincts reporting, Johnson, a Nassau County legislator, led Republican Nassau County Clerk Maureen O'Connell by about 3,400 votes -- 26,452 to 22,929."The odds were not in our favor when we started," O'Connell told supporters gathered at the Westbury Manor as she conceded about 10:45 p.m. "It was a shifting district, politically."Of Johnson, she said: "I am going to work with him on the issues, including the crushing burden of property taxes."Johnson proclaimed victory, and thanked Gov. Eliot Spitzer and other Democratic leaders, before cheering supporters at the catering hall Leonard's of Great Neck. "This election was about the hopes and dreams of the people I am now proud to call my constituents.""As Democrats, we are on our way to a new majority in the State Senate - a cause that was advanced tonight but that continues, starting now," Johnson said.Abandoning the heated rhetoric of the campaign, Johnson praised O'Connell as having "dedicated her life to helping others" as a nurse and elected official.Spitzer said in a phone interview shortly after Johnson's speech: "The import of this race is enormous, and shows that the public is seeking continued reform in Albany, has lost patience with the status quo, and those voices in Albany that haven't yet understood this should be paying attention."
Johnson's victory marks the first time a Democrat has won a Long Island state Senate seat in more than 20 years. It narrows the GOP majority in the chamber to 33-29 and could bring the party a step closer to winning control of the chamber in next year's regular election."This is a cyclical business," said Tony Santino, a spokesman for state and Nassau Republican Party Chairman Joseph Mondello. "It has ups and downs. This is a down, but there will be other ups." He said Mondello was expected to comment on the race Wednesday.The campaigns spent more than $3.8 million combined, saturating the northern Nassau district with commercials, mailings and phone calls. The final cost may prove to be the highest ever for a New York legislative seat.The final run included stump appearances by presidential hopefuls Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and a last-ditch legal battle over allegations of planned voter intimidation that ended just hours before the polls closed when a Brooklyn appeals court put off a decision on the issue."The weather and the political climate bring to mind and ferocity of the last days of a New Hampshire presidential primary," said Robert Zimmerman, a Democratic national committee member. "Seldom have I seen any presidential primary this fierce."The intense scramble for the 7th Senate District seat began in December when Gov. Eliot Spitzer hired Republican Michael Balboni, who held the seat for many years, to become state homeland security director.The hard-fought campaign appeared to trump the bitter cold for voters, who headed to the polls in high numbers. Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs predicted voter turnout could reach 25 percent, substantially higher than is normally seen in an off-year special election.Republicans said they posted robust numbers in their traditional strongholds of Floral Park, Williston Park and Franklin Square, while Jacobs reported turnout exceeding 30 percent in Democratic bastions such as Port Washington, New Cassel and Great Neck. The turnout surprised GOP leaders, Santino said. "It was higher than we expected but it's too early to read the tea leaves on that," he said.Rose Marie Tullo, 86, who flipped the lever for O'Connell at the Gotham Avenue School in Elmont, said she was impressed by intensity of the campaign. "They have really been knocking themselves out," Tullo said.Not far away, at the Dutch Broadway School in Elmont, Youri Guibert, 23, had party loyalty and his mother's instructions in mind when he voted for Johnson. "I'm a Democrat and I believe in what he's trying to do."Staff writers Rick Brand, Reid J. Epstein, Sid Cassese and Zachary Dowdy contributed to this story.

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