Rice, Abrahams vie for Dem nod

Voters on June 24 will decide whether Nassau County Legislator Kevan Abrahams or District Attorney Kathleen Rice will receive the Democratic nomination in the race for New York’s 4th Congressional District and the opportunity to succeed the retiring Carolyn McCarthy in Washington.

Abrahams, of Freeport, was first elected to the Legislature in 2001 and became its Democratic minority leader in 2012. Rice, of Garden City, was the only Democrat to win a major county race in 2013, earning her third term as district attorney.

The Fourth Congressional District of New York includes the communities of Baldwin, Bellmore, East Meadow, the Five Towns, Lynbrook, Floral Park, Franklin Square, Garden City, Hempstead, Long Beach, Malverne, Merrick, Mineola, Carle Place, New Hyde Park, Oceanside, Rockville Centre, Roosevelt, Uniondale, West Hempstead and Westbury.

According to campaign finance records, Rice has $1.47 million on hand and has spent $470,470 since March and $640,050 total.  

Abrahams spent $109,912 and had $49,997 in cash, according to records.

Rice announced her intention to seek the Democratic nomination at a diner in Westbury on January 29, during which McCarthy announced her endorsement of the district attorney’s campaign and said she would advocate on her behalf.

McCarthy, 70, was first elected in 1996 on the heels of a 1993 shooting on a Long Island Railroad car at the Merillon Avenue station in Garden City in which her husband was killed and son was seriously injured.

She told Blank Slate Media in January that “I know [Rice] knows that gun violence has a lot of aspects to it.” 

Several other state politicians and high-profile labor unions and charitable organizations have also endorsed their support of Rice’s campaign, as has the state Democratic Committee chaired by Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills).

Upon announcing her candidacy, Rice resigned as co-chair of the Moreland Commission, a state panel that investigates public corruption. 

Weeks before Rice’s announcement, McCarthy said she would retire at the conclusion of her ninth term in office. In February, she returned to Washington after undergoing chemotherapy treatment for lung cancer.

Abrahams had been rumored to be interested in seeking the Democratic nod and raised funding for an exploratory committee to begin a campaign.

In mid March, he officially announced he would challenge Rice for the nomination, saying his campaign would focus on taxes, income inequality, education and reviving economic development across Long Island.

Since announcing his campaign, Abrahams has received the endorsements of the Democrats of Hofstra University, Freeport village Mayor Robert Kennedy, Nassau County Democratic legislators Carrie Solages and Judy Jacobs, the Hempstead Village board of trustees, Plumbers Local Union No. 200 of Long Island, New York Trend Newspaper, among others.

Both Rice and Abrahams have each said they would advocate for stricter firearm legislation in Washington in continuing a major legislative issue during McCarthy’s time in Congress. 

Abrahams in early June rolled out his plan on gun control, saying he would immediately sponsor legislation to require universal background checks on all firearm sales, document ammunition sales and reinstate a ban on assault weapons. 

According to Abrahams’ campaign, gun control programs he has implemented within his Legislative district have reduced shootings by 75 percent.

“As a county legislator for the past 12 years, I have proven my dedication to reducing gun violence within my district and in Nassau County. I am the only candidate in this primary election with the right Legislative experience needed to work in a bipartisan manner that this issue requires,” Abrahams said. “Although my opponent has been in this race for a month longer than I have, she has yet to formally address these critical issues.”

“Therefore, I urge Kathleen Rice to provide us with her plan to reduce gun violence in troubled communities in this district, and specifically, how she plans to address the issue of gang-related homicides perpetrated with illegal firearms,” he added. “The children and families of this district deserve an answer.”

In an e-mail, Rice spokesman Eric Phillips said Rice’s gun control platform has been available on the district attorney’s website, “so I don’t really know what he’s talking about.”

Abrahams last week also took aim at Rice’s recent decision to allow men charged with soliciting a prostitute in last year’s “Flush the Johns” sting operation to plead to a lesser charge as part of a new program that the district attorney said would help curb sex trafficking.

The deal was introduced as part of the district attorney’s office’s new RESET program – which stands for the Real Effects of Sale, Exploitation and Trafficking – allowing first-time solicitation defendants and those who have recently pleaded guilty to similar charges to complete a two-hour course on human trafficking in exchange for a non-criminal disorderly conduct charge and 35 hours of community service.

In a letter to campaign supporters, Abrahams said the option showed that Rice “is more interested in snagging headlines than fairly dispensing justice.”

“Her sudden decision to allow individuals who were arrested as part of the “Flush the Johns” program to plea to lower charges is mystifying and irresponsible,” the e-mail read. “It becomes crystal clear that this entire operation was nothing more than a charade aimed at gaining cheap political points.”

The month-long “Flush the Johns” sting resulted in the arrests of 104 alleged johns from throughout Nassau County and its surrounding areas, but Rice was criticized in the aftermath of a June 3, 2013 news conference announcing the operation for revealing the names of the accused and because three of the four men accused who stood trial were acquitted. Approximately 75 cases have not been heard, and 25 men who have pleaded guilty are eligible to resubmit their pleas under the plan.

“Kathleen Rice claims to be a protector of women from exploitation – but if this were the case she should prosecute these cases to the fullest extent of the law,” Abrahams wrote to supporters. “Inside deals are exactly what is wrong with Washington, let’s make sure that we don’t send another political wheeler and dealer there.”

Rice during a speaking engagement in April at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at  Shelter Rock touted the success of her office’s Human Trafficking Court program, which provides services and resources to help prostitutes escape a lifestyle that Rice said was comparable to slavery. 

The Human Trafficking Court handled 295 cases in its first year following its inception in October 2012 and helped 126 defendants receive counseling, housing assistance, medical and education programs as well as immigration assistance, according to Rice’s office.

“We’ve partnered with human trafficking and public health experts with the goal of fighting human trafficking by cutting the demand for commercial sex. Prostitution is not a victimless crime and johns play an integral role in an industry full of victimization and violence,” Rice said as part of a news release announcing the RESET program. “This program is another step in an ongoing and multi-pronged strategy of aggressive enforcement, public awareness, and innovative defendant education. We won’t be backing down from making cases that we know will save lives.”

Phillips has said that Abrahams “doesn’t ever have any idea what he’s talking about, so our policy is to ignore his campaign and let the policy experts and records of accomplishment speak for themselves.”

But it appears Rice’s campaign has already set its sights on Long Beach Republican Bruce Blakeman, who is opposing Franklin Square lawyer Frank Scaturro in the Conservative and Republican party primaries.

Rice spokesman Coleman Lamb in a statement last week demanded Blakeman publicize his stance on immigration reform, alleging House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) lost his primary to Tea Party challenger David Brat on June 10 because of his support for bipartisan immigration reform. 

“Facing a very similar primary, will Bruce Blakeman do the right thing and stand up for comprehensive immigration reform and bipartisan compromise, or will he cave and do what’s popular with the extremist wing of his base?” Lamb said. “Does Bruce Blakeman believe those brought to the U.S. as undocumented children should be given an opportunity to earn legal residency through the completion of higher education? Does he believe those brought here as undocumented children who as young adults go on to serve in our armed forces and risk their lives for our country deserve to call America home?”

In a statement, Blakeman spokesman Matt Coleman said, “Kathleen Rice’s lighting fast exit from Albany’s Moreland Commission may have left her a little confused. The better question to ask is: does Kathleen Rice have a Barack Obama problem if she is her party’s candidate in November.”

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Bill San Antonio

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