Why New York Democrats Lost Long Island

New York Democrats need intra-party reform in order to prevent losing Long Island again.

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At this point, it is agreed that the 2022 U.S. midterm elections did not turn out to be a “red wave” for the Republican Party. The party massively underperformed, with the Democratic Party maintaining control of the Senate and doing better than expected on the House level by holding on to several competitive seats. However, Republicans did overperform in a few select areas of the country, including in New York, a solidly Democratic state.

In New York, Republicans picked up four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives previously held by Democrats, including two Democratic-leaning seats on Long Island.

Many theories have already emerged about how this happened. Some point to Eric Adams and his comments regarding crime in New York City for hurting his party down the ballot. Others are blaming Jay Jacobs, the chair of the New York Democratic Party, for the party’s misfortunes and are calling for him to step down as party chair.

One thing is clear: Republican gubernatorial nominee Lee Zeldin ran an extremely effective campaign focusing on crime that helped down-ballot Republicans pick up seats from Democrats. That’s in comparison to the more low-key campaign run by Democratic incumbent Kathy Hochul, who only won her race by six percentage points. On Long Island, Zeldin won both Nassau and Suffolk County by an astonishing 11 and 17 points, respectively.

This is not surprising. As a resident of Long Island, I saw “Zeldin for Governor” signs all over my town. 

The fear of a Republican sweep on Long Island on the House-level propelled by Zeldin’s strong campaign was what inspired me to volunteer for Laura Gillen, the Democratic nominee for New York’s 4th congressional district on the south shore of Long Island. As a result of Zeldin’s strong coattail effect on down-ballot candidates, Gillen ended up losing to Republican nominee Anthony D’Esposito by four percentage points. 

In retrospect, Democrats could have focused more on countering Republican attacks on crime and making the case for why Democrats would be more effective at making laws to address crime.

It was also clear that the bail reform legislation passed by the New York legislature, which got rid of bail laws for certain types of offenders, hurt Democrats on Long Island.

And it’s not as if the state’s Democratic Party wasn’t aware of their newfound vulnerability in the region. In the Nassau and Suffolk County elections that took place last year, Republicans used this argument to win several county-wide offices from Democrats, such as the district attorney race in both counties and the chief executive race in Nassau.

Democrats should have taken these elections as a sign that if they want to avoid a midterm wipeout on Long Island, they need to change their strategies and focus on more aggressively countering Republican attacks in regard to crime. But they clearly didn’t do that.

If Democrats don’t take their abysmal performance on Long Island as a sign that they need some major intra-party reform, they risk losing Long Island in local and statewide races — and potentially the state of New York itself — for the foreseeable future.