Aaron Sorkin himself couldn’t have conceived the litigious chaos going on in New York’s Third Congressional District race.
Days after a federal judge ordered an October primary to decide the Republican Party’s nominee for the outgoing Steve Israel‘s seat in the House of Representatives, one of the two primary candidates filed a motion on Friday to have the general election in November pushed back a month.
State Senator Jack Martins had been considered the presumptive Republican nominee after a court threw out the petitions of financial auditor Philip Pidot to get on the Republican primary ballot in June. The ruling had left Martins as the lone Republican candidate, and the primary was canceled.
Pidot protested the decision, and an appellate court judge ruled in his favor only days before the scheduled June 28 primary, which meant there was no time to create a new ballot.
Following subsequent legal challenges between the Martins and Pidot camps, a federal judge in Syracuse ruled on Wednesday, August 17, that a Republican primary must be held on Thursday, October 6, to decide the party’s nominee.
This October surprise in mid-August took another strange turn on Friday, when Martins asked a federal court to push back the general election against the Democratic Party nominee, former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi, until December 6 if the court upholds the order for the October 6 primary. Martins did ask the courts to dismiss the October 6 primary altogether.
Martins’ spokesperson E. O’Brien Murray told QNS in a statement that the delay was requested in order to properly accommodate military and absentee voters. As Newsday reported, the court’s decision on the primary may conflict with another judicial mandate that absentee ballots for those in the armed services be sent out no fewer than 45 days before the election.
“The October primary election date leaves 32 days for a general election, disenfranchising the military voters and even potentially the permanent absentee voters,” Murray said. “The military voters and all other voters in New York’s Third Congressional deserve the same consideration, 50 days or more in the general election, as the judge provided for the primary voters.”
Not surprisingly, both the Pidot and Suozzi camps came out swinging at Martins upon hearing of the motion filed on Friday.
“Martins’ failed electoral heist is now officially a parody of itself. He will stop at nothing to rob voters of their democratic choice,” Pidot said in a statement. “He and his lawyers have spent months trying to manipulate the democratic process to avoid having to account for his damning record in Albany, but now they’ve really jumped the shark.”
“It’s time for Jack Martins to face voters, stop wasting millions of taxpayer dollars with his petty political games and trying to litigate his way into Congress,” said Kim Devlin, senior strategist for the Suozzi campaign, in an email to QNS. “This is nothing more than a pathetic attempt to distract voters from his disastrous record of raising property taxes, defending Dean Skelos and supporting Trump.”
How does this affect the race?
The Third District covers northeast Queens, northern Nassau and northwestern Suffolk counties. It’s one of a handful of Congressional districts in New York State that are considered toss-ups among pollsters.
Martins has the backing of local Republican leaders and the National Republican Congressional Committee, which provided his campaign with a million dollars for the general election; House Speaker Paul Ryan is slated to stump for Martins in the district later this month, according to The Island Now.
Given the support he already has from his own party, Martins is favored to defeat Pidot in the October primary — but to do that, he’ll likely need to spend some time and resources that would otherwise be used against Suozzi in the general election campaign. Either way, the winner of the Republican primary would then only have about a month to campaign against Suozzi, who’s had his party united behind him since winning the June primary.
Then there’s the presidential race itself, as Devlin alluded, which figures to impact the outcome of every other contest held on November 8. A recent poll found Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton far ahead of Republican nominee Donald Trump in New York State. A Clinton landslide could ultimately tilt Congressional races and other contests down the ballot in the Democrats’ favor.
An election for Israel’s seat in December — in the midst of the holiday season — would likely get a lower, less partisan turnout at the polls. This factor could help the Republican nominee more than the Democratic candidate.
What happens next is up to the courts to decide.