By Raymond Janis
Last week, members of the Suffolk County Republican Committee unanimously endorsed Nick LaLota, chief of staff to County Legislative Speaker Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), in the race for the New York’s 1st congressional district.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) leaves the seat to run for governor, triggering a primary election for the Republican nomination in that race. With the county committee’s approval, LaLota appears to be a frontrunner as a candidate for Congress.
“I am proud to have been unanimously nominated by over 500 committee members from Suffolk County and all 10 towns in Suffolk County,” LaLota said in a telephone interview. “I intend to represent them well on the ballot.”
LaLota, of Amityville, comes from a military lineage, which includes several police officers and veterans. He sees this race as an opportunity to carry on the family tradition.
“I was a military officer for seven years, deployed overseas three times and visited 20 countries with the navy,” he said. “My family has a keen sense of service. We love this country and we are ready to fight for it and to sacrifice ourselves for it. If elected to Congress, I intend to do just that.
LaLota wasn’t alone on the court when he received the endorsement. Anthony Figliola of East Setauket and Robert Cornicelli of St. James also chased the endorsement. Following the announcement, Cornicelli suspended his campaign for NY-1 and redirected his energies to unseating Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-NY2).
“It certainly wasn’t an easy decision, but it’s more about people than what’s happened over the past few weeks,” Cornicelli campaign manager Lawrence Bialek said in a phone interview. “At the moment we are really focused on entering the second [congressional district].”
Figliola remains in the primary for NY-1. He criticized LaLota’s endorsement by the county GOP, arguing that Republican leaders risked losing the race to Democrats.
“Obviously deals were made and they picked someone who doesn’t even live in the neighborhood,” he said in a phone interview. “I can’t help but think they’re just looking to ruin this race. For me, I think it’s winnable for a Republican. I love my country and I want to be able to represent the people of the First Congressional District.
Figliola said he intends to use his experience in the private sector to ease the economic hardship Americans face. He cites rising inflation, gas prices and health insurance costs as the motivation for his candidacy.
“The reason I’m in this race is because I see how our country is doing,” he said. “I see the working class men and women of this neighborhood being forgotten and ignored by this administration. I want people to know there’s someone in there watching over them, someone paying bills like them, paying their own health insurance like them, and feeling that pinch like them.
The two remaining NY-1 Republican primary candidates believe their party is operating at a competitive disadvantage in November. Each has said the new redistricting scheme will inevitably favor the Democratic nominee, also subject to a primary, in the general election.
“Albany Democrats did Long Island a huge disservice when they ransacked this district, stretching it from west of Amityville to east of Amagansett,” LaLota said. “They’ve separated many similar communities and made it extremely difficult for voters who will have to travel many miles just to see their congressman.”
The primary election is scheduled for June 28.