Last Monday, Rep. Peter T. King announced his retirement at the end of this, his 14th term. The candidates now running to succeed him will have more than just a congressional seat to fill.
You see, Pete King is a New York legend.
With his rip-roaring rhetoric and unabashed Irish Catholicism, and without airbrushing or a filter, King has been an enduring holdout of old school New York politics.
Moreover, his commitment to national security and justice for 9/11 victims made him a powerful, if controversial, advocate for his Long Island constituency.
The 2018 midterms, not great for House Republicans, still saw King returned with a firm six percent majority. His past victory margins ranged up to 45 percent (in 2002).
So, King leaves to enjoy his golden years — he is 75, after all — and perhaps write another semi-autobiographical novel.
Right now, three candidates have filed with the FEC to run for the seat. Two Democrats, Jackie Gordon and Mike Sax, filed last spring.
Gordon is a guidance counselor, combat veteran, and councilwoman for the town of Babylon, New York. She keeps a polished website. Hers is the moderate platform of a Democrat running to win in an R+3 district. Her web presence is, refreshingly, free of pseudo-socialist or Trump-crazed ranting.
A candidate to watch, Gordon has raised $187,941.23 since filing last May.
Meanwhile, her Democratic opponent, Sax makes clear on his eccentric, #Resistance-style website that his single-issue is impeachment. Despite filing last March, he has not declared any contributions.
The first Republican, Suffolk County elections commissioner Nick LaLota, launched his campaign on November 15. A self-described ‘hard-charging veteran,’ LaLota, 41, is a US Naval Academy grad and family man. His web presence is underdeveloped, and having filed so recently, he has not had to divulge finances.
Right now, further entrants to the Democratic field are uncertain. According to the Daily Kos, Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone and DA Tim Sini, both Dems, have declined to seek their party’s nomination for the seat. Crain’s had floated Bellone as a would-be frontrunner, ‘looming in the background.’
Democrat Christine Pellegrino, a former New York State Assemblywoman, might run for the seat, but Crain’s reported she was more interested in a State Senate campaign.
This is probably a safer bet for the Sanders-supporting one-term representative, who lost her seat to a Republican in 2018. That victorious Republican might be the true frontrunner looming in the background.
Enter Mike LiPetri. The 29-year-old lawyer beat Pellegrino by 12 percent amid an otherwise abysmal election for the NYGOP. Sporting a slick hairdo and slicker website, LiPetri has a polish that many New York Republicans lack.
This October, the White House invited LiPetri to join the delegation welcoming Italian president Sergio Mattarella. While in DC, he met with King ‘to discuss some of the critical issues we face in New York.’
It’s hard to imagine that their private discussion didn’t include King tapping LiPetri as dauphin.
But LiPetri insists he’s not running. Well, not yet.
‘At the moment, I’m just reflecting on how I can best be a voice for the South Shore of Long Island,’ he told me. ‘I don’t rule anything out. But, there’s no definitive announcement coming, at this time.’
When asked about calls for him to run, he chuckled. ‘There’s definitely been an outpouring of support for me.’
‘You know, candidate transparency is key,’ he said. “People care about it, and I’m not here to play games. But I can’t make a definite announcement. I’m just weighing all options.’
In the not-unlikely event that LiPetri does run, his youth and energy would carry him to the nomination and possibly Congress.
But, it is a far greater challenge for any politician to replicate the character and authenticity of Pete King.