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Avlon, Former CNN Anchor, Joins Congressional Race; Others Drop Out

Wed, 02/21/2024 - 16:38
John Avlon was the commencement speaker at Pierson (Sag Harbor) High School's graduation ceremony in June.
Christine Sampson

The race for the Democratic Party’s nomination to challenge Representative Nick LaLota in New York’s First Congressional District got more crowded last week when John Avlon of Sag Harbor — an author, columnist, and former CNN anchor — announced his candidacy.

Last week, Mr. Avlon became the sixth candidate for the Democrats’ nomination in a race that will help determine the majority in the House of Representatives. Two candidates have since dropped out: former State Senator James Gaughran, who has endorsed Mr. Avlon, and Kyle Hill of Port Jefferson. Remaining in the race as of yesterday were Nancy Goroff, the Democratic candidate in 2020, and two little-known candidates, Andy DeCecco and Saint Jermaine Endeley. Craig Herskowitz of Northport, who was a judge in New York City before launching his campaign, initially announced his candidacy but has since dropped out to run for the State Senate in the second district.

In announcing his candidacy, Mr. Avlon took aim at Donald Trump, the presumed Republican nominee for president, who is seeking his second presidency in his third presidential campaign, this time while facing charges in four ongoing criminal cases. “I believe the United States is the greatest democracy the world has ever known,” Mr. Avlon said in a video statement. “But, right now, our democracy is in danger. This election is not a drill. It’s up to all of us to step up and get off the sidelines. And that’s why I’m running for Congress in New York’s First District. There’s just too much at stake for the country and the community that I love. We need to build the broadest possible coalition to defeat Donald Trump, defend our democracy, and win back the House from his MAGA minions who don’t even seem interested in solving problems anymore.”

Mr. Avlon, who is 51, was previously an analyst and anchor at CNN. From 2013 to 2018 he was editor in chief and managing director of The Daily Beast, during which time it was placed on Mr. Trump’s blacklist of media organizations banned from his campaign rallies. He was a volunteer on former President Bill Clinton’s campaigns, and worked at City Hall in New York, where he served as a chief speechwriter for former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Mr. Avlon was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun, and is the author of “Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics,” “Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America,” “Washington’s Farewell: The Founding Father’s Warning to Future Generations,” and “Lincoln and the Fight for Peace,” as well as a contributor to the anthology “Fight for Liberty: Defending Democracy in the Age of Trump.”

“We need to rebuild the middle class, protect women’s reproductive rights, invest in our infrastructure, and mitigate climate change — all while defending our democracy against Donald Trump and his MAGA minions like Nick LaLota, who do whatever Trump wants, including blocking a bipartisan border security deal,” Mr. Avlon said. “This district needs real leadership, not more hyper-partisanship, and I am going to hit the ground running, talking to voters across Suffolk County about the issues we all care about.”

In what some pundits framed as a possible foreshadowing of the Nov. 5 general election, Tom Suozzi, the Democratic candidate, defeated Mazi Pilip, the Republican candidate, in a special election to fill the seat vacated by Representative George Santos in New York’s Third Congressional District, which spans parts of western Long Island and Queens. Mr. Santos, who ran as a Republican, was exposed as a serial liar and has been charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, false statements, falsification of records, aggravated identity theft, and credit card fraud. He was expelled from the House in December. Though polls indicated a close contest, Mr. Suozzi, who formerly held the seat, won by eight percentage points, 54 percent to Ms. Pilip’s 46 percent, flipping the district back to Democratic control.

While the First District has been in Republican hands since Lee Zeldin was elected in 2014, President Biden won the district in 2020. With Mr. Suozzi’s swearing-in, scheduled for yesterday, the Republican Party’s slim majority will be further reduced, to 219 to 213.

In a signal that Mr. Avlon is perceived as a formidable opponent to Mr. LaLota, his campaign announcement was quickly followed by a statement from the deputy communications director of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Mr. Avlon’s candidacy “adds even more leftist fuel to an already crowded dumpster fire of a Democrat primary,” Savannah Viar said in an email. “We look forward to litigating this smug, liberal hack’s past so voters can see just how left he and the rest of the modern Democrat party have become.”

Will Kiley, a spokesman for Mr. LaLota, in a text, called Mr. Avlon “a Manhattan elitist without any attachments to Long Island other than his summer home in the Hamptons. Avlon knows nothing about Suffolk County other than Sag Harbor croquet matches and summer cocktail parties in Bridgehampton. It may take burning millions of his friends’ money for Avlon to learn N.Y.-1 has a history of rejecting out-of-state and Manhattan elitists, from both sides of the aisle, who parachute into the district attempting to buy a seat in Congress.”

A spokesman for Mr. Avlon said that the candidate votes in Sag Harbor and also owns a residence in Manhattan.

On Sunday, Mr. Avlon noted that Mr. LaLota lives in Amityville, which is outside the First District. “I’m the only one that can vote in the district,” he told The Star.

Mr. Kiley told The Star earlier this month that Mr. LaLota’s Amityville residence had been listed for sale but was taken off the market when a group of voters supported by a Democratic law firm sued to compel the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission to redraw the congressional boundaries. The commission approved a new map on Feb. 15, but the Democratic-controlled State Legislature rejected it on Monday and is drawing new district boundaries. A vote to approve it is expected this week. Though members of Congress typically live in the districts they represent, they are not legally required to do so.

A Democratic Party primary election ill be held on June 25.

Note: This article has been updated since it was first published online.

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