The Democrats' bash

The lights went out in Democratic candidate Bonnie Eisler's house just before the polls closed Nov. 2 and the last of Nassau County's voters finished jamming their wrenches into the Republican machine.

It turned out to be a symbolic moment, like Joshua halting the travel of the sun and moon so the Israelites could win a battle, or the Greek gods fashioning the cosmos out of chaos. You'd need that kind of symbolism to describe the effects of the earthquake that twisted Long Island politics into an unrecognizable shape, swapping north for south, submerging some tectonic plates while lifting others into mountains, damming the river of power that had flowed into the GOP ocean seemingly since time began.

But just then, for Eisler, the blackout was nothing more than the consequence of an autumn storm that washed over Woodbury streets and toppled power lines. The candidate for Oyster Bay Town Board had just wrapped up weeks of round-the-clock campaigning and was determined to reach the Democratic party at the Papa Razzi restaurant in Westbury. "I had to be here," Eisler said, standing in the crush of party faithful gathered in the banquet room. "It was incredible. I had to be here. The roads were flooded. It was such a crazy thing. What a night for the lights to go out."

The lights also went out that night for the Nassau GOP. Eisler and fellow Democrat Anthony Macagnone would win seats on the formerly all-Republican Oyster Bay board. The Working Families Party would declare victory as well, having helped the Democrats elect at least two-possibly three-Hempstead councilors and seize control of county government for the first time in history. Party chairman Tom DiNapoli, a state assemblyman from Great Neck, looked omnipotent as he worked the microphone, handing out the results of races for judgeships and clerkships and town board seats like a bacchanalian tossing Moon Pies from a Mardi Gras float.

If this was not quite a deathblow for the GOP apparatus, it also was more than the emotional triumphs of a few underdog politicians. For between the joyful tears and the clamped-tight bear hugs, over the strains of a New York Democratic hero's "Happy Days Are Here Again," in the free-flowing toasts and the dazed, sleep-deprived faces, a new being rose up and drew its first breath.

Nassau County, behold your Democratic machine.

Winners and Losers

DiNapoli hadn't yet begun to work the crowd from the podium when the first hints of the Republican demise filtered into the Papa Razzi. There may have been fewer than a hundred people present, many of them lining up at the bar to take advantage of the free drinks served before 10 p.m.

Sprinkled among the suit-wearing Democratic heavies, like legislative minority leader Judy Jacobs and party vice chairman Larry Aaronson, were a few people clad in T-shirts and jeans-members of Working Families, a party founded last year in the city by a coalition of labor unions and community groups.

One Working Families activist, Gary Bono of Merrick, clutched a shot and a beer as he talked about the resources his organization had thrown into the five legislative seats targeted by the Democrats. In March, the new party, ideologically to the left of the Democratic Party of the '90s, helped elect two Dems to the Hempstead Village Board, and this fall it campaigned heavily for Hempstead Town Board hopeful Dorothy Goosby and legislative candidate Patrick Williams of Uniondale.

Both Goosby and Willliams would declare victory in a few hours, but Bono already tasted a bigger success than just those two races. "We feel this is a way of taking the Democratic Party in the right direction," he said.

"You mean the left direction," said fellow Working Families member David Sprintzen of Syosset, former cochair of the Long Island Progressive Coalition.

Bono plowed on: "If they win a few tonight-Tom DiNapoli won't tell you this, but I will-it's because of us."

Just a few minutes later, the first of the early returns lit up the TV near the dais. Bruce Blakeman, the legislature's presiding officer, was being taken apart by Democratic challenger Jeff Toback, who'd posted a lead of 30 percentage points. "Holy shit!" said a man in the crowd. The cynics immediately tried to figure out Blakeman's future. "They'll make him a commissioner," someone said. Another countered, "Or a judge, goddammit."

The Democrats could hardly be blamed for sticking to the established script of politics in Nassau, where the GOP machine has shuffled officeholders like cards to keep the deck stacked in its favor.

Yet on this night, the unexpected was becoming not only believable, but real. At 10:47, the race was over.

His eyes wide with shock, Sal Bush, a campaign worker for Democratic Legis. Roger Corbin, shouted into his cell phone: "Blakeman conceded. Blakeman conceded. Blakeman conceded. Absolutely. Absolutely. It looks like this is going to be a landslide." Bush hung up but kept talking-to himself. "Blakeman, ooh, that is so floss."

Of all the losses Republicans sustained, none hurt worse than Blakeman's. Before driving to Papa Razzi, Democrat Robert L. Douglas of Woodmere had been at Toback's headquarters when Blakeman walked in and congratulated the man who had beaten him. "I gotta tell you, I had to do a double take," recalled Douglas, "because I never in my life thought I'd see something like this. You could see on his facial expression, he was clearly tired-like he had just run a marathon and crossed the finish line and not reached the goal. He was in control of his emotions, but he was clearly devastated."

Next Page »