Merrick Democrat makes an uphill run at King's seat
By William Murphy
October 11, 2010
Schoolteacher Howard Kudler, a Merrick Democrat, apparently spent a political pittance - although the exact amount is unclear - in 2008 to run for the Assembly in the 19th District, and got 38 percent of the vote against the incumbent.
This year, Kudler has reported no fundraising so far in his race for Congress in the 3rd District, and now he is up against Republican Peter King of Seaford, who has $1.7 million in the bank and who molded a national tough-on-terror image in 2005-06 as chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security - a post he would regain if Republicans win control of the House on Nov. 2.
"I'm the underdog in this race. I don't have the funding and resources he does, but I'm out there every night campaigning. I'm winning the hearts and minds of people," Kudler said.
But after 18 years in Congress, King is an established figure who says he rarely gets questions about his policies as he campaigns for re-election.
"Most people who stop me say, 'You're the only guy I trust,' or something like that. They sometimes tell me they feel the country is out of control, slipping away. They know who I am. I oppose the Obama agenda. I say what's on my mind," King said a few days after walking most of the length of a North Massapequa street fair - without a policy question from anyone.
King, 66, still showed an enthusiasm for press-the-flesh campaigning during his walk. He ran behind the table at the Columbus Lodge 2143 hot-dog stand and posed for pictures, then strolled across North Broadway to introduce himself at the table of the Blue Star Moms of Long Island. A woman said loudly, "I know it's you! Thanks for coming over!"
A day earlier, Kudler, 56, campaigned at a Merrick street fair but sparked little recognition.
He pressed a campaign flier into one woman's hand and assured her he would work to bring federal funding to the district. "I'll bring it home," he promised as she backed away.
The Kudler campaign began slowly this year, in part because he expected to run against Assemb. David McDonough again, he said. But Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs urged him to take on King.
Little campaign money
Kudler said he lacked the $5,000 in campaign funds required to file with the Federal Elections Commission, so he was late in registering, and missed the first reporting period. The campaign said the filing due Friday will show receipts of $81,017, which includes a loan of $77,562 from Kudler, and expenses of $2,524
His initial campaign filings for the 2008 Assembly race showed he raised $2,435, although there is no record on the state website of Kudler filing the reports due 11 days before the general election and 32 days afterward.
He also failed to file the required state report in January 2009, and his July 2009 report showed an opening balance of $2,435 and expenses of $290. He said at first that he raised about $8,000 in 2008, but then said it was probably $2,435 after a Newsday reporter pointed out the records to him.
"I was very grassroots," Kudler said. "There were some campaign signs, some printing. Everything else was speaking engagements and train stations, earned media and walking door to door. I am very frugal. I guess that's why the Dems like me."
Kudler, who has only the Democratic line, was slow to respond to requests for an interview, but once he agreed and began talking, he was nonstop. He has taught government in New York City schools for 26 years, moved from Queens to Merrick 10 years ago, is the son of a teacher and is an activist in civic and campaign activities for other candidates.
He is a staunch supporter of Social Security and said he will fight for jobs, affordable housing and improving the quality of life on Long Island.
In general, he said, he hopes to tap into the anti-incumbent mood of the country. "People feel that government has let them down," he said.
King, who is also on the Conservative, Independence and Tax Revolt party lines, is running rhetorically against other incumbents - Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama.
"The Obama administration and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have taken this country dramatically in the wrong direction," he said to an overflow crowd at a fundraiser last month at Mulcahy's Pub in Wantagh.
"There is dramatic change happening in this country. I believe we are going to take back the Congress, which will hopefully make me chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security . . . and [I can] protect New York and the U.S. against another bombing attack," he said.
Numbers favor King
Most political observers rate King as a safe re-election bet. The district, which covers the eastern half of Nassau County and juts into southwestern Suffolk, has 179,293 registered Republicans, 136,868 Democrats and 101,027 with no listed party affiliation.
The 18 years King has spent in Congress have seen a revolutionary change in how politics and post-9/11 world affairs intertwine. Now a fierce voice against terrorism, King's first trip abroad after getting elected in 1992 was to Northern Ireland, where he sipped tea with Gerry Adams, a former chief of staff for the outlawed Irish Republican Army who at the time was banned from the United States as a terrorist.
King concedes that his alliance with Adams was risky. "I thought Adams wanted to have a diplomatic solution and I saw a chance to help end an 800-year struggle," King said. "I thought Adams was sincere, unlike a [the late PLO leader] Yasser Arafat, who was never sincere . . . And a big difference, I'll tell you," King added, "The IRA was never at war with America."