New York State

State Sen.-elect Kevin Thomas on his unexpected victory

Upset winner says Hannon lost touch with constituents, especially minorities.

Kevin Thomas

Kevin Thomas Kevin Thomas for State Senate

Democrats dominated their state Senate races this week, ending the night winning as many as six of the chamber’s nine seats on Long Island while decimating the Republican’s historic control of the region – known as the “Long Island Nine.” One of the more unexpected results was attorney Kevin Thomas’ narrow victory over state Sen. Kemp Hannon. In a Q&A with City & State’s Jordan Laird, Thomas weighed in on his groundbreaking win, what it means for Long Island and his top priority in Albany.

What does it mean to you to be the first Indian-American in the state Legislature?

It’s a huge burden on my shoulders right now because since I’m the first. I have to be a good role model to the younger generation that I’m hoping will come out and run for office from the community. Parents usually kind of push their kids into going into math, science and the legal profession. They don’t tell them go into a political career where I’m hoping with my election that’s going to change. I want to be a good role model to the emerging Indian-Americans who want to make a difference in their communities.

You and others dealt a serious blow to the “Long Island Nine” – the nine state Senate Republicans. How did you pull it off?

Here’s the thing, I think my opponent was still running his campaign like it’s the 1990s and we were more in line with the present demographics. For example, we used a lot of social media. We basically sent out, published, a lot of our campaign videos over Facebook and on Twitter. I don’t think my opponent was doing much of that. He was just putting up signs everywhere. So they were not really campaigning as much as they should have because they thought this was a seat that they could hold on to and I proved them wrong. Plus, I was knocking on doors every single night. I don’t see much of that from the Republicans, going and knocking on doors.

In the past it’s been difficult for Democrats to win on Long Island. Why was this time different?

So there were of course a number of reasons for it. One is the current political climate with Trump in office. And second, we as a state needed to be more progressive and I believe the voters in District 6 really believed that they needed change because my opponent never stepped foot in communities in the Democratic base, like in Hempstead and in Uniondale. He never touched foot there and they lost connection with him. And this is what happens when you’re comfortable being somewhere for 42 years, you forget who your constituents are.

You come from a district with a mix of Republicans and Democrats. Do you anticipate voting against your party in the Legislature?

The senators from Long Island, we’re going to work together and stand united as a team. We’re going to do our best not to step on each other’s toes and do any of that. I think we have a basic understanding not to do that.

How will you balance your constituents’ interests, which might not be as progressive, with your party’s policy initiatives?

Well, you’ve got to negotiate. At committee levels, you can talk about the issues that your constituents are concerned with and talk to the party heads at that point and begin negotiating. This isn’t a blanket yes or no for a bill. There’s all these negotiations, there’s all this work that we do across the aisle. There’s a lot of negotiations that’s going to be taking place. And whenever I vote for a bill, it’s going to be for the best interest of my constituents. That’s the primary goal here.

Your race was predicted to go the other way and not a lot of resources were thrown your way. Do you feel you got enough support from your party?

So I could have gotten more support obviously. But I was the only candidate to have the Nassau Democratic Committee headquarters as my campaign office. And they’ve basically helped me out in other ways as well. This race was not predicted to go the way it went, so they had priorities, that was Jim Gaughran’s race and to hold on to (state Sen. John) Brooks’ seat, so they were expending resources there and, you know, this is politics. They had to put their money in the priority races first. But I am grateful for what they’ve given me so far.

What is your No. 1 legislative priority heading into the state Senate?

Well, like I said before, my intention is always to make the lives of my constituents better and there are a number of bills out there, like the “red flag” law, commonsense gun safety legislation that we can pass, RHA investment, Health Act, Liberty Act, DREAM Act – there are so many different bills that have been brought that I want to jump on as quickly as possible. Commonsense legislation that has been blocked over and over again and these are things that we can do at the first hour on the first day.

Anything else you want to touch on?

District 6 has the highest population of minority voters on the island, so when Kemp Hannon won his seat back in the day, the demographics were different. And now he just lost touch with the voters.