Heard Around Town

On Long Island, party affiliation is a very loose signifier

Democrats running on the Republican line, Republicans running on the Democratic line. It’s whatever!

Former Rep. Carolyn McCarthy was a registered Republican who ran on Long Island as a Democrat.

Former Rep. Carolyn McCarthy was a registered Republican who ran on Long Island as a Democrat. Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images

In the highly contested upcoming special election for New York’s 3rd Congressional District, a leading Republican is actually a registered Democrat. But on Long Island – and even more specifically in the district – registration with a different party hasn't historically been a deal breaker.

Politico New York reported Wednesday morning that Nassau Legislator Mazi Pilip, considered a leading candidate as local GOP leaders mull who to tap for the February special election, is actually registered as a Democrat. This despite her having won two elections on the Republican line – including against a Democratic incumbent – and contributing to the Republican supermajority in the county Legislature. 

While Pilip’s own electoral history demonstrates that her party affiliation doesn't matter to Republicans, she's also not a lone outlier. In fact, a registered Republican once flipped the nearby 4th Congressional District blue. Parts of that district have since been redistricted into the 3rd District.

Former Democratic Rep. Carolyn McCarthy first ran in 1996 as a registered Republican with the support of Democrats and on the Democratic line. She kept her registered party affiliation the same until 2003, despite conferencing with Democrats. She remained in office until 2015, when she retired.

More recently, in the heart of the 3rd Congressional District, Republicans have successfully run a registered Democrat twice in the Town of North Hempstead. Supervisor Jen DeSena flipped the longtime Democratic stronghold red in 2021 with the backing of Republicans. She just won reelection in November against a Democratic challenger.

In New York, candidates not registered with a party can still run on its line with the blessing of party leaders. It happens most often with third parties like the Working Families or Conservative Parties who cross-endorse Democrats and Republicans. Leaders vote to authorize what’s known as a Wilson-Pakula to allow a non-party-registered candidate to appear on the party line. But it is also used by major parties in instances like those with McCarthy, Pilip and DeSena.