File photo: Denise Civiletti

Democrats Skyler Johnson and Wendy Hamberger are looking to unseat incumbent Republican state lawmakers Sen. Anthony Palumbo and Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio in November.

Johnson, a 21-year-old college student from Mt. Sinai, came second-to-last in the Democratic primary for the same seat in 2020 with 11% of the party’s vote. He is a board member at the Temple Beth Emeth of Mt. Sinai and is currently on track to receive his bachelor’s degree in political science at Stony Brook University this spring. He is also a political organizer and has served on campaign teams of local candidates, including as the campaign manager of Southampton Village Mayor Jesse Warren. 

Hamberger, 53, is a lawyer and mediator with a low-bono practice based in Holbrook specializing in family law. She attended CUNY School of Law and was admitted to the bar in 1999. Before becoming a lawyer she worked as a legislative aide for Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn overseeing community outreach, according to her website.

Her work has been honored by the Nassau-Suffolk Law Services as “Pro Bono Attorney of the Month” in January 2015 and Nassau County Bar Association ProBono Attorney of the Year in 2019. 

Johnson was originally running for the Democratic nomination for State Assembly District 2 this cycle, before exiting the race on Feb. 6 after redistricting changed legislative lines. The new legislative maps notably removed the Town of Southold from Assembly District 2 and added the communities of Riverside and Northampton to the district. It also expanded the district further west and south in Brookhaven Town, including into Hamberger’s neighborhood in Center Moriches. 

Johnson said his decision to withdraw from the Assembly race was motivated by the changed lines that “became such a convoluted and different district that I no longer felt comfortable running for it.” Johnson decided to run for State Senate after Laura Ahearn, the Democrat’s candidate in 2020, announced she would not run for the seat again. 

Johnson said the key issues he would fight for in Albany include protecting voting rights, fighting climate change and protecting drinking water.

“I want to see affordable housing solutions and ways to end the “trade parade” in Southampton,” Johnson added. “There’s a lot of issues that are local to the island and I want to make sure that I’m fighting for them all. I want to help to relieve the economic anxiety that is gripping the nation right now. And so I want to be working on plans that can benefit the economy and benefit all Long Islanders to try to make the island a more affordable place.”

Johnson received day-one endorsements from State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Suffolk County Democratic Committee Chairman Rich Schaffer and the chairs of the Democratic committees of Riverhead, Brookhaven, Southampton and Shelter Island.

“I am proud to endorse Skyler Johnson’s campaign for Senate District 1,” Schaffer said in a statement. “He has proven himself to be a fierce advocate for the people of Suffolk County, and I know he will fight for his constituents in Albany. I look forward to working with Skyler to flip this seat and the rest of Long Island blue.”

Hamberger is in the process of establishing a political committee and campaign website. She announced her candidacy to county Democrats last week. 

Hamberger said in an interview she decided to run because she enjoyed the work she did while working for Mayersohn. She said top issues she sees impacting the state include affordability, inflation, health insurance costs and bringing mental health resources to schools.

“I’m not a politician. I’ve devoted my career to helping people in the community. But I really think what I saw in Albany and what I saw when I was working at Nettie Mayersohn’s office, you could really make a difference every day,” she said.

“What we’re excited about with Wendy is she does a lot of pro bono work and works with families that are struggling or can’t afford representation. So we’re excited about her working with those demographics and bringing that voice to the race,” Suffolk County Democratic Committee Spokesman Keith Davies said.

Palumbo, of New Suffolk, and Giglio, of Baiting Hollow, both confirmed to RiverheadLOCAL they will run for reelection.

“I am excited to be running for reelection to the New York State Senate and continuing to represent the men and women of the 1st Senate District,” Palumbo said in a statement.  “There are many challenges facing our region and I look forward to working with my colleagues to enact common sense proposals that will result in a cleaner, safer, and more affordable New York.” 

The redistricting did not just change up the territorial lines of the district, but changed the voter demographics of the districts too, according to Redistricting and You: New York, a map examining the impacts of redistricting. 

The Senate District 1 voting pattern arguably gets stronger for the Democrats based on 2020 presidential election data. Although the district voted in Palumbo that year over Ahearn, the margin was only by less than 5,000 votes. With the newly drawn lines, the district’s margins go from favoring President Joe Biden in the 2020 election by 2,000 votes to favoring him by more than 9,000 votes.

In contrast, Assembly District 2 gets more Republican, with the voting patterns of the district changing from favoring President Donald Trump in the 2020 election by 7,500 votes to favoring him by more than 11,000 votes.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: [email protected]