Jim Gaughran has served as a state senator for about 100 days. Along with the democratic majority, he’s passed several laws that he believes will help move New York in a better direction. A lifelong Long Islander, he takes pride in being able to represent towns like Plainview, Syosset, Hicksville and his hometown of Huntington.
“When I was growing up, my parents lived in one of the first homes in the Dix Hills community. Before they got the house in 1962, the area was just hills and woods,” Gaughran said. “That was the start of the big suburban buildup in the 1960s and ’70s.”
Gaughran was always interested in what was happening in politics, fascinated by famous figures, like Robert Kennedy. After graduating from Half Hollows High School, he received a political science degree from Stony Brook University, followed by a law degree at Hofstra University. After interning under various officials and campaigns while in college, he ran for a county legislator position and lost in the primary at the age of 22. Four years later, he was elected to the Huntington Town Board in 1983.
After a five-year stint in the Suffolk County Legislature, Gaughran was out of elected office for nearly 25 years. In his time away from politics, he was named the chair of the Suffolk County Water Authority in 2010, where he remained until 2018. In 2016, he decided to run for state senate and face off against then-Senator Carl Marcellino, a Republican who had held on to his seat since 1995.
“The main reason I decided to run in 2016, even though it was an uphill battle with Carl never having anyone come close to him, was because of the corruption that was going on,” Gaughran said. “Dean Skelos, Sheldon Silver and just one person after the other was found out to be corrupt and the New York State Legislature became a laughing stock. It was a serious issue, and it was an opportunity for me to get elected and do something about it.”
Gaughran narrowly lost that election by 1,761 votes out of about 160,000, but decided to run again in 2018. This time, he started the campaign earlier, feeling it would help build momentum into the election. He didn’t have a ton of confidence going into election day that he would win. It was a steep hill to climb before, but the moment he saw that he was winning in Suffolk County, he realized that a victory was becoming reality. He won the election by nearly 10,000 votes out of about 118,000 votes.
“With 80 percent reporting, I saw that I was winning Suffolk by 7 percent. Last time, I lost by 3 percent. When I saw that 10-point shift and then saw the results in Nassau coming in big for us, that’s when we knew. No one actually ever told me that I won. But seeing the results, I kind of just looked around and said ‘Hey, I think we won.’”
When he arrived in Albany, he was named the chair of the local government committee, putting him in charge of overseeing all local governments in the state of New York. For Gaughran, he wanted to make sure he passed laws that were promised to his constituents.
Early on, he co-sponsored a law that would allow early voting for up to 10 days before the election. He also sponsored a “red flag” gun safety law that would require an evaluation of someone’s mental capacity to own a gun if they are a danger to themselves or others. Both laws passed in the senate, as well as the assembly, and were signed by the governor.
“Those were some of my proudest achievements to pass those laws,” Gaughran said. “Another is the Child Victims Act, something that was stalled for years. Emotionally, I was very proud of it because for so many people who were victimized and sexually abused as children, they didn’t have any opportunity to seek justice. With this law, as adults, they will be able to. The reason they wanted to was not for a big pay day in court, but to get the person who abused them out of a neighborhood that still had kids walking around in it.”
Gaughran is currently working on sponsoring a bill that will allow public water entities to sue polluters. He will also begin hearings on the local government committee, looking into unfunded mandates that are imposed on local villages, towns and counties. For more information on Gaughran’s work in the senate, visit www.nysenate.gov/senators/james-gaughran.