Wantagh businessman Edward Dennehy said that he planned to announce an independent against incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice in the 4th Congressional District race in November. At press time on Monday he said the announcement was to come no later than Thursday.
The district stretches from Wantagh to Valley Stream and includes Bellmore, East Meadow, Freeport and Merrick. Rice was first elected in 2012.
Dennehy, 39, operates a custom clothing and hair-styling business with his former wife, Jessica, and has shops in Wantagh and Williston Park.
Dennehy said he had no intention of running for public office until the coronavirus pandemic hit. “I had access to a million masks through my contacts in China in the clothing business,” he said. “They were available for about 7 cents each, but more than the cost of the masks, we needed help getting them imported. We called every elected official I could think of who might have been able to help. None of them even returned our calls.”
At the time, protective gear was in critically short supply. Dennehy said he placed “about a half-dozen calls” to Rice’s office without receiving any response.
“You know, I even called the offices of [Rep. Alexandra Ocasio Cortez], and her office got back to me in about three minutes,” Dennehy said. “We don’t even live in her district.”
After being told why Dennehy was calling, “AOC called us back herself in less than 15 minutes,” Dennehy recounted. “We later found out that she gets about 3,000 calls a day.”
Eventually, he and his former wife were able to import 100,000 masks at their own expense, with help from Nassau County Legislator Steve Rhoads and Town of Hempstead Councilman Christopher Carini. The couple handed out the masks at a series of events throughout the area, but with shortages continuing, the Dennehys still express disappointment at the loss of the remaining 900,000 masks.
Ocasio Cortez’s responsiveness deeply impressed them, and at that point they began seriously discussing the possibility of Edward’s running for public office.
Born in North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, Dennehy was raised in Baldwin and graduated from Holy Trinity Diocesan High School in Hicksville. After graduation, he apprenticed at Alfredo’s, a custom clothier in Oceanside, while studying political science at SUNY Stony Brook.
Dennehy continued working at Alfredo’s for several years as he built his own clientele, founding Mad Men Bespoke Tailors and Barbers in the meantime.
His former wife is a Brooklyn Law School graduate and an enforcement attorney for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. The two were together for 12 years, building their business, and have remained close friends and business partners despite their divorce, living on the same street in Merrick.
“Jessica will continue to run the family business during the campaign,” Dennehy explained. “If I win, she’ll be my chief of staff.”
Dennehy grew up in a family of Kennedy Democrats. “I thought Bobby and Teddy were my uncles,” he said. “My father was writing a book on [John F. Kennedy’s] assassination when he died” in 1985.
Dennehy said that popularity of his shops has enabled him to meet thousands of people from all different backgrounds. “Not too many people would see a barbershop as a political environment,” he said, “but they really are.”
The issue Dennehy most wants to address is what he describes as government’s lack of responsiveness. “The Covid crisis has really shown how unprepared our officials were,” he said. “We haven’t had enough protective gear. We haven’t had enough tests. We haven’t had enough tracing. And we don’t have enough people to respond to those in need.”
That unresponsiveness begins with polarization between the two major parties in Congress, he said. “Many of our representatives have safe seats,” Dennehy said. “Rice isn’t even opposed in the primary” in a district with a Democratic majority.
Dennehy acknowledged that his prospects of a victory in November are slim. With no formal party backing and no financial war chest, he comes out of the starting blocks hobbled, compared with his likely opponent. “But that depends on how you define victory,” he said. “If we can move the debate — open up the conversation and improve communications between all sides — that’ll be a win.”