A woman who grew up in Oak Park is locked in a tight race for Congress on Long Island. Nancy Goroff, 52, who was one of three valedictorians in the Oak Park and River Forest High School Class of 1986 is trying to unseat three term Republican incumbent Lee Zeldin in New York’s 1st Congressional District which covers the eastern half of Long Island.

Goroff grew up in a house at 1043 Forest Ave. in northwest Oak Park, went to college at Harvard and then earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from UCLA. She has been a chemistry professor at State University of New York’s Stony Brook Campus for 23 years and lives in Stony Brook.

Last year, enraged by President Donald Trump and the support he was getting from her congressman, she decided to take off her lab coat and run for Congress.

“It was frustration,” Goroff told Wednesday Journal Sunday in a telephone interview. “I really believe that our kids deserve to live in a world where the government is trying to make people’s lives better and is basing policy on facts and reality and I was frustrated and infuriated by our representative and the president and their willingness to ignore facts and evidence on so many issues.”

The race is considered competitive. The Cook Political Report classifies the race as Lean Republican a shift from Likely Republican a few months ago. The district is now thought to be a swing district. While Trump carried the district in 2016 by nine points Barack Obama carried the district in 2008 and 2012. In 2018 Zeldin defeated his Democratic opponent, Perry Gershon, by four points winning with 51.5 percent of the vote. Goroff defeated Gershon in an expensive and hard-fought Democratic primary in June, eking out a victory by just 661 votes.

The race between Goroff and Zeldin is an expensive one with both candidates having to pay dearly to advertise on New York City broadcast television stations. Goroff has raised nearly $6 million and has personally loaned her campaign $1,150,000 while Zeldin has raised about $7.5 million.

“This election is just critically important so I’m putting my full effort in it, working full time at this for a year and a half almost,” Goroff said acknowledging her personal loan to the campaign.

If elected Goroff would be the only Ph.D. chemist in the Congress and only the second Ph.D. scientist. Rep. Bill Foster, (D-Illinois) has a Ph.D. in physics and has advised Goroff.

Goroff said she has fond memories of growing up in Oak Park. She was a very active high school student. 

“I had a fantastic experience at OPRF,” Goroff said.

She fondly remembers her Advanced Placement United States History class taught by Michael Averbach.

“He taught it like a real college class,” Goroff said. “We had textbooks but those weren’t the main things we used. We used mostly scholarly articles.”

In addition to ranking at the top of her class she was the president of the Human Affairs Club, a club focused on current events and was the president of the Pollution Control Club. As a high school student, she served on a village advisory commission focused on environmental affairs. There she worked to distribute blankets for hot water heaters and shower flow restrictors to save water and learned that government could do good things.

“I’ve always been concerned about environmental things,” Goroff said.

Goroff said the value of citizen engagement that is so prominent in Oak Park has stayed with her.

“I think it had tremendous impact,” Goroff said of growing up in Oak Park pointing out that she absorbed the values of diversity, a belief in public schools, and the ability of government to improve things. 

Classmates recall her as a brilliant but nice person.

“Nancy was always incredibly bright and incredibly motivated,” said Dr. Jeffrey Greenwald who met Goroff at age 9 or 10 at the Oak Park Temple Sunday School and was a classmate of hers at OPRF. “I never knew that she had political aspirations but I knew that whatever she touched she was going to be very successful because she’s so incredibly bright. Her understanding, whether it was in the sciences or in math or even in English class she was always very quick to identify key information and process it in a way that was, frankly, way above my pay grade. But at the same time she was always warm and never made you feel bad for not being as sharp as she was. She was a nice person and a caring person and always went out of her way to help other people who were trying to catch on to things.”

Goroff’s mother, Mimi Cooper, lived in Oak Park for nearly 41 years before moving east in 2008 to be near her grandchildren. She died in 2010. Cooper and Goroff’s stepfather Bob Cooper who died in 2008, ran a small market research firm from a house on Marion Street.

Goroff said that she has fond memories of Frank Lloyd Wright houses, Shakespeare in the park at Austin Gardens and Hemingway when she thinks of Oak Park.

“We were so steeped in Oak Park; it was only the grandkids that could get my mother to move away,” Goroff said. “I love where I live now and I feel very lucky to be here, but I also feel very lucky to have grown up in Oak Park.”

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