For months in Great Neck, the leafy Nassau County, N.Y., suburb rocked last year by the revelation of cheating on SAT exams in its high schools masterminded by Samuel Eshaghoff, whose mother was library president, there had been rumors of marital troubles between Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel and her husband Mark.
The story was that after 32 years of marriage and Michelle's long periods away in Albany since the 54-year-old Democrat succeeded N.Y. State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli in his 16th Assembly District seat, she'd found someone else.
Mark had moved out of their cozy white house on Baker Hill Road, where the small front yard is always jammed with signs for Democratic candidates, including Michelle.
Schimel, first elected to the Assembly in 2007 after DiNapoli became comptroller in the aftermath of Alan Hevesi's conviction on fraud charges, campaigns with just her first name.
One of the most popular votegetters in the Town of North Hempstead, the ebullient former physical therapist has never been defeated since she first ran for town clerk in 1999.
Last week, the Nassau County Republicans fought back: They nominated Mark Schimel, 57, the estranged husband, to oppose his wife in the Nov. 6 election. The Conservative Party, which usually follows the Republicans, hasn't held its nominating convention yet.
So in this overwhelmingly Democratic district, where President Barack Obama will likely swamp Mitt Romney, it will be Schimel vs. Schimel. For now.
Usually in Nassau County, as well as in New York, there are family dynasties: Nassau's Republicans include the Christs, the Bennetts, the Gulottas and Skeloses. The Democrats include the Suozzis, the Galantes and the Bursteins.
But it's unprecedented for a couple to oppose each other.
Eugene Nickerson, the first Democratic county executive in 1962, was appointed a federal district judge by President Jimmy Carter while his wife, Mary Louise, was elected a state district court judge. Ex-U.S. Sen. Alphonse D'Amato, a Republican who'd been presiding supervisor of the Town of Hempstead, got his second wife, Katuria, appointed to the town's board of zoning appeals, with salary and benefits.
The North Hempstead Republican chairman, Frank Moroney, a perennial candidate who has a patronage job with Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, said the Mark Schimel nomination wasn't a stunt but a legitimate candidacy. He said Mark, who works with Indian software and services provider Infosys (Nasdaq: INFY), had been a Republican committeeman before his estranged wife's political campaigns and had sought him out about getting the nod.
Maybe the nomination will fall flat.
On Monday, the Albany Times-Union reported, state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola), whose 7th district includes most of Schimel's district and has worked closely with her, said nominating Mark was absurd and said he would cross party lines to endorse Michelle for re-election.
That's smart politics: After winning his seat by only 451 votes in 2010 and defeating Democratic incumbent Craig Johnson, Martins is so popular that the Democrats have been unsuccessful so far in finding anyone to oppose him.