Four in Debate to Take on Zeldin

Four candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination June 23 to take on three-term incumbent Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin, a close ally of President Donald Trump, this November.

The Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak this spring has cut short much of the campaigning for the nomination, but the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, Shelter Island & The North Fork held a debate via Zoom on June 1, which was aired live on Southampton’s Sea-TV and is available to watch on Sea-TV’s YouTube channel.

Perry Gershon, the New York real estate financier who ran against Mr. Zeldin in 2018, is the only candidate to return from the bruising, five-candidate 2018 Democratic primary. Nancy Goroff, who left her seat as the head of the chemistry department at Stony Brook University to run for office, is also seeking the Democratic nomination, along with Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, who represents the South Fork and Shelter Island in the legislature. Greg Fischer, a businessman who advises would-be entrepreneurs through SCORE and is a perpetual candidate for public office, is also running.

The wide-ranging, hour-and-a-half discussion touched on issues ranging from leadership and health care inequities during the pandemic to climate change, fixing the country’s immigration system and economic issues specific to Long Island.

Ms. Fleming touted her work for 10 years as a prosecutor and her record over 10 years in public office in her pitch to be the nominee, pointing out that she is the only candidate who has held elected office.

“Our cities are on fire, and we have a pandemic that has been mishandled from the beginning,” she said. “Our government has been complicit. Our congressman has been complicit.”

 Ms. Goroff, who said she would be the first scientist with a Ph.D. in Congress if she is elected, said she would provide leadership baed on “facts and reality.”

Mr. Gershon pointed out his advantage in name recognition from the 2018 campaign, and his work since then to build a following by holding town halls in the western end of the district. He said the pandemic and the “brutal murder” of George Floyd have “shown us how much leadership matters. On Covid, Lee Zeldin has been blind to Trump’s failure to act, and he ignores unequal justice in America.”

Mr. Fischer said he’s done research with doctors and medical researchers around the world to find a cure for Covid-19 and has “put together a protocol for curing injuries” that is available online.

On what work they believe they could accomplish in a divided Washington, Ms. Fleming said she would like to work on immigration reform and on gun control measures the majority of the public supports, like background checks and assault weapon and high capacity magazine bans.

Mr. Gershon said he would like to work on infrastructure, and building on the Affordable Care Act.

“We have an opportunity for green jobs in this new economy, when the government puts people back to work,” he said. 

Ms. Goroff said her top priority is “making sure to take meaningful action on climate change,” and said she will focus on helping members of Congress “have access to the best information available.”

Mr. Fischer said he has put together a decentralized economic organization that would address the country’s needs.

On President Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda, Mr. Gershon said the president’s trade war with China “is a disaster for our economy, and may have caused a recession on its own.” He pledged support for American union organizations, and said the world needs to work together on combatting Covid-19.

“We cannot remove ourselves from the international order,” he said.

He also said the administration’s immigration policy of “putting children in cages has got to stop.”

“Americans are scared, agitated and divided in part because of America First,” he said. “America First is not America Best.”

Ms. Goroff said she believe America shouldn’t have pulled out of treaties such as the nuclear test ban treaty or the Paris climate accords, adding that issues facing American workers should be addressed by domestic policies including a real living wage and affordable health care.

Mr. Fischer said America has been in a trade war since long before Donald Trump became president and “the problem is we don’t have economists.”

Ms. Fleming said the President’s efforts are “impulsive, with little or no regard to long-term strategy to ensure stability in regions around the globe.” 

On immigration reform, Ms. Goroff said she supports a path to citizenship for dreamers and the United States “cannot be separating families from children at the border.” She added that climate change is a driver of migration and the U.S. should reinstate programs to strengthen Central American societies “to keep refugees from thinking their only option is to walk 1,000 miles across Mexico.”

Mr. Fischer said if the country instituted a peace dividend “we would have a lot more money to handle this problem,” and added that he was part of a program convincing Colombian farmers to grow coffee but a farmer he helped was chased away with a gun and sought asylum in the U.S.

Ms. Fleming agreed to “end separation of families at the border.”

“It’s a humane and unacceptable policy of cruelty,” she said, adding that she believes Congress should pass a clean DACA bill to allow a path to citizenship for immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, known as Dreamers, and to restore Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for immigrants who came to America fleeing unrest in their home countries.

Mr. Gershon agreed that the U.S. has to care for the Dreamers.

“They have no nation they call home other than America,” he said, adding that TPS recipients also have no other place to go.

Most of the candidates agreed that more work has to be done on universal access to health care to address racial and ethnic health inequalities after the pandemic is over.

“If folks don’t have affordable health care, it exposes everyone. The virus continues to spread,” said Ms. Fleming.

Mr. Gershon said that people of color in America often work in jobs that require more exposure to the public, do not have easy access to health care and live in higher density housing, ideal conditions for the coronavirus to spread.

“The coronavirus pandemic most importantly taught us the need for universal health coverage,” he said. “We need to implement a public option.”

“It’s heartrending to see how differently it has affected people,” said Ms. Goroff. “It’s laid bare the inequlities in our system…. We need to make sure every American has access to quality affordable health care.”

Mr. Fischer said he believes the health care system failed during the Covid-19 pandemic, in part because doctors who were specialists in other fields like podiatry were working on Covid patients.

“Nobody needed to die,” he said.

The other candidates disagreed.

“We must be grateful for the first responders and health care professionals and the heroic effort hey put in,” said Mr. Gershon. “We needed to mobilize. We did not have enough doctors and were not prepared but we had a herculean effort to take care of the sick and keep people from dying.”

In response to Mr. Fischer’s claims to know how to cure Covid, Ms. Goroff added that any person can put up a website containing information any time, but “for something to be legitimate, it needs to be tested and carefully vetted.”

“One report is not sufficient evidence to say something will work, especially with Covid-19,” she added. “Small scale studies do not tell us anything.”

The primary will be held June 23. 

New York State is mailing absentee ballot applications to all eligible voters to enable them to vote by mail if they do not want to risk going to the polls during the global pandemic. If you request and receive an absentee ballot, you must vote using that ballot.

To vote by absentee ballot, voters need to select “temporary illness” as the reason for their absentee vote, and either deliver it in person to the Suffolk County Board of Elections no later than the day before the election or mail the application back to the Suffolk County Board of Elections at P.O. Box 700, Yaphank, NY 11980.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order June 7 allowing voters’ absentee ballots to be postmarked as late as June 23, the date of the primary. They had previously been required to be postmarked seven days prior to the election. 

The absentee ballot application allows voters to request a ballot for the Nov. 3 general election at the same time.

In person voting will still be held on June 23.

Editor’s Note, June 17: Due to the pandemic, there will be far fewer polling places for in-person voting in the primary on Tuesday, June 23.You should be receiving a letter from the Suffolk County Board of Elections about where to vote.However, you can also go to voterlookup.elections.ny.gov and plug in your information, and it will tell you where to vote.

Early voting will also take place from Saturday, June 13 through Sunday, June 21. Voters can vote in any of the 13 early voting locations in Suffolk County, where a ballot will be printed for them based on their home voting district. 

The early voting locations on the East End include the Southold Senior Center at 750 Pacific Street in Mattituck, Stony Brook Southampton College at 70 Tuckahoe Road in Southampton,  the Riverhead Senior Center at 60 Shade Tree Lane in Aquebogue and Windmill Village at 219 Accabonac Road in East Hampton. Hours of voting vary; check here for details. 

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Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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