Republican Congressional Candidates Face Off in LWV Debate

Congressional primary elections are Tuesday, Aug. 23, and on the East End there is one primary, for the Republican nomination to run for the First Congressional District seat currently held by Lee Zeldin, who is running for governor. 

Former Republican Suffolk County Election Commissioner Nick LaLota is the party’s official pick to run for the seat, and he’s being challenged by Anthony Figliola and Michelle Bond.

The winner of this primary will face Democratic candidate Bridget Fleming, who currently serves as the South Fork’s Suffolk County Legislator, in the November election.

The League of Women Voters of the North Fork, Shelter Island & The Hamptons invited all three candidates to an Aug. 8 debate via Zoom. Ms. Bond declined the invite, but her two opponents agreed to participate.

Mr. Figliola, of East Setauket, currently works in government relations and economic development for Empire Government Strategies. Mr. LaLota, who lives in Amityville, just outside the boundaries of the First Congressional District, currently serves as Chief of Staff to the Suffolk County Legislature. 

Ms. Bond, an attorney, currently heads the Association for Digital Asset Markets and is running on a platform of reducing inflation and economic innovation. In her campaign materials, she touts herself as “pro-life, pro-Trump’s border wall, and will work tirelessly to stop the Biden-Harris-Pelosi agenda. She believes the police need to be defended, not defunded.”

Mr. Figliola and Mr. LaLota shared their views on a number of pressing national issues in the hour-long LWV debate, which can still be seen on SEA-TV’s YouTube channel, moderated by The League’s Estelle Gellman.

Mr. Figliola said he’s the only candidate “born and raised in the district who lives and votes here,” and said he’s running because he’s sick of the “radical left taking over and taking away our individual liberties.”

“People are hurting tremendously right now and Washington is not listening to them,” he said. 

Mr. LaLot, who touted his family’s law enforcement background and his service as a Navy officer, said he plans to focus on “the economy, inflation, public safety and the border,” if elected.

Ms. Gellman asked both candidates what they would to to confront mass shootings, and if they would vote to ban assault weapons or high capacity magazines.

Mr. Figliola, who described this as an “emotionally charged issue,” said he’s a proponent of the Second Amendment and “we have some very insane people committing horrendous, heinous crimes.” 

He said cities throughout the country like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, need to do more to enforce laws on the books. He added that he believes police officers and armed security guards should be allowed in schools, and more should be done to focus on mental health.

Mr. LaLota said that most gun crimes are committed with “unregistered, unlawful firearms,” and in his law enforcement family, he leaned how to safely handle firearms.

He added that he believes New York’s recent bail reform laws are responsible for the uptick in gun violence.

“The bluest states and cities with the strictest gun laws are the ones with the highest crimes. We’re not enforcing the laws on the books,” he said. “There are tremendous mental health issues in our community. My wife is a teacher, and she’s afraid, anxious, that maybe her school is next.”

Ms. Gellman asked the candidates if they would support legislative action by Congress to make abortion legal nationally.

Mr. LaLota said he believes the recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe Vs. Wade is good because it gives that power back to the states.

He added that he hopes New York “rids ourselves of the radical policy of late-term abortions.”

He added that, as the father of three girls, he believes parents should be notified when underage girls seek abortions.

“In New York, abortion should be on the ballot this November,” he said.

Mr. Figliola agreed, saying he’s been involved with the pro-life movement for years, working with Soundview Pregnancy Services to provide a support system for mothers.

“I’ve seen women have tremendous regret for having an abortion. We’re not demonizing them,” he said. “But the reality is, there shouldn’t be abortions at all. On Long Island, one-third of pregnancies end in abortion. History is going to look back unkindly on us that we’re not choosing life.”

Both candidates supported the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision that the Constitution does not give the Environmental Protection Agency authority to protect the environment from climate change.

“Agencies like the EPA have stepped way too far in their quasi-legislative power,” said Mr. LaLota. “It’s wrong. That power should be invested in the legislative branch.”

Mr. Figliola agreed.

“I think it’s unconstitutional and I would be against it,” said Mr. Figliola of the EPA’s regulatory authority. “It’s become a nanny state… We have to be allowing less regulation so businesses can flourish and people can enjoy their lives. The Obama administration wanted us to have electric airplanes, without even acknowledging the fact that we’re a fossil fuel nation.”

“Despite no evidence of widespread fraud, many citizens believe President Biden’s election was fraudulent. What do you believe, and what would you do to restore the confidence of citizens in the electoral process?” asked Ms. Gellman of the candidates. 

“I have grave concerns with election integrity,” said Mr. Figliola. “I believe a lot of shady things are going on.”

He added that he believes voter rolls should be scrubbed of people who haven’t voted in two consecutive federal elections and states should be able to cross reference voter rolls with the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration to ensure voters are citizens.

“I know Joe Biden is the president. You know Joe Biden is the president. But on any given day, given his mental acuity, I don’t know if Joe Biden knows he’s president of the United States,” said Mr. LaLota. “I was election commissioner for seven years. Before President Trump was talking about election fraud, I was talking about it.”

He added that he had uncovered election fraud in Suffolk County, leading to the arrest of a Southampton man who “twice tried to request an absentee ballot for his deceased mother.”

Ms. Gellman asked the candidates their opinions on public health measures such as quarantines, proof of vaccination and masking should the Covid pandemic geet worse or another health crisis emerge.

Mr. LaLota said the federal government should provide information so people can make their own decisions.

“I absolutely do not support the federal government getting involved,” he said.

Mr. Figliola called such measures “unconstitutional mandates.”

“Politicians are trying to find a way to control the people and make them subservient,” he said. “You have to follow the science, but when the long arm of government comes down and children can’t even go to school, what has happened to our individual liberties?”

Both candidates said they would work to protect Social Security.

“We need to stop taking away from our seniors,” said Mr. Figliola. “Social Security and Medicare are going to become insolvent within 15 to 20 years. We have to make it work… Our seniors deserve not only our respect but to make sure they can live out the rest of their lives free.”

“We spend too much, we tax too much and we absolutely borrow too much,” said Mr. LaLota. “We need to do some real belt-tightening in Washington. Social Security is a contract the government has made with folks for decades. We absolutely need to fortify, strengthen and ensure Social Security payments we promised them.”

Both candidates said they don’t support current U.S. policies on Urkaine.

“We got into this mess because President Biden didn’t know what the heck he was doing,” said Mr. LaLota. “A private in the Army could have predicted this. We saw with satellites weeks, months in advance. Everybody knew this invasion was happening. We should have gotten tough way earlier than the president did.”

“When we send over $40 billion to Ukraine, I don’t know if Joe Biden can actually tell you what the policy is,” said Mr. Figliola. “We don’t know where this money is going. Is it actually helping the Ukrainian people?”

In his closing statement, Mr. LaLota said he has an infrastructure of volunteers and endorsements in place to allow him to provide a formidable challenge against Ms. Fleming, who he called “a well-funded Democrat, one of Nancy Pelosi’s hand-picked people in this district, with a lot of dollars.”

He added that he believes Ms. Bond was a “total coward for not showing up tonight. She didn’t have the guts to face Long Islanders. She’s seeded with Democratic money, hiding behind superpac money.”

Mr. Figliola said he has helped create thousands of jobs on Long Island and worked to help soldiers coming home with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I live here. I don’t need talking points. I know the issues,” he said. “Being the Board of Elections Commissioner is nice, but that’s a political position. We need someone on the ground who is not beholden to party bosses, an independent-minded person in the private sector. We’re letting the radical left and party bosses control things. We need members of Congress that look like the working class people they represent.

The Republican primary, which is open to registered Republicans only, will be held on Aug. 23 at regular polling places. 

Early voting starts tomorrow, Aug. 13, and continues through Sunday, Aug. 21. Here’s more info about early voting sites. 

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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