Congressional candidates Tim Bishop and Lee Zeldin worked hard to keep things civilized at a debate at Westhampton Beach High School Oct. 16, despite brief spurts of bad behavior on the part of Mr. Zeldin’s entourage of supporters.
Mr. Bishop, the former provost of Southampton College, is running for his seventh term representing the East End in Congress, while Mr. Zeldin, an attorney from Shirley who ran against Mr. Bishop in 2008, is in his second term as a New York State Senator.
The two outlined their sometimes starkly different positions on a broad range of national concerns — from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to the future of the Islamic State to immigration and the minimum wage — before a generally polite audience marred by a few shouts from Mr. Zeldin’s camp, who were fresh off an unruly debate at Riverhead’s Polish Hall Oct. 8.
On Ebola, Mr. Bishop said he believed members of Congress should be called back to Washington to deal with the crisis, instead of returning Nov. 12 after the Nov. 4 election.
“Our health care workers deserve better leadership,” he said.
Mr. Zeldin said he believes President Barack Obama has done a terrible job addressing the crisis, and he believes direct travel from West Africa should be stopped.
On Islamic State’s role in Iraq and Syria, Mr. Zeldin, who served as an Army Paratrooper during the war in Iraq and is now a Major in the Army Reserves, said the administration “has boots on the ground right now,” referring to the Special Forces currently advising Iraqi law enforcement.
Mr. Zeldin said Iraqi soldiers “don’t show up for work.”
“To expect them to defeat ISIS — it’s not going to happen,” he said.
Mr. Bishop said he doesn’t support boots on the ground in Iraq, and that he believes President Obama should send requests for military intervention to Congress, instead of acting under the Authorization for Use of Military Force signed by former president George W. Bush in 2002.
“The solution is not a military solution,” he said, adding that Iraqi Sunnis must be given a greater stake in the country’s government. “That’s where our focus needs to be.”
Mr. Bishp cited Bobby Kennedy as his political hero, calling the senator and attorney general who was assasinated in 1968 a leader who engaged in “public service at the very highest.”
Mr. Zeldin said he doesn’t have any one single hero. He was considering calling Mr. Bishop his hero after the incumbent Congressman offered up some of his accrued time in the debate, but decided against it in the name of campaigning.
On the subject of dirty campaigning — both sides have been unrolling attack ads over the past few months — both said they regret that politics have become a blood sport.
“It’s a tough, ugly business. I’m not going to lie,” said Mr. Bishop, who added that he believes Congress needs bipartisan campaign finance reform so elections “are lost and won, not bought and sold.”
The two traded barbs over some of the least accurate portions of the campaigns — Mr. Zeldin has been running ads saying Mr. Bishop is under investigation by the FBI, while Mr. Bishop’s ads claim Mr. Zeldin is rewarding polluters with legislation in Albany and is not doing enough for women.
“The stuff being aired is not accurate….but if you keep repeating a lie over and over again….” said Mr. Zeldin, “I have no problem if you want to attack me for something factual.”
“Listen, you run your campaign. I’ll run mine,” said Mr. Bishop.
On comprehensive immigration reform, Mr. Bishop said he backs the bill passed by the Senate last year, saying that the current lack of immigration control “is de facto amnesty,” and adding that the bill would force illegal immigrants to pay back taxes and fines.
Mr. Zeldin said unaccompanied children who have been crossing the border need to be sent home, adding that they are clogging up schools in border states.
On raising the federal minimum wage, Mr. Zeldin said he would improve the lives of workers by bringing better middle income jobs to Long Island, while Mr. Bishop said he supports the increase.
“Seventy percent of our economy is consumer spending,” he said, adding that its the makers and sellers of consumer goods who are suffering under the current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
“Corporate profits are higher than they’ve ever been,” said Mr. Bishop. “This should not be just about padding the bottom line for shareholders. It’s about havign an educated work force who can afford the things they’re making.”
In his closing remarks, Mr. Bishop said there is no “Obama-Pelosi-Bishop” agenda, as his opponent has often said, but that he believes his constituents know that his role in Congress is “all about delivering for the people I represent.”
Mr. Zeldin countered that “if you elected enough people like my opponent, Nancy Pelosi would be speaker of the house.”
“There are many different ways we disagree,” he said. “You need to get past the sound bytes. The devil’s in the details.”
Mr. Bishop received a polite and enthusiastic round of applause from attendees, while Mr. Zeldin’s cheering squad jumped up, hooting and cheering in their campaign t-shirts, waving banners, before the night quickly wrapped up and Zeldin supporters boarded a desert-camo decorated school bus decked out with their candidate’s campaign signs and headed off on what promises to be a two-week blitz of campaigneering as this election cycle heads into its final weeks.