Pictured Above: Democratic Congressional hopefuls Nancy Goroff, Perry Gershon, Bridget Fleming and Greg Fischer at the March 7 forum.

Just one day before Southold Town learned that the new coronavirus pandemic had already been spreading quietly throughout the community for weeks, the Southold Democrats hosted a boisterous forum March 7 with four Democratic candidates running in a June primary for a chance to take another swipe at defeating three-term incumbent Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin.

In the last fleeting days before social distancing became the buzzword of a lost spring, the Helenic Snack Bar in East Marion was packed with local Democrats looking to hear what the candidates had to say.

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. Stony Brook chemistry professor and department head Nancy Goroff is also seeking the Democratic nomination, along with Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, who represents the South Fork and Shelter Island. Greg Fischer, a businessman who advises would-be entrepreneurs through SCORE and is a perpetual candidate for public office, is also running.

New York holds congressional primaries on June 23, nearly two months after its presidential primary, which was originally scheduled for April 28. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced March 28 that the state is moving its presidential primary, which would likely have coincided with the worst days of the outbreak in New York, to be held in conjunction with the June 23 congressional primary.

The governor then ordered April 8 that all New Yorkers be made eligible to vote by absentee ballot in the primary.

The regular process for absentee ballots is to fill out this form (or the Spanish version) and mail it to the Suffolk County Board of Elections, P.O. Box 700, Yaphank, NY 11980-0700. We have not yet received guidance on whether there will be changes to this process to accommodate the greater number of anticipated ballots to be cast. The Suffolk County Board of Elections has dramatically reduced its staffing during the pandemic.

Fear of the virus was palpable at the March 7 forum, the last in-person meeting of this batch of candidates.

“This may be the last opportunity we’ll get for a while to be in tight quarters in a group,” said Mr. Gershon when asked about the state of the federal government’s response to the coronavirus. “We need to make testing available for everyone. The test kits aren’t there right now. That’s a disgrace. Medicaid should test everyone, nationally.”

Mr. Gershon added that he comes from a family of doctors, and his mother helped develop the chicken pox vaccine.

“We need to get information out there from the health professionals,” he said. “That’s how you stop an epidemic.”

Ms. Goroff agreed.

“We need to be testing as widely as possible,” she said. “Who wants to be tested? Think about it? If you have cold symptoms, are you going to tell your doctor ‘test me. I want to be quarantined?”

“This administration is completely unable to deal with this because they don’t believe in expertise,” she added. “Mike Pence and Steve Mnuchin think ‘what’s most important thing about the coronavirus? Don’t let it hurt the Dow Jones!’ This is why we need scientists in Washington, D.C.”

Ms. Fleming said she wasn’t happy with Vice President Pence’s handling of the virus, but at the time she wasn’t happy with Suffolk County’s response either.

“We have to assure the public we are taking this seriously,” she said. “The Suffolk County Health Department is still saying the flu is more dangerous to us on Long Island than the coronavirus. We have to be careful and mindful and offer stable leadership, offer people a sense of confidence. We also need to make sure the CDC has the funding they need for research and development into antiviral and vaccines protection.”

Mr. Fischer said he believes people should be provided with a vitamin C intravenous drip to protect them from the worst effects of the virus.

“I support Tulsi Gabbard’s peace dividend, which would pay for public programs, housing and having the health care we’re fighting for,” he said.

When asked how the candidates would woo the west end of the congressional district, where Mr. Zeldin lives and has maintained a stronghold, Ms. Goroff said she thinks the question was made for her.

“I’ve lived in Brookhaven for 23 years. I spent my adult life raising my kids there and I have deep connections throughout the district,” she said. “Every person in this district has a connection to Stony Brook… and their life is better because of it.”

Mr. Gershon said that he has the name recognition to beat Mr. Zeldin after running against the incumbent in 2018.

“We did great on the East End. We had 60 percent of the vote, but that wasn’t enough. We must do better in Brookhaven especially. You do that by spending time there,” he said. “I’ve been holding town halls and getting great responses in Brookhaven. In Shirley, I had more than 60 people at a town hall, and Coram was standing room only. I’ve spent three years getting that presence out there.”

“I’m not on a fool’s errand. I’m in this to win it,” said Ms. Fleming, adding that Mr. Zeldin needs to do more to help restore the state and local tax deduction, which was reduced by President Donald Trump’s tax reform, and has been particularly burdensome to states like New York. “Zeldin is vulnerable because of his devotion to the president, and ignoring local needs.…People are exhausted by the endless partisan rhetoric and the flouting of the rule of law. We all know that what’s happening in our nation is gravely wrong and we have to step up and fix it.”

Mr. Fischer said he would win by not bashing the president.

“When you bash Trump, you polarize them [his supporters] and make them dig in,” he said. “That’s how the vote moves.”

All of the candidates said they plan to help unite their party after the primary is over.

Congressman Lee Zeldin at the March 18 opening of the first drive-through Covid-19 testing facility at Stony Brook University Hospital.

In the month since, Mr. Zeldin, a member of the Congressional Coronavirus Task Force, has been seen from one end of the district to the other, checking on the status of the mobile testing site at Stony Brook University, delivering personal protective equipment to local agencies, calling for the reinstation of the state and local tax deduction in the coronavirus economic stimulus response bill, holding tele-town hall meetings with small business owners and claiming credit for helping deliver 4,000 ventilators to New York from the national stockpile.

Mr. Zeldin has also called on his close ties to the White House to get several hundred thousand surgical and N95 masks delivered to Suffolk County by the federal governement.

“As the state hit hardest by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the State of New York desperately needs ventilators to treat its ever-growing number of patients,” said Mr. Zeldin in a March 24 statement. “In partnering closely with the Administration, especially incoming White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and Governor Cuomo’s office, this delivery of vital ventilators is incredibly important progress. Throughout this process, the cooperation between the federal, state and local government in New York has served as a model of bipartisan cooperation, and that example continues today.”

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she 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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