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House of Representatives

House candidates square off for discussion on health care, the economy, the environment and President Trump in TBR exclusive

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin and challenger Perry Gershon discuss topics during a debate at TBR News Media in Setauket. Photos by Kyle Barr

The result of the race to represent New York’s 1st Congressional District will be monitored by locals closely on election night, but the contest will have far wider implications.

The U.S. House of Representatives has been in Republican control since 2011, but polling suggests Democrats have an opportunity to retake the majority Nov. 6, with the seat of two-term incumbent Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) appearing to be among those up for grabs if polls are to be believed. Zeldin faces challenger Perry Gershon, a Democrat who emerged from a field of five in a June primary, who said he has embarked on his first political run because he wants to put a check on President Donald Trump (R) and his congressional supporters.

The candidates sat down together for an exclusive interview with the TBR News Media in Setauket last month for a wide-ranging discussion on the race and their political ideologies.

“I think it’s really important after this election for our country to do a better job uniting, regardless of whether you come in first or second — whether or not your candidate comes in first or second that you voted or volunteered for.”

— Lee Zeldin

The president and the political divide

The current political climate and national discourse is a major motivator behind Gershon’s decision to run, he said. While the candidates agree a problem exists, they voiced competing theories regarding the source.

“I think it’s really important after this election for our country to do a better job uniting, regardless of whether you come in first or second — whether or not your candidate comes in first or second that you voted or volunteered for,” Zeldin said.

Gershon agreed with his opponent’s sentiment, but criticized Zeldin for suggesting it can wait until after Nov. 6.

The incumbent cited the demand for polarized news consumption from the electorate and an in-kind response from the news media as the genesis for the divisive environment at present. However, Zeldin laid blame on both Trump and his vanquished 2016 opponent Democrat Hillary Clinton for failing to voice a message of unity when the dust settled. He also said the Women’s March, which took place the day after Trump’s inauguration, is a contributing factor to the current tone of politics.

“We all have a responsibility, I have a responsibility too,” Zeldin said.

Gershon was less willing to place the blame on a confluence of factors, assigning most of it to the White House.

“In terms of presidential elections, there was never discussion about not accepting the result until Trump [came along],” he said. “That had never been on the table before and Trump put it up there. It’s part of the fear mongering and the xenophobia that’s besmirched this country. … The idea that it didn’t start and get escalated by Donald Trump is just wrong. He’s proud of it.”

When asked to offer criticisms of Trump’s job performance to date, Zeldin said he wished the president’s demeanor was more befitting of a role model for children.

“You should be able to say [to your kids] that you should be just like the president of the United States when you get older,” the congressman said.

When asked what he viewed as Trump’s successes, Gershon said he supported reducing the corporate tax rate as a means to stimulate the economy, though he said he felt the benefits of the bill tipped too far in favor of corporations and harmed individuals, especially in New York state.

The economy and taxes

“In terms of presidential elections, there was never discussion about not accepting the result until Trump [came along]. That had never been on the table before and Trump put it up there.”

— Perry Gershon

Both candidates acknowledged unemployment rates, gross domestic product, consumer confidence and, generally speaking, the stock market are all trending in positive directions currently. They differed on how much credit the president deserves for it.

Zeldin said unemployment rates, both for the general public and specific demographics, are reaching lows not seen in decades, and were signs of successful Republican control of the executive and legislative federal branches.

Gershon pointed out wage growth for workers is lagging behind. He criticized Trump and congressional Republicans for capping the SALT deduction at $10,000 in the federal tax bill, though he agreed reducing the corporate tax rate was a good idea for stimulating growth.

According to Zeldin, Amneal Pharmaceuticals, with locations in Hauppauge and Yaphank, announced plans to expand its facilities due to booming sales and new products in January. He said the company’s actions are a by-product of the positive economy, adding this is one of several companies making investments in the 1st Congressional District.

The congressman was one of few House Republicans to oppose the federal tax bill, and explained his opposition, which he and his challenger shared.

“I don’t believe that the best way to pay for a reduction on the corporate side is by making people pay more on the personal income side,” Zeldin said.

The legislation reduced tax rates for individuals and corporations, but at a far greater rate for corporations.

While Gershon acknowledged there are components of the bill he saw as positives, he levied substantial criticism on Republicans for penalizing New York with the bill, which he theorized was part of the goal — to punish blue states.

“Every Republican who votes for [House Speaker] Paul Ryan and Republican leadership has complicity in the tax plan passing,” he said, criticizing the majority for passing legislation without any Democratic support or compromise.

“Every Republican who votes for [House Speaker] Paul Ryan and Republican leadership has complicity in the tax plan passing.”

— Perry Gershon

Gershon said, if elected, he would introduce legislation to offset the cap of SALT deductions for New Yorkers. Zeldin said he fought for removal of the SALT deduction cap in the bill that ultimately passed.

Health care

The two candidates are ideologically closer together in their vision for a health care fix than their campaign ads would suggest.

Zeldin said he supported repealing the individual mandate component of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 — what’s commonly referred to as Obamacare — as the fine for not having health care insurance was eliminated under Trump’s tax bill. The congressman is in favor of expanding states’ ability to tailor the federal law to their citizens, and reducing the federal government’s burden in Medicaid costs.

Gershon has campaigned on a single-payer or “Medicare for All” system, which would require all individuals to contribute to a pool that would provide health care coverage for all Americans — a plan with zero Republican support. The challenger criticized Democrats’ passage of the ACA without any Republican support, and agreed compromise is the only path forward on health care.

Both Zeldin and Gershon stressed the importance of a bipartisan compromise to improve the status of the nation’s current health care system.

The environment

Long Island is one of the country’s most susceptible areas to rising sea levels and a warming climate. After Hurricane Sandy and recent storms, environmental protection is a top concern for many.

Zeldin touted his close relationship with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for his ability to obtain funding for projects meant to harden the shoreline. He cited legislation he’d helped advance for water quality protection and called future sea level rise a big concern. However, Zeldin also prioritized the federal government’s role in keeping taxes low and rolling back regulations to improve the business environment when asked what its role should be in stemming sea level rise. He stressed the importance of incentivizing flood mitigation opportunities for coastal residents.

“I don’t believe that the best way to pay for a reduction on the corporate side is by making people pay more on the personal income side.”

— Lee Zeldin

The incumbent added that updated power generation technology and investment in alternative energy sources would be a positive step forward for the district.

“It’s happening, it’s impacting our district,” he said of sea level rise. “What you need to do, for those who are staying here in the 1st Congressional District, is to the extent that you have a barrier beach, is to keep it strong.”

Gershon scolded Trump’s administration for rolling back regulations aimed at protecting the environment and for his decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement, an international climate accord within the United Nations designed to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

“Let’s go at the root of the problem instead of treating the symptoms,” the challenger said. “Let’s lower our use of fossil fuels. Let’s invest in clean, renewable energy.”

Gershon rejected the notion that economic growth and an improved business climate could only come at the expense of environmental protections. He called for more wind and solar energy investment, and a decreased reliance on fossil fuels. Zeldin said he would also be in favor of alternative energy investment.

Perry Gershon thanks volunteers and supporters at his Setauket office June 26 after securing the Democratic Party nomination for Congress in New York’s 1st District. Photo by Alex Petroski

The stage is finally set for what will likely be a fierce campaign leading up to the November midterm elections.

Perry Gershon, a largely self-funded first-time candidate for political office, who spent years as a commercial mortgage lender and a small business owner, defeated four other Democrats aiming to take down incumbent 1st District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) June 26.

Kate Browning speaks to supporters as she waits for election results to come in June 26 in Patchogue. Photo by Rita J. Egan

More than 20,300 1st District voters turned out to vote in the primary, which was open to only those registered as members of the party, as per New York State law. Gershon secured 7,226 votes, beating former Suffolk County Legislator Kate Browning, his closest competitor, by about 1,000 votes. Vivian Viloria-Fisher, another former legislator, finished third with 3,314 votes. In 2016, about 12,600 registered Democrats went to the polls on primary day to choose between Anna Throne-Holst and Dave Calone.

“The voters showed that we’re tired of what’s going on in Washington,” Gershon said to a room full of supporters and volunteers at his campaign headquarters in Setauket when it became clear his lead would hold up. He thanked his family and those who worked to help him win the nomination, as well as the other four candidates, who he said ran a clean race with an eye on unifying post-primary all along. “Our elected leaders are not responsive to what people are looking for. People want a new breed, and that’s what I stand for.”

Zeldin, who has been quiet about his potential challengers, wasted no time getting the campaign started on Twitter once Gershon became the presumed victor.

“Park Ave Perry may have bought himself the Democratic Party nomination in NY-1, but our Congressional seat is not for sale,” the incumbent wrote. “NY-1 isn’t electing a far left, Pelosi-loving, NYC Democrat who registered in our district very recently just to run for Congress.”

In an interview after his win, Gershon said he intends to make his campaign about health care, the environment and creating high-wage jobs in the 1st District.

Perry Gershon supporters anxiously await election results at his campaign headquarters in Setauket June 26. Photo by Alex Petroski

“I’m really excited, I feel like people believed in me and I’m so happy for it,” he said.

Many of those believers were people who readily admitted they’d never gotten much involved in politics in the past.

“I’ve seen a lot of people, like at my school, very few people who cared about politics beforehand but after the March for Our Lives, after the result of the Never Again movement, and even after what’s happening at the border right now, far more young people are getting involved,” said Scott Egnor, a Ward Melville High School student who helped organize the youth-led local gun control protests in March. He cited Gershon’s desire to ban assault-style weapons and strengthen background checks as the driving force behind his motivation to volunteer for his campaign. “Even at the office, he still wears his March for Our Lives hat, and I think that spoke to me a lot.”

Browning said in an interview from her watch party in Patchogue she’s not sure what her next move might be in politics, but vowed to support Gershon’s efforts to flip the seat in November.

“It’s about taking out Lee Zeldin, and we all need to regroup and support [Gershon],” she said.

All five candidates told TBR News Media in May they intended to support the primary winner.

Reporting contributed by Rita J. Egan.

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When it comes to having options to choose from, sometimes less is more.

As of April 12, the Democratic nominees to run against 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) have dwindled down to five from seven. While it’s nice to see new and old faces throwing their hats into the political ring — for which we wholeheartedly commend them — a five-way race in the Democratic primary could create a situation in which voters are overloaded with information and less prepared to cast the vote that makes the most sense for them and the district as a whole come November.

With some signs of internal fighting going on between the candidates already, it’s not a leap to think the longer five people are alive in the race the muddier the ideologies of the party locally will get, similarly to the way the 2016 presidential primary featuring Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) and Hillary Clinton played out, but more so.

Condensing the nominees would show unification within the “party and a clearer focus come Election Day, which regardless of party should be a priority for voters on both sides seeking relevant personal representation in the federal government.

While we understand following the November 2016 election of President Donald Trump (R) and locally with Zeldin that those on the other side are vocal and motivated, it would be a mistake to allow infighting to harm the eventual primary winner’s chances in the general. If those running can engage in substantive policy discussions about how they differ and how they are the same, an admittedly near-impossible task with five candidates, ultimate party unification and digestible information for those heading to the polls would likely be the byproduct, and that is a good thing for everyone in New York’s 1st Congressional District, party be damned. If Democrats cannot find a way to do this, it will be to their ultimate detriment, as they can rest assured the Republican party will undoubtedly rally behind its candidate well before November.

A five-legged beast proved to be a challenge for Harry Potter, and a five-headed one on primary day could be just as scary for voters.

Zeldin celebrates his 2016 election night victory in Patchogue. File photo by Alex Petroski

The race for the right to challenge New York’s 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in November will be a five-way battle.

The candidates got enough signatures from voters to qualify to be placed on the ballot for the June 26 Democratic primary ahead of the April 12 deadline. June’s winner will face the two-time incumbent congressman and fervent supporter of President Donald Trump (R) in the general election Nov. 6. New York’s primaries are only open to registered members of the applicable political party.

Kate Browning

Kate Browning. Photo from SCDC

Browning is the former 3rd District Suffolk County legislator, a position she held beginning in 2005 before
being term limited out of office. She was born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland, before moving to Germany at 19 years old and eventually landing in Shirley with her husband Steve in 1989. The mother of three was a bus driver in the William Floyd School District prior to taking office.

“Our district deserves a representative that is going to fight for working families in Suffolk County,” Browning says in a section of her website entitled “Why I’m running,” while also touting her ability to work across the
political aisle. “I’ve focused on quality of life issues, rehabilitating foreclosed zombie homes and selling them to first-time home buyers, keeping them away from speculators and absentee landlords. And I’ve secured funding for clean water infrastructure to protect our drinking water and our shorelines.”

Elaine DiMasi

Elaine DiMasi. Photo from SCDC

DiMasi, a political newcomer, was a federal contractor for more than 20 years in addition to more than two decades of experience as a project manager and physicist at Brookhaven National Lab. She describes herself as a lifelong environmentalist with firsthand knowledge about the potential to jump-start the local economy while safeguarding the environment through the establishment of clean energy jobs.

“I dare to believe in a government that cares for all its people equally, is responsive to them and their concerns,” she says on her campaign website. “An American future that values equality for its people that opens doors of opportunity for all. An America that leads by example through its laws and practices to ensure the dignity, well-being, and freedom of all people.”

Perry Gershon

Perry Gershon. Photo from SCDC

Gershon wastes no time in his personal bio on his campaign website declaring he is a businessman, and not a career politician, having spent more than 25 years in commercial real estate finance. The first-time runner for office says his decision to leave the private sector and seek political office is a byproduct of outrage at the state of politics in Washington, D.C. He points to his entrepreneurial spirit and ability to build consensus among diverse parties as evidence of his qualifications to represent NY1.

“I’m fed up,” he says on his campaign website as to why he’s running. “It’s time Long Island had a strong voice to fight for high-paying jobs, affordable health care, high-quality education and clean air and water. Rather than stand by as Donald Trump and Washington politicians try to divide us, we can rebuild the middle class.”

Gershon and his wife Lisa have two sons and live on the South Fork.

David Pechefsky

David Pechefsky. Photo from SCDC

Pechefsky has extensive experience in government despite never holding elected office. The 1986 valedictorian at Patchogue-Medford High School has held various positions in government and politics during the last 20 years, including as a longtime staffer for the New York City Council, as well as a consultant for the National Democratic Institute from 2010-13. There, he worked to establish a legislative budget office to serve the Congress of Liberia. He also managed a U.S. government-funded program to strengthen the parliament of Somalia. He’s on leave from his current job as a senior adviser with Generation Citizen, a national nonprofit with the goal of fostering civic engagement.

“I am running for Congress because we need to put in place policies that make our economy work for everyone, not just the wealthy,” he says on his website. “I’ve spent my career working in government here in America and as an adviser to governments around the world and know how government can and should work to make things better for all us.”

Vivian Viloria-Fisher

Vivian Viloria Fisher. Photo from SCDC

Viloria-Fisher was also a Suffolk County legislator, serving the 5th District 13 years beginning in 1999. She was born in the Dominican Republic before moving to New York with her family as a child. She also worked as a Spanish teacher in Three Village school district for 12 years.

“As your representative, I will: fight for a national living wage; support job growth in sustainable energy and medical research industries; reinstate tax deductions for workers and students,” she says on her website, among other legislative priorities.

She touts her work on expanding public transportation services, creating a Welfare-to-Work commission in the county and her support for marriage equality prior to its legalization in New York among her proudest accomplishments.

Check TBR News Media in print and online for coverage of both the primary and general election in the coming weeks and months. All information about the candidates is from the Suffolk County Democratic Committee website or the candidates’ campaign sites.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would reduce the number of income tax brackets from seven to four; eliminate deductions for state and local income taxes; and would reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent. Stock photo

By Alex Petroski

Last week Republicans in the House of Representatives took a major step toward fulfilling a lynchpin campaign promise that is seemingly decades old.

The House Ways and Means committee released the framework of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Nov. 2, a major piece of legislation touted by President Donald Trump (R) as a cut to income taxes for “hardworking, middle-income Americans,” though it would negatively affect New Yorkers if signed into law, according to lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle.

The highlights of the bill, which would require passage by the House and Senate and the president’s signature before becoming law, include a consolidation from seven individual income tax brackets down to four; the elimination of the deduction for state and local income taxes, a provision that in the past through federal tax returns gave a portion of tax dollars back to individuals in higher income tax states like New York; and a reduction of the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent.

“I am a ‘No’ to this bill in its current form,” 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said in a statement. “We need to fix this state and local tax [SALT] deduction issue. Adding back in the property tax deduction up to $10,000 is progress, but not enough progress. If I’m not fighting for New Yorkers, I can’t expect anyone else from another state to do it for me.”

U.S. Rep. for the 2nd District, Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), was even more critical of the bill than Zeldin.

“The goal of tax reform is to help hard-working Americans make more money so they can live the American Dream,” Suozzi said in a statement. “The American people expect us to find a bipartisan solution to tax reform that helps create good paying middle-class jobs. This plan doesn’t achieve that goal. I won’t support it.”

Other New York lawmakers from the Democratic Party voiced harsh opposition to the bill in its current form.

New York’s U.S. senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) and Chuck Schumer (D-New York) each said via Twitter they viewed the bill as a tax break for corporations that would have a negative impact on middle-class citizens. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) called the bill a “tax increase plan.”

“The tax reform plan, they call a tax cut plan,” Cuomo said in a statement. “It has a diabolical dimension, which is the elimination of the deductibility of state and local taxes … what makes it an even more gross injustice is, the state of New York contributes more to the federal government than any other state. New York contributes more to Washington than any other state. We’re the No. 1 donor state. We give $48 billion more than we get back. Why you would want to take more from New York is a gross, gross injustice.”

Duncan MacKenzie, chief executive officer of the New York State Association of Realtors said in a statement the bill would harm many New York homeowners.

“It will lessen the value of the property tax deduction and it cuts a host of other key housing-related tax incentives,” he said.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization founded in the 1980s and dedicated to educating the public on issues with significant fiscal policy impact, estimated the bill would result in a $1.5 trillion increase to the national deficit.

Mark Snyder of Mark J. Snyder Financial Services, a Hauppauge-based personal financial planning and management firm, called the bill a “torpedo aimed at the wallets of Long Islanders” in an email. He also pointed to the elimination of the SALT deduction as clear evidence the bill would harm New Yorkers.

“As a representative from New York, I’d kick this bill to the curb,” he said when asked what he would do if he were tasked with voting on the bill.

Jon Kaiman (right) receives an endorsement from Jon Cooper (left) for his candidacy as the Democratic nominee in the race for the 3rd Congressional District seat. Photo by Alex Petroski

With the race for outgoing U.S. Rep. Steve Israel’s seat heating up, a new contender from Nassau County has thrown his hat into the race.

Jon Kaiman (D-Great Neck) is one of five candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for the 3rd Congressional District seat, which spans from Northeast Queens, Huntington and Smithtown. Israel (D-Huntington), who has publicly endorsed Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) for the job, has held the seat for the last 15 years but opted not to run for re-election.

At a press event last Thursday at Munday’s restaurant in Huntington, Kaiman said he’s felt some frustration with federal politics from his would-be constituents, but he’s confident his background and experience will help repair the relationship.

Kaiman previously served as North Hempstead’s town supervisor from 2004 to 2013. During that time he said he earned a reputation as a progressive Democrat willing to fight for social justice. He has also served as an advisor to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on his Superstorm Sandy Disaster Relief Program that helped homeowners and businesses recover after the storm.

“Part of this role that we play when we present ourselves as leaders is to define ourselves in a way that other people can have confidence that they know who we are and where we can go,” Kaiman said. “I think I’ve done that throughout my own history.”

People can look through his record, he said, as it includes programs that brought improvements to the lives of those he served.

One program he created, Project Independence, provided more than 50,000 senior citizens with services, such as transportation to supermarkets and medical appointments and access to nursing services and more, in an effort to help seniors continue living safely in their own homes.

Kaiman also mentioned high interest rates that students are paying on loans as an example of the disconnect between government and people. Though he doesn’t agree with Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders that college should be free, Kaiman said he appreciates the light Sanders is shining on the issue because something needs to change. His campaign website he says he stands with Planned Parenthood, supports gun control measures and wants to combat climate change.

He received an endorsement from the former Democratic majority leader of the Suffolk County Legislature, Jon Cooper. Cooper joins former Queens Congressman Gary Ackerman as some of the higher-profile endorsements Kaiman has received on the campaign trail.

“Jon is a lifelong progressive Democrat who stands by his core values,” Cooper said of Kaiman during last Thursday’s press event. “He’s not afraid to take a position that may not be popular. If you hold your finger up to the wind and just see which way the wind is blowing and follow the polls, that may be the safest and easiest thing to do politically, but a leader should be willing to lead. That’s one reason why I decided not to endorse the other candidates and why I’m endorsing this gentleman.”

Apart from Stern, Kaiman faces Tom Suozzi, former Nassau County Executive; Anna Kaplan, North Hempstead Town Board member; and attorney Jonathan Clarke.

Kaiman’s history of fighting for social justice and his ability to work across the aisle were some of his more attractive qualities as a candidate, according to Cooper, who likened the congressional hopeful to Vice President Joe Biden in that regard.

Kaiman lives in Great Neck with his wife and three children.

The congressional Democratic primary day for New York is June 28. The winner will face Republican nominee New York State Sen. Jack Martins.

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U.S. Rep. Steve Israel is stepping aside at the end of the year, declining to run for another term in the House this November, after what will be 16 years as the Democratic representative for the Huntington and Smithtown areas. But his departure will affect more than just western Suffolk County.

Long Island residents in general should be paying attention to the 3rd Congressional District seat in the coming year. Our officials at the federal and state levels work with their neighboring colleagues to get things done that benefit Long Island — sometimes in a quid pro quo sort of way. That means that no matter the elected body or who our representative is, the priorities and the character of the person who is elected in the next district over from us are important. And with Israel gone, no matter who is elected to replace him, Suffolk County will have two longtime congressman exiting in two years, after Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) unseated Democrat Tim Bishop in 2014.

That’s not to say that new blood is a bad thing.

Zeldin kept himself busy during his first year in the House, authoring several bills. Most recently, he introduced the Earnings Contingent Education Loans (ExCEL) Act of 2015, which aims to help young people manage their federal student loan debt by making the repayment system more flexible, with payment amounts based on the borrower’s salary. And in interviews with this newspaper, Zeldin has called being a newcomer a positive — party leadership supports their freshmen, he said, because they want to help them retain their seats.

We appreciate Israel’s long service to our community. That being said, electing a new point of view to Congress has the potential to be a good thing for Long Island, which is in a state of flux as we try to plan our economic and environmental future.

3rd District candidates, all eyes are on you.

Lee Zeldin, center, announces his support of two House bills to help addicts and prevent others from using drugs. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Rep. Lee Zeldin took to Kings Park on Sunday to join the fight against drug abuse, an issue that is plaguing communities on Long Island and across the nation.

Zeldin (R-Shirley) announced his backing of two bills in Congress — the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015, H.R. 953, and the Stop Overdose Stat Act, H.R. 2850 — which seek to help those struggling with drug abuse and prevent future abuse. Zeldin is co-sponsoring both bills.

“It’s clear we must come together as a community and a nation to combat this growing issue,” Zeldin said.

According to the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, the percentage of state high school students who reported use of heroin more than doubled between 2005 and 2011, from 1.8 percent to 4 percent.

“We can’t treat them and street them, which is what is currently happening in our emergency rooms,” said Linda Ventura, treasurer of Families in Support of Treatment, known as F.I.S.T., a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting and educating families which are struggling with a loved one’s addiction. “There should be no more shame with someone struggling with this disease, no, stigma — that has to go.”

Ventura, who is also involved with the Suffolk County Prevention Resource Center, is more than just a member of activist groups. She lost her son, Thomas, in March 2012 to drugs.

Bill 953 would help people grappling with drug abuse obtain the services needed to put them on the road to recovery. It would provide up to $80 million in the form of grant funding to help treat and prevent addiction through community-based education and prevention programs, and treatment and recovery programs.

The grants would further help expand prescription drug monitoring programs and provide police forces and emergency medical responders with higher supplies of Narcan, a prescription drug that reverses opioid overdoses.

The legislation has 20 co-sponsors — both Democrats and Republicans — and was introduced by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI).

“It’s a good bill on its merits alone, and it doesn’t matter what names or letters are attached to it,” Zeldin said.

Bill 2850 would provide an additional $25 million over a five-year period for Narcan production and distribution and provide more medical professionals and families with the lifesaving drug.

The act, introduced by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), would also establish a preventative research task force that would look into ways to prevent future overdose deaths, while taking a preventative approach against drug abuse.

Zeldin was joined by members of the community including Suffolk County Legislators Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) and Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset); Kim Revere, president of Kings Park in the kNOw, a task force promoting a drug-free community; and Dr. Andrew Kolodny, chief medical officer of Phoenix House, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. The congressman wanted to show the only way to win the battle was to remain united.

Like Ventura, the fight was personal for some of those in attendance at Sunday’s press conference.

“I lost my son, Timothy, in August of 2009 after a 14-month struggle with prescription drugs, which eventually led to heroin,” said Teri Kroll, secretary for F.I.S.T.’s board of directors and a member of the resource center. “He passed away after eight and a half months of sobriety.”

Saji Francis, the doctor who prescribed Timothy the drug he eventually became addicted to, was arrested shortly after Timothy passed away. In 2010, Francis was convicted of illegally selling prescription pills and sentenced to six months in jail.

Kolodny, who also serves as the director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, explained how many people start abusing drugs after taking prescription medications.

“To control this epidemic we need to prevent new people from getting this disease, and treat those who are suffering,” he said. “We also need to get doctors and dentists to prescribe more cautiously. If not, these overdose levels with continue to rise.”

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