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Perry Gershon

Perry Gershon, again a Democratic contender for U.S district rep., spoke at a protest early in 2019. Photo by Kyle Barr

The late June Democratic debates hosted by CNBC could have been the first true coal mine canary, telling us that even more than a year out, the race for the White House is going to be a long, complicated and grueling affair.

Nancy S. Goroff, Department of Chemistry Professor, announced her run for District 1. Photo from Stony Brook University

Over two nights, the 20 candidates stood shoulder to shoulder, shouting over each other for attention and sound bites. Though it was talked well enough on every national media outlet, finding North Shore residents who watched the debates, let alone had a full opinion on the Democratic candidates, can be a chore.

However, for Suffolk County and the Suffolk Democratic Committee, it’s business as usual. According to Rich Schaffer, the county Democratic chairman, the focus starts with the local races long before any attention is applied to the congressional candidates, let alone the presidential contenders.

“You won’t get them energized this year until we finish with the local races, so our main focus will be on the town and county races,” Schaffer said. “We had minimal interest in the presidential, a couple of people calling to see about participating in a particular campaign of a particular candidate, but other than that we haven’t much.”

What’s your opinion?

Here is what a few residents from local areas thought about the current Democratic presidential candidates:

Brian Garthwaite, Port Jeff Station:

“Do I think any of the candidates that I saw talk in the last two days will go anywhere? — I hope not,’” he said. “No one really stood out to me.”

Garthwaite guessed at who would be on the final podium come 2020.

“It’s tough to say right now but if I had to guess I think it’s going to be either [Joe] Biden or [Kamala] Harris.”

Judy Cooper, West Islip:

“I’m a Democrat and I like Joe Biden, but I want to hear more about one or two of the lesser known candidates — like Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar,” she said. “I haven’t thought about a ticket yet. I watched the first night of the debate, but then got sick of it the second night. It was inconsequential the second night. The first night there were many candidates, but they seemed to be more substantial candidates.”

Peggy S., Northport:

“I’m a Democrat, I’ll tell you that,” she said. “I’d support anybody but a Republican. I like Mayor Pete the best.”

Anthony Alessi, Northport:

“I want anybody who can beat Trump,” Alessi said. “Kamala Harris impressed me last night. I’d love to see her beat Trump. My ideal ticket is Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris.”

Quotes gathered by David Luces and Leah Chiappino

In local races, the Town of Brookhaven is becoming a hotspot. Though he sees Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) as well established, Schaffer specifically looked at Cheryl Felice, who is running against Michael Loguercio (R-Ridge) for the 4th District, and Anthony Portesy, who is running for Brookhaven Highway Superintendent against Daniel Losquadro (R), specifically having a good shot considering people’s complaints with the state of their roads.

“He’s knocking on doors, and he hears a lot of complaints about the conditions of the roads and the services being provided by the highway department,” he said. 

Two Democrats have already stepped up again to face U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in the 2020 congressional contest. Last year’s nominee Perry Gershon is again running this year, while Stony Brook resident Jack Harrington is on the sidelines, with rumors he has considered running. On July 9, Stony Brook University scientist Nancy Goroff declared she too would be running against Zeldin, setting up what may be a heated primary race mirroring the 2017-18 Suffolk primary runup.

“As a scientist, I believe in facts,” Goroff said in a release declaring her candidacy. “And it’s a fact that Washington is hurting Suffolk families. I’m running for Congress to use my experience as a scientist to combat global warming, make healthcare affordable, protect a woman’s right to choose and end the gun violence epidemic.”

The Democratic chairman said the committee has been hands-off when it comes to congressional campaigns, letting them hire their own staff and leaving them to their own campaigns. Despite the constant attention paid to national politics, he said he expected the usual number of voters, comparing it to last year’s 22,240 primary votes out of a possible 143,700. 

“It was a little more animated than past years, but on par for where it’s been, 15 to 20 percent turnout,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be animated next year, that’s for sure.”

But to Schaffer, the national race will come down to around five or six candidates, and only then will you see the public become energized around their chosen individual. The next Democratic debate, set for July 17, may be a major tipping point. Politico has reported many Democratic presidential campaigns said they believe the next set of debates could start the culling to the top contenders.

The biggest point on the national and congressional stage is whether he feels they can defeat Zeldin and Trump. If Schaffer had to choose a candidate at this moment, it would be past Vice President Joe Biden, saying he “was part of the successful years of the Obama presidency,” and “if we’re looking for someone who can take on Trump and not just convince Democrats but those ‘persuadables’, I think Biden has the best shot.”

Rich Shaffer at his office in North Babylon. File Photo by Alex Petroski

The Democratic chairman sees Suffolk’s population as more conservatively minded than what may be seen in New York City or other progressive hot spots. 

This is despite the rise of more progressive candidates such as Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, with Harris’ poll numbers, in particular, surging after the CNBC debates, but Schaffer said what’s important is defeating the incumbents.

“If we win, we win as a party. If we lose, we lose as a party,” he said.

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SEPA Mujer shows their support for immigrants by donning yellow bracelets. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Everyone has an opinion on how to handle the border crisis. Having recently gone directly to the southwest border to talk about solutions with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, recent migrants and local politicians, several things are clear.

Perry Gershon. Photo from SCDC

First, contrary to some of the national narratives, most border crossers today come to ports of entry and seek asylum. They do not dart or swarm the locations between ports of entry. Yes, there are some scrambling crossers, but the entire crisis has tipped toward ports of entry, which is why more efficiently processing asylum claims is so important and increasingly difficult.

Second, while human and drug trafficking are serious issues, these individuals do not comprise the bulk of current illegal crossers, even as numbers of Central American refugees continue to rise. Our border laws are designed to deter those sneaking into the country, not managing large volumes turning themselves in — hoping for asylum.

The bulk of those at our borders are economic migrants, some of whom may be entitled to asylum, but all of whom are fleeing a part of this hemisphere overwhelmed by public corruption, poverty, violent crime, drug trafficking and general disorder. 

This suggests a need not only for better processing of asylum claims, and more systematic ways of housing asylum seekers, but finding better ways to incentivize these economic migrants to stay in their countries of origin, rather than seeking escape, refuge and opportunity here. Rather than abandoning rule of law programs in these unstable Central American countries, we should be reinforcing stability and the rule of law.

Third, agents in places like Arizona speak with one, clear, consistent voice. They are legally able to monitor and enforce our border, and capture and turn illegal crossers over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but they are not responsible for processing, long-term detention or deportation. In effect, they are a small cog in a big machine, and what they face daily is both severe and growing. What they cannot control is the process of crafting a much-needed political solution.

Finally, no one can seriously discuss the border without discussing drug trafficking. Again, a dose of reality is vital. Drugs entering the United States over the southwest border include heroin, cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and fentanyl, as well as other synthetics. 

But these drugs are not typically hustled in the dark of night, between ports of entry, over big desert swatches. No, they are methodically trafficked through ports of entry — hidden in trucks and cars, and on rail cars. Many transporting these drugs are mules, beholden to powerful Mexican drug cartels. Poor people who desperately lack options often transport these drugs for the cartels or face death.  

Again, the answer must be multifaceted. First, we must work with the Mexican government to enforce their borders and get serious about stopping demand here. Second, we should provide more treatment for those seeking a way out of addiction. Third, and most important, we should be teaching kids to make smart and healthy choices by helping them never to feel desperate enough to turn to addiction.

What lessons can we draw from recent conversations from those on the front lines of our southwest border? Several are obvious. First, we need to have a more organized and efficient system to process the vast number of asylum seekers.

How do we do that? We need more administrative asylum judges, even if reassigned from other tasks temporarily. We need smoother, faster interfaces between CBP, ICE and the judicial system. In managing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services treatment of unaccompanied minors, who go from ICE to HHS after 20 days, we need more effective ways of protecting and processing claims. 

We need to work more closely with the Mexican government to agree on how to house the large numbers, optimally on the Mexican side of the border, which will prevent having to place large numbers of asylum seekers across the United States to await hearings. Finally, we should be asking Mexico to consider becoming a “safe third country” for asylum seekers, which would allow Central Americans to win asylum in Mexico also, reducing pressure on the U.S. border.

Last, and most important, we need to rethink how best to restore rule of law, stability, economic opportunity and foreign investment in Central America, to incentivize economic migrants to remain where they live, and to create opportunities and security there. This requires international engagement, and sustained commitments to neighbors. 

In the end, that investment will help us all. That is what going to the border taught me.

Perry Gershon is a national commentator on business, trade, policy and politics. A congressional candidate for New York’s 1st District, he holds a bachelor’s degree from Yale and a master’s in business administration  from University of California, Berkeley.

A man at the Huntington rally holds a sign in protest of President Donald Trump's immigration policies. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Why do we have to relearn lessons over and over, despite history telling us what works? Take immigration, the fiery topic du jour. Everyone holds a strong, increasingly entrenched, unmovable opinion about how to stem illegal immigration, protect America’s moral and historic immigrant commitment, preserve moral fiber and do right by those brought to the United States illegally as children. But what is the right answer?  

The right answer is a default to common sense. Go back just over 30 years. Former Republican President Ronald Reagan and former Democrat U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill found room for agreement, in their time, on this contentious topic. The former “Gang of Eight,” including late Sen. John McCain (R), got close with a bill that passed the Senate, lost in a Republican House. So why can’t we? 

America is — by definition and moral conviction — a country founded on immigration, with legal limits for various countries, practices, protocols and a complex fabric of legal obligations tied to those seeking asylum, refugee status, or wishing otherwise to enter and live in the United States, make a better life for themselves, and aspire to citizenship.  

Perhaps, oddly in a time of constant recrimination, instant outrage and emotional appeals for walls and sanctuary cities, my view is that there are still compromises available. They should be patiently sought, brought to the public for buy in, feedback and persuasion, then turned into law, just the way Reagan and O’Neill got to the “80 percent solution” more than three decades ago. 

The real question is not whether we should build cement or electronic barriers along parts of our southern border, whether we should return criminals to host countries, whether to protect young lives at our border and act humanely, whether to protect our sovereignty, territorial integrity, national security and the sanctity of citizenship. These are false choices. 

Of course, we should uphold standing American laws, create effective deterrence to keep illegal gangs, drug and human traffickers from entering the United States, while loving children as children and trying to preserve family units. We should be humane, even to those who may later be deported, because Americans are human by nature, history and character. We should all want to protect our established communities, as well as our national security, ideals and the value of citizenship. 

Oversimplifying this important discussion for political points — on either side of the aisle — is disingenuous and disserves average Americans. To fight a pitched battle, casting the other side as favoring illegality, inhumanity, lack of security or opposition to citizenship, are cheap shots.  

One has to ask, in all seriousness: Would Reagan or O’Neill cast this debate as so black and white, so simple, stark and impossible to solve? History suggests that they would not do what we are doing, turning on each other and attacking for political gain. They offered a better way forward, and we ought to take it.  

Here are basics on which all Americans — including those in Congress — should be able to agree: The nation’s borders are legal, real and should be protected. All lives are valuable, both American and non-American. The disparity between life in the United States and life in many countries south of the border is economically, politically and morally great. The status quo, with thousands crossing into the U.S. illegally, is unsustainable.  

But here is another reality: Hardworking adults and students who arrived in the United States as children — i.e., less than one-third of 1 percent of our population — did not commit acts of immoral or illegal behavior. Accordingly, they should not be punished as if they had done so.  

What does all this mean? It should be obvious. Congressional leaders and the White House should “beat swords into plowshares,” as Isaiah writes. The compromise to put this divisive issue behind us has four parts:  

1. A thoughtful, well-reasoned and empirically supported set of disincentives and barriers that create credible deterrence to illegal entry on our southwest border. 

2. A humane, moral and kind approach to those fleeing horrific human conditions to gain asylum or refugee status, including children and adults.

3. Accountable, targeted and effective foreign assistance programs aimed at restoring rule of law, basic stability and self-sufficiency to countries racked by the opposite across this hemisphere, Central America to Venezuela — our neglect in this area has been objectively astronomical. 

4. The foresight to understand that these three elements require robust funding, in order to prevent a run on America, for the stability, safety and opportunities we enjoy that many in this hemisphere do not. 

As a successful second-generation immigrant, proud American and hardworking businessman, I see opportunities in the present divide to find a new kind of interparty peace, to get to a new place in America where we all accept that compromise is better than pitched battles that lead nowhere.  

More to the point, I appreciate what America has meant to me, to my family, to my neighbors. I believe we have a moral duty to find solutions, not just shout and joust, staking out patches of ground to defend, when our real purpose is to defend what it means to be good Americans. 

Perry Gershon is a former Congressional candidate for New York’s 1st District and is running again for the same office. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Yale and a master’s in business administration from the University of California. He is also a national commentator on business, trade, policy and politics.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin celebrates securing his third term in office Nov. 8 in Patchogue, joining hands with one of his daughters and Suffolk County Republican Party Chairman John Jay LaValle. Photo by Kyle Barr

Nationally the Democratic Party experienced a successful night, winning enough Congressional races to flip the House of Representatives from Republican control.

The long-billed blue wave petered out on the North Shore of Long Island however, as two-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) fended off a challenge from first-time candidate Democrat Perry Gershon, an East Hampton resident and commercial real estate lender, winning re-election by securing more than 52 percent of the vote.

“This was the clear contrast of results versus resistance, and results won today,” Zeldin said from the podium at Stereo Garden in Patchogue after results were in Nov. 6. “It’s important we get to people’s business and deliver results.”

As many — if not all — House races did across the country, Zeldin and Gershon’s battle took on a nasty tone, largely focused on their opinions of President Donald Trump (R) and his job performance thus far.

“Our country needs to do much better uniting,” Zeldin said. “We also need to make sure our scores are settled at the ballot box, and that next day we wake up to govern.”

He thanked his opponent for running a tough race.

Onlookers celebrate as results roll in Nov. 8 at Democratic Party campaign headquarters in Hauppauge. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It’s not the outcome we wanted but life goes on,” Gershon said when his fate appeared sealed from IBEW Local 25 Long Island Electricians union headquarters in Hauppauge. “We’re so much better off than we were two years ago. We showed the Democratic Party has a heart here in eastern Suffolk County.”

Both candidates’ respective Suffolk County party chairmen applauded their efforts.

“He worked very hard and developed a grassroots campaign,” Democratic Party Chairman Rich Schaffer said. “We have not heard the last of Perry Gershon.”

John Jay LaValle, Republican Party chairman for the county, dismissed the idea Election Day 2018 was something to be celebrated by Democrats locally.

“There was no blue wave in Suffolk County tonight, in fact the only thing blue tonight was my tie,” he said.

Incumbent 3rd District U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) secured 58 percent of the vote against Republican challenger Dan DeBono to secure another term as well.

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!” Suozzi posted on his campaign Facebook page. “It is an honor to serve.”

Despite LaValle’s assertion, the blue party scored major victories in several statewide battles, enough to flip the New York State Senate to Democratic control, meaning all three houses of the state government are controlled by the same party. Nearly all incumbent state legislators from both parties held serve on the North Shore though.

The 2nd District state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) won re-election to continue his more than 30 years in the Senate, defeating challenger Kathleen Cleary by about 11 percentage points. Flanagan will relinquish his spot as Senate Majority Leader with the Democrats seizing control. He could not be reached for comment by press time Nov. 7.

“I did not win but we made sure that the issues important to us: women’s reproductive health, the Child Victims Act, ERPO, [the New York Health Act] were discussed and now that the [state] Senate has flipped to blue these bills will be passed,” Cleary said in a post on her campaign Facebook page.

State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who has represented the 1st District since the 1970s, easily won another term, besting Democrat Greg Fischer for a second consecutive cycle, this time by 17 percentage points. LaValle could not be reached for comment Nov. 7 either.

“It’s very difficult to unseat a long-term incumbent,” Fischer said. “Like it or not, the system is filled with or based on lots of favors, so there’s always that tendency to reward people for their past performance.”

Democrats Jim Gaughran and Monica Martinez won surprise upsets in nearby Long Island state Senate districts, defeating incumbent Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) and Assemblyman Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue) in their respective races, which were major contributors to the shift of power in New York’s legislative branch.

In the state Assembly, Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) was easily returned to his longtime post representing the 4th District, earning 60 percent of the vote to his challenger Christian Kalinowski’s 40 percent.

“I’m looking forward to getting back to the task at hand, protecting the environment, the quality of life of our community and enhancing it, making sure we have adequate funding for our schools and for the next generation,” Englebright said. “We have a lot to do.”

Englebright’s Assembly colleagues from across the aisle on the North Shore will all be returning to Albany as well.

The 2nd District Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) blew out first-time candidate Democrat Rona Smith to earn a third term, winning about 60 percent of the vote.

Democrat Perry Gershon thanks supporters Nov. 8 in Hauppauge after accepting defeat in his race to represent New York’s 1st Congressional District against incumbent Lee Zeldin. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It’s great to see we won by a nice margin — it validates we’re going on the right direction,” Palumbo said. “I will try to discuss some issues raised by my opponent, including the issue of health care with the 5 percent uninsured rate.”

Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Smithtown) will head to Albany for another term after beating Democrat and first-time candidate David Morrissey handily, 61 percent to 39 percent.

“I’m going to continue to pursue my objective of being a strong voice for mandate relief and strengthening the private sector to make people aware of the need to slow down the growth of taxes,” Fitzpatrick said. “We are losing too many people — too many retirees, too many young people. Too many people in the middle class are looking elsewhere as the cost of living is getting too high.”

Republican for the 12th Assembly District Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) will continue his tenure, as will Democrat Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills), who captured the 10th Assembly District seat in a special election in April.

Though members of Brookhaven Town’s board were not on the ballot this year, voters overwhelmingly passed a back-of-the-ballot proposition that extended officials terms in office from two years to four, and limited officeholders to three terms. A total of 58 percent voted in favor of that measure with 42 percent opposing.

“We felt that this was the right time to put out this proposition, especially with all the talk about the president stimulating turnout,” said Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point).

Reporting contributed by Sara-Megan Walsh, Rita J. Egan and Kyle Barr.

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

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) is a family man, a veteran and a classy, dedicated advocate for the district he has represented since 2014. He is also a member of the Republican conference that has collectively decided to be an enabler of President Donald Trump’s (R) lesser behaviors and tendencies — rather than serving as a check on presidential power as the authors of the Constitution intended. Zeldin’s dedication to and knowledge of local issues make him exemplary, but he has been indiscriminate in his duty to stand up to the president on the national stage. He has backed a GOP and White House initiatives 86 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight.com.

While there are some positives to the two years Trump has been in office — the economy being perhaps chief among them — some nakedly partisan and intellectually dishonest arguments would be required to justify some of what he has done and said, like instituting a zero-tolerance policy for immigration infractions as a means to separately detain adults and their children crossing the southern border illegally and to deter individuals from seeking refuge in the U. S.

To his credit, Zeldin said he opposed that policy, but his voting record and social media accounts offer little to no pushback on a president who seems clueless about bringing the country together. We fear the power and promises of D.C. politics may cause him to stray from sticking firm to what’s best for us, here on Long Island.

The Constitution was written in such a way as to build in checks and balances into our government. We believe that most Americans are uncomfortable with one-party rule, regardless of which party. There have been little checks on some of the most outlandish orders put forth by our duly elected leadership and the total partisanship of the Congress is largely at fault.

For all Americans’ best interest and for the possibility of restoring some semblance of reason and civility in our politics, we endorse Perry Gershon with the hope Democrats succeed in flipping the House to restore a sense of checks and balances on our nation’s government.

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.

Perry Gershon. Photo by Kyle Barr

As the five-headed Democratic Primary to select a challenger for 1st District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) nears, six Stony Brook University faculty members, some with ties to Brookhaven National Lab, have authored a letter endorsing their preferred winner.

The signers of the letter are throwing their public support behind Perry Gershon, a first-time candidate for political office from the private sector, who made a career as a commercial mortgage lender and small business owner, citing his belief that “facts trump opinions.” The group also supports Gershon’s broader dedication to protecting the environment.

The endorsement came with a disclaimer that the signees being affiliated with SBU are for identification purposes only and do not imply institutional support for any political candidate. Other notable endorsements in the race thus far include Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski’s (D-Cutchogue) stated support for Kate Browning, a former legislator herself; and Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) backing Vivian Viloria-Fisher, another Suffolk legislature alumna. Notably, the group of six from SBU’s STEM department did not endorse BNL scientist Elaine DiMasi, who is also among the five candidates in the race.

The full letter from the SBU professors supporting Gershon is below, lightly edited for grammar and style.

Endorsement of Perry Gershon for Congress by faculty and researchers in science, technology, engineering and math at Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Laboratory

An open letter to the community:

As faculty and researchers at Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Laboratory  involved in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teaching and research, we believe it is of vital importance that you vote for Perry Gershon as your next U.S. Representative in Congress in New York’s 1st Congressional District June 26 in the Democratic Primary.

For all of us, at both the university and the lab in Brookhaven, mid-western Suffolk has been our home for many years, just as the South Fork in eastern Suffolk has been Perry’s home for over 20 years. CD1 covers both — we share the same aquifer and the same need for clean water. What happens here locally, in our country, and in the world, matters deeply to all of us.

We need Perry in Congress because he believes that facts trump opinions. Perry grew up in an academic family. His parents are both medical researchers at Columbia University. While a student at Yale, Perry was involved in original research as co-investigator on multiple published papers with faculty. He understands at his core that investigation and evidence must win out over demagoguery.

Perry believes in the overwhelming evidence of climate change and its profound effects at every scale, from Long Island to the entire Earth. Unlike President Donald Trump (R) and Zeldin, Perry would stay in the Paris Climate Accord and work to help America meet its goals. Perry holds that expanding markets for innovative clean technologies generates jobs and economic growth. Research at SBU, BNL, and Suffolk incubators can be at the forefront of turning CD1’s economy into one that supports good-paying, middle-class jobs that offer our young people the opportunity to stay on Long Island.

Perry knows that Environmental Protection Agency regulations, based on scientific study, are made to help and protect every one of us. Yet under Trump (R), EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt (R) and Zeldin, expert scientists are no longer even allowed to provide advice to the EPA, because recipients of EPA grants, who are the most knowledgeable experts, are forbidden from serving on EPA’s scientific advisory committees — the bodies that make sure regulations to protect public health and environmental values are based on sound science.

Perry knows that Department of the Interior decisions should benefit the country, not benefit any corporation that wants to exploit our natural resources for its bottom line. We do not need or want offshore oil drilling destroying our pristine coastline and threatening our tourist industry. While Zeldin feigns opposition, his support of Trump has allowed Zinke to move forward to expedite drilling permits.

Perry stands for the Democratic values that we all share: seeking truth and diversity of opinion. Unlike Trump and Zeldin, Perry actually listens. He actively seeks input and advice. His main goal is to solve problems in ways that benefit the greatest number of people.

On June 26, the Democratic Primary will choose the candidate who will oppose Zeldin in November. We firmly believe Perry Gershon has the intellect, the skills, the fortitude, and the resources to beat Zeldin — a powerful combination that is not matched by any of the other primary candidates.

We ask you to support Perry Gershon, to take back Congress by removing the man who has become Trump’s mouthpiece and enabler — Lee Zeldin. On June 26, please stand with us in returning truth to our government’s decision making.

Sincerely,

Dr. Douglas Futuyma, Distinguished Professor, Ecology and Evolution, SBU

Dr. Nancy Goroff, Chair Department of Chemistry, SBU

Dr. Stephen Baines, Associate Professor, Ecology and Evolution, SBU

Dr. Barry McCoy, Distinguished Professor, CN Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics, SBU

Dr. Lorna Role, Distinguished Professor and Chair, Neurobiology and Behavior, SBU

Dr. Gene Sprouse, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Physics and Astronomy, SBU

This post was updated June 19 to remove Dr. Jeff Keister as a signer and add Dr. Stephen Baines.

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Last week we had the five Democrats vying for a spot on the ballot to represent New York’s 1st Congressional District against U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) at TBR News Media’s Setauket office for a debate-style discussion. Traditionally, this is an exercise we do every fall for each of the various races for local political offices. We write about the discussions and endorse a candidate, and we do not traditionally do this for primaries. However, this particular race at this particular time in national politics felt like an important moment to fully embrace. We are witnessing a presidential administration that both sides can at least agree on calling, if nothing else, virtually unprecedented.

This is noteworthy here and now because the district is represented by a congressman who is taking an enormous political risk by routinely doubling and tripling down on even the most unprecedented behaviors and policies that have been displayed and put forth by President Donald Trump (R). A byproduct of being a chief congressional defender of this president is that a political campaign through a long hot summer with a Democrat stockpiled with endless juicy campaign content like: “Trump and Zeldin wanted to take your health care away and let Paul Ryan raise your taxes,” awaits.

Full disclosure: We have not yet had Zeldin at our office for an extended, far-ranging discussion, as we do periodically, in 2018. A memorable quote from his last visit was, “I’m no one’s proxy.”

We intend to invite the congressman in for a discussion again in the near future, ahead of a one-on-one debate with the primary winner this fall. In the meantime, his two Twitter accounts should be examined —
@RepLeeZeldin and @LeeZeldin — and conclusions drawn. For a congressman who has been roundly criticized for declining to hold what his critics would define as the proper number of in-person, no-holds-barred town halls, his statements on Twitter can sometimes be the best we’ve got.

What he chooses to discuss on Twitter, and how it is received, has become of interest to us. A calculation Zeldin is likely to be making currently, if retweets and likes are to be believed is rabble-rousing about Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Russia and general identity politics sells.

While our organization is not endorsing a primary candidate, we will offer a few thoughts that registered NY-1 Democrats should know come June 26. They will have their choice of five, clear-headed, issue-driven candidates who are decidedly left of Hillary Clinton (D) and a few strides to the right of Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) on the political spectrum, but not much. They each offer unique and interesting political challenges for Zeldin, especially should he choose to embrace Trumpism and identity politics as his campaign motif.

Kate Browning lives two miles from the incumbent on the South Shore, and insisted she knows what it takes to make a dent in Zeldin’s base, in addition to touting her experience in the Suffolk County Legislature.

Elaine DiMasi is a scientist from Brookhaven National Lab, who we imagine would be difficult to debate on a topic like, say, “clean coal.”

Perry Gershon can ironically sell a similar background to Trump: a political outsider from the private sector — commercial lending and a small business owner — running on change, with the most money of any of the candidates, which largely comes from his own pocket.

David Pechefsky boasts legitimate domestic policy experience as a longtime New York City Council staffer, though he has not personally held political office. He also possesses a legitimate foreign policy background, having served as an adviser to foreign governments.

Vivian Viloria-Fisher has a solid blend of track record, depth of experience, name recognition from her years in the county Legislature and laser focus on the few issues we could easily see being the deciding factors come November: health care (especially regarding reproductive/women’s health care rights), gun control and immigration.

We will continue tracking this race through November and will update you with the primary results come the end of June. We hope you will reach out to us with your thoughts and feelings about the challengers and the race, too.

Kate Browning, Perry Gershon, Elaine DiMasi, David Pechefsky and Vivian Viloria-Fisher debate at TBR News Media's Setauket office. Photo by Kyle Barr

Fifty percent of the Nov. 6 ballot in the race to represent New York’s 1st Congressional District is already set, but there’s plenty to sort out before the other half is finalized.

Five candidates garnered enough signatures on their petitions for elected office, earning spots on the ballot for the June 26 Democratic primary. They’ll square off for the right to challenge incumbent U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in the general election.

Kate Browning. Photo by Kyle Barr

All five candidates were at TBR News Media’s Setauket office June 1 for a debate to point to the areas in which they differ, matters they think they’re better suited for the job and ways they can dethrone
their adversary.

In pitching herself as the candidate most capable to do the latter, former Suffolk County Legislator Kate Browning said she can take votes away from Zeldin in a variety of ways.

“We need to be able to appeal to the blue-collar voters, and I believe that’s something I can do,” she said. “Having a husband who’s in law enforcement, who’s an Army veteran — we hear Lee Zeldin talk about ‘vote for the vet, vote for the William Floyd graduate,’ and I live in his base, and I can tell you I know that I can take votes from his base. And having two kids in the military, I can take a lot of that away from him.”

Zeldin is a U.S. Army Reserve veteran.

Perry Gershon identified a different way that he can pull from Zeldin’s support. The candidate said he made a living in commercial mortgage lending for 25 years and owned a small business — a sports bar in New York City — touting the fact he is a political outsider hoping to shake things up.

“What that background means is that when I talk about the economy and jobs I have a little extra credibility, because I’ve been involved in creating jobs before,” Gershon said.

Elaine DiMasi. Photo by Kyle Barr

Elaine DiMasi provides perhaps the most unique qualifications of the bunch.

“There aren’t too many districts that can add a professional scientist to that problem-solving team that is congress,” said DiMasi, a physicist at Brookhaven National Lab. “There’s 435 professionals there — many lawyers, many legislators, many more people with business degrees than with backgrounds like mine, and it’s badly needed right now.”

David Pechefsky said he offers a blend of foreign and domestic policy experience despite never holding elected office, which is uncommon for most first-time candidates. He has worked as an adviser to governments abroad, in addition to his time as a staffer for the New York City Council.

“We’re going to need that to go toe-to-toe with Zeldin,” he said. “He talks a lot about foreign policy. Our national lawmaking body [is] going to have to vote on a whole host of issues pertaining to foreign policy, and I also feel deeply that the Democratic Party needs to challenge the narrative on foreign policy. We cannot afford to continue to have military interventions.”

Vivian Viloria-Fisher said she previously served as a delegate at three Democratic National Conventions in the past. That, her experience as a Suffolk County legislator and living in the district for nearly five decades helps her to understand the needs of 1st District Democrats, she said.

Perry Gershon. Photo by Kyle Barr

“This is who I am, this is who I’ve always been,” she said. “I have a footprint that goes throughout the district and I’ve done good work throughout this district. I’m well-known.”

Viloria-Fisher and Pechefsky said they possess empathy and compassion, respectively, which they said they feel Zeldin lacks. DiMasi said she’s dexterous, or quick-witted, capable of thinking on her feet in the midst of say, a scrutinized debate. Gershon said during his years in business he thought he’d earned a reputation as a person with high integrity, capable of getting along with people from all walks of life. Browning said she’s approachable, often having to remind people to call her “Kate,” as opposed to Legislator or Mrs. Browning.

The winner of the primary will be campaigning for a seat Zeldin won by almost 20 points in 2016, within a county Trump won by seven points, marking the first time a Republican presidential candidate secured Suffolk County since 1992.

Viloria-Fisher said she partnered with Republicans to pass various pieces of bipartisan legislation while representing the county. Pechefsky said he thinks his message — his willingness to advocate for working people — cuts across political lines. DiMasi said she thought her approach to campaigning — sticking to just the facts — would earn her respect with Republicans.

David Pechefsky. Photo by Kyle Barr

Gershon said he believes many people who voted for Trump in the past could be convinced to vote Democratic because he thinks many regret doing so, with an opportunity to score points because of the Republican tax plan, which did particular damage to Long Island property owners. Zeldin was one of few Republicans in Congress who did not vote for the bill.

The candidates identified many of the same issues — gun control legislation, immigration reform, health care options, lack of high-paying jobs, high cost of living in the district — as the most important to the voters they’ve spoken to, while also citing what they said they viewed as Zeldin’s misguided positions on these issues.

Browning named taxes and water quality as among the biggest concerns facing the district in the near future.

“[Zeldin will] come to the Island and say, ‘I have a great environmental record, I’m opposed to the offshore drilling, I’m all about clean water,’ however, he’s voting for bills that are polluting the waters in Virginia,” she said.

Pechefsky identified availability of affordable housing, for people from all income brackets, as desperately needed.

Vivian Viloria-Fisher. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Brookhaven is losing population except for Patchogue, and seniors can’t afford to stay here either,” he said. “When you say we’re trying to figure out interventions that can make for healthier communities, healthier neighborhoods — housing is one you could tackle directly. I worked a lot on housing policy in the city.”

Viloria-Fisher also noted the importance of creating reasons — be it high-paying jobs or vibrant downtowns — for young graduates to remain local and plant roots.

She also referenced Zeldin’s position on guns, and campaign donations he has received from the National Rifle Association, as counter to the values of voters she said she’s spoken to.

“He calls it Second Amendment support, I just call it gun violence support,” she said. “Nobody needs to carry around an assault weapon.”

DiMasi said she’s been trying to get through to those with a distaste for politics, recalling a conversation with an African-American as she was campaigning door-to-door.

“The fact is, I believe that federal law is the place to decrease discrimination,” she said. “Laws create personal biases, much more so than the other way around, and that’s from research. We have to understand just how deeply disenfranchised people have become.”