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U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin

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.

By Susan Perretti

In the end, my visit to the campaign kickoff for Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in Smithtown June 28 was more about the words I never got to say than the few I did utter before I was threatened with arrest if I didn’t leave the premises at once.

Zeldin was not yet on the stage when a man in a suit told me I had to go. “Why?” I asked. He leaned in and spoke into my ear: “If you don’t go now you will be arrested.” Why? I asked again. Trespassing. Trespassing? Zeldin, my congressman, invited me, and I had registered. After finding my name on a list, a man had waved me into the Elks Lodge. Three like-minded friends didn’t even get in.

Susan Perretti

I went because there were some things I wanted to say to Zeldin. Not in a mean, accusing way. I try not to enter conversations them versus us, Republicans versus Democrats, right versus left. It doesn’t solve anyone’s problems.

As a reporter for a Long Island weekly, I often covered election campaigns. I’ve heard folks on both sides of the aisle verbally abuse their opponents. But at the Zeldin soirée, there was more vitriol and hate rhetoric than I’d ever encountered, on the job or as a private citizen. It got to me. I felt sick over it.

A monsignor was asking God to bless Zeldin, and he mentioned justice and welcoming the stranger. For a moment, I didn’t feel quite so alone. Compassion, unity, working for peace. As a Christian, I’d grown up hearing those words, and I’m still a believer. But when Sebastian Gorka took to the stage, there were rousing, Trump rally-like chants of “Build the Wall! Build the Wall!” And this was less than 20 miles from my home. I looked around the room, but the monsignor had cut out. I was on my own.

Gorka had the crowd in a near frenzy when I found myself shouting: “But we are all Americans.” To my surprise, a few people nodded in agreement. It was during Sean Spicer’s speech that I lost it. “Enough of the hate.” I yelled. “Enough is enough.” I went on in that vein for maybe a minute. Nearby Zeldin supporters told me to shut up. For a moment, remembering the way Trump had handled protesters, I worried I would be toppled. Then the man in the suit tapped me and said I had to get out. Pleading for an end to the demonizing would not be tolerated.

I never got to see Zeldin and ask him the questions I had come with. Questions about crying children being snatched from the arms of asylum-seeking parents. Another case of gun violence that day at a Maryland newspaper and our nation’s grotesquely lenient gun laws. I wanted to ask what will become of the poor, elderly and disabled, like my 90-year-old, Medicaid-dependent mother, if more social services programs get axed — or our water and air if the Environmental Protection Agency continues to be dismantled. But mostly I wanted to urge him to follow his heart, even if that means casting votes that might anger the president, the NRA and his other big-money donors.

I was going to say, “Mr. Zeldin, it’s not too late to be your own man,” but I didn’t have the chance.

One of the five men who escorted me out asked why I didn’t just go to Zeldin’s office. I told him I had, but that I was met by two police officers and a gruff aide who directed me to write my concerns on a prepared form. And, I told my escort, Zeldin doesn’t hold town hall meetings like his predecessors did. Questions are accepted ahead of time only and are carefully screened. They’ve never picked mine. More words I meant to say.

Congressman Zeldin’s campaign has been invited to write a reply.

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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.

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Hundreds lined the streets of East Setauket to catch the annual Memorial Day parade sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars East Setauket Post 3054 May 28.

After an opening ceremony at the Old Village Green, participants marched along Main Street and Route 25A. Members that took part in the walk included those from local VFW posts, Boy Scouts and Girl Scout Troops and the Setauket, Stony Brook and Port Jefferson fire departments. Ward Melville High School and R.C. Murphy Junior High School bands played, and elected officials including U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) joined in the holiday celebration.

At the conclusion of the parade a wreath-laying ceremony was held at the Setauket Veterans Memorial Park on Route 25A.

 

 

 

 

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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.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, standing, visits with James and Noreen Saladino after the couple shared how adult day health care has helped them face service-related health issues in 2016. File photo by Phil Corso

By Alex Petroski

Disabled veterans received some good news March 28.

President Donald Trump (R) signed the Adult Day Health Care Act into law this week, a bipartisan bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) that will expand access to health care for disabled veterans who need extra assistance and special attention in their daily lives, according to a press release from Zeldin’s office.

“This is important legislation that provides a valuable and necessary service to our nation’s veterans,” Zeldin said in a statement. “By expanding access to [the] Adult Day Health Care [Act], we can ensure that all veterans receive the best and most efficient outpatient services that provide each veteran with the assistance and special attention they need, while still allowing them to maintain their independence.”

The bill defines the program as a reimbursable treatment option through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Previously, the program was only accessible for disabled veterans at three state veterans homes in the country, leaving the expense of health care oftentimes directly shouldered by the veteran and his or her family, according to the press release. One of the three homes was Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook.

The Adult Day Health Care Act provides comprehensive medical and personal care combined with engaging social activities for the physically or cognitively impaired, as well as an array of therapies and counseling.

With the passage of the bill, now those who are 70 percent or more disabled as a result of their service are able to access the in-home day care at no cost at any of the 153 state veterans homes in the U.S.

“I am grateful to Congressman Zeldin for having the foresight to introduce this bill on behalf of all severely service-connected veterans who reside in state veterans homes across the country,” Vietnam veteran and patient of the Stony Brook facility Al Anderson said in a statement. “The bottom line is that this legislation will allow me to return home to my family while still having the ability to receive essential services through the Adult Day Health Care program. I can keep my chronic conditions in check and still enjoy the comforts of my own home.”

Fred Sganga, director of the Long Island State Veterans Home, also thanked Zeldin for his efforts in advancing the legislation.

“This legislation helps to restore a veteran’s freedom to remain an active member of their community even after succumbing to the perils of military service,” he said. “Congressman Zeldin never forgets the sacrifice of brave women and men who donned the uniform to protect the freedoms we all enjoy today.”

The Senate version of the bill was sponsored by U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

“Our nation’s veterans and their dedicated families have sacrificed enough,” Zeldin said. “This bill will give veterans the care they have earned while providing families with the support and relief they need to help their veteran loved ones to lead a fulfilling life, while keeping families together and strong.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin. Flie photo by Alex Petroski

If it wasn’t clear following six hours of Valentine’s Day testimony, the usual suspects were at it once again delivering a unified message against the possibility of offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.

Representatives from the United States Department of the Interior were at Brookhaven Town Hall March 2 to hear public comments from lawmakers across the political spectrum demand its proposed plan to expand natural gas and oil drilling along coastal waters be scrapped. The Feb. 14 hearing, which did not feature departmental participation, was held in the Suffolk County Legislature building in Hauppauge, an alternative to the federal bureau’s original plan for a single public hearing in Albany that took place the next day. Long Island lawmakers vehemently pushed back on the single upstate hearing, demanding at least one downstate hearing due to the impact such a plan might have locally.

Though the interior didn’t hear the first batch of testimony on Long Island in February, State Assemblyman and Committee on Environmental Conservation Chairman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said a transcript of the entire meeting would be submitted as written public comment on the proposal. Neither of the two local hearings featured a single speaker in favor of proceeding with offshore drilling off the coast of Long Island.

Lawmakers wait for an opportunity to speak in opposition to an offshore drilling plan during a hearing at Brookhaven Town Hall March 2. Photo by Alex Petroski

First District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) played a vital role in securing the hearing in his home district, calling the initial one-Albany-hearing plan “unacceptable” Friday.

Zeldin and others reiterated the fact that there currently is not evidence to suggest the resources that would be drilled for currently exist off the coast of Long Island, in addition to the hazardous impact the plan would have on marine life. The congressman stopped short of joining lawmakers to his political left in calling for investment in renewable sources of energy as opposed to more drilling for oil and gas, though he has voted for such legislation in the past.

“Drilling in the ocean for gas or oil is foolhardy,” Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said during his remarks. “We should be looking at alternative energy. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue — it’s a common-sense issue.”

In the Jan. 4 announcement, Ryan Zinke, secretary of the interior, said developing resources on the Outer Continental Shelf would provide billions of dollars to fund the conservation of coastlines, public lands and park.

“The important thing is we strike the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American Energy Dominance,” Zinke said in the statement.

Public comments on the proposal can be submitted on the department’s website through March 9 by visiting https://www.boem.gov/National-Program-Comment/#submitcomments.

Notable quotes from the March 2 hearing:

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment: “Here on Long Island, we are a maritime community. We grow up with one foot in the water, one foot on the land — a fishing pole in one hand and a crab trap in the other. That’s who we are. You might think we love living on Long Island because we love the taxes, or we just love traffic, but that’s not it. We love living by the water. It’s what makes us live here.”

Carrie Meek Gallagher, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Region 1 director: “Seismic surveys necessary for oil and gas resource exploration include air gun blasts every 10 to 20 seconds, 24 hours per day for weeks to months at a time. The low frequency, high energy sound they produce is harmful to marine mammals, including numerous endangered whales that are present off our coast.”

Assemblyman Steve Englebright: “New York has committed to meeting future energy goals though clean, renewable sources like wind and solar. The state is working to shape an energy portfolio that moves away from carbon pollution toward renewable resources that will help mitigate the impacts of climate change in coastal communities from sea level rise to more extreme and frequent storms. The federal proposal is incompatible with that.”

Christine Pellegrino (D), New York State Assembly 9th District, Environmental Conservation Committee: “Our communities were devastated by Hurricane Sandy, and five years later we’re still not whole. Natural disasters can greatly increase the chance of a spill. Are you willing to risk our island, because I am not. Environmental groups warn that just opening the door to oil drilling in pristine federal lands and waters could lead to more tragic spills like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 that dumped more than 4 million barrels of oil over an 87-day period before it was capped.”

Kevin McCallister, founder and president Defend H2O: “It’s not a question of if [an oil spill will happen], but it’s a question of when and where. Unlike some from New York certainly concerned about Long Island, I submit that we’ve got to keep [offshore drilling] off the entire East Coast. I think this is obviously regression when we should be moving toward renewables. To really slip back in time in environmental intelligence is quite concerning.”

Kristen Jarnagin, Discover Long Island president and CEO: “Tourism on Long Island is a $5.6 billion industry. It supports more than 100,000 local jobs. Tourism is much more than vacationers enjoying our pristine beaches. More than 80 percent of our tourism industry is made up of small business — hotels, restaurants, transportation companies, boutique owners, wineries, farmers and the endless indirect businesses that thrive on the success of our industry including banks, audio/visual companies, landscapers, lawyers, attorneys and much more … Overnight that could all change, and those revenues and jobs can be stripped from the economy if not protected.”

This post was updated March 5 to include U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin’s prior support for legislation directed toward researching renewable energy.

An Amtrak train carrying GOP lawmakers, including Lee Zeldin, crashed into a garbage truck Wednesday, killing a passenger of the truck. Photo from Albemarle County Police Department

An Amtrak train crashed into a garbage truck on the tracks in Albemarle County, Virginia at about 11 a.m. Jan. 31, according to the Albemarle County Police Department. The train left from Washington D.C. and was carrying several GOP lawmakers headed to the Annual Congressional Institute retreat, including U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley).

Three people were in the truck upon impact, including 28-year-old Virginia resident Christopher Foley, who died as a result of injuries sustained during the crash, according to ACPD.

“Thank you to everyone who has reached out to check in,” Zeldin said in a statement released via email through spokeswoman Katie Vincentz. “I am okay. It was clear upon impact that something had gone terribly wrong and I am very grateful that the train was able to stop without severely derailing. Fortunately, our amazing first responders, police officers and medical professionals, without hesitation, leaped into action with the utmost expertise and professionalism to help everyone in need of first aid. I am praying for all those injured in today’s accident and their families and loved ones.”

Foley was one of two passengers in the truck. The other was airlifted to University of Virginia Medical Center with critical injuries, and the driver was transported by ground in serious condition, ACPD said.

“The ACPD, Albemarle County Fire/Rescue and numerous other state and local agencies worked quickly to break down the size and scope of the scene,” ACPD Public Information Officer Madeline Curott said in a statement. “The ACPD Crash Reconstruction Team is investigating the crash and working with the National Transportation Safety Board in their Investigation.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin tours Elsie Owens Health Center in Coram before a press conference in which he called on Congress to reauthorize CHIP. Photo from Zeldin's office

By Alex Petroski

Political gridlock is nothing new in Washington, but if an agreement on a federal funding bill isn’t reached by Jan. 19, this time children’s health will be at risk.

In September, the Children’s Health Insurance Program expired, and Congress passed a short-term funding bill just before Christmas to keep the federal government funded through this Friday. The program, also known as CHIP, is a service that provides low-cost health coverage to children in families that earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid. Originally enacted in 1997, CHIP provides matching funds to states for health insurance to families with children. It was slated to run for 10 years, but has since been reauthorized on several occasions since 2007. In 2016, almost 9 million children were enrolled in the program, according to Medicaid.gov. The program covers routine check-ups; immunizations; doctor visits; prescriptions; dental and vision care; and emergency services for enrollees. In November, the House passed a five-year reauthorization bill to keep the program running, but it never reached the Senate floor.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) urged lawmakers to pass a bill reauthorizing funding for the program, which also provides funding for community health centers, during a press conference Jan. 12 at Elsie Owens Health Center in Coram. A long-term bill will need to be passed to keep services like CHIP running for the remainder of 2018.

“These essential programs provide millions of children, veterans and individuals with the healthcare services they need,” Zeldin said. “In New York alone, CHIP provides health insurance for 300,000 New York children, while nearly 2 million New Yorkers rely on Community Health Centers for their health care services. On behalf of the millions of New Yorkers who rely on CHIP and Community Health Centers, we must reach across the aisle and work together to preserve these vital programs.”

Although more political debates will likely ensue on other issues pursuant to funding the government through the end of the year, Zeldin said he doesn’t expect reauthorization of CHIP to be used for bargaining by either political party.

“I do not expect to see a partial shutdown after next Friday, so everyone anticipates the funding to continue, but this also presents an opportunity to add the reauthorization language into the next funding bill,” Zeldin said in an interview after the event. “It’s two parts that have been running on different tracks. However, I believe that there is an opportunity here to add the reauthorization language to get it through the House, through the Senate, signed by the President — and reauthorization done.”

New York’s U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D) have each stressed the importance of renewing CHIP as part of larger federal funding discussions.

“We have two weeks to negotiate a budget deal that must also address a host of other items, #ExtendCHIP, community health centers, disaster aid, and of course, the #Dreamers,” Schumer said in a Jan. 3 tweet.

HRH Care Community Health President and Chief Executive Officer Anne Kauffman Nolon, Elsie Owens Health Center Medical Director Nadia Arif and Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center President and CEO Richard Margulis were among the healthcare professionals in attendance who applauded Zeldin’s calls for funding.

“Not extending the funding for these vital programs could have a devastating effect on both our population, and BMHMC, which also faces potential cuts as a Disproportionate Share Hospital,” Margulis said.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, five-year reauthorization of CHIP would cost $800 million over a 10-year period.

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