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Abortion

Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac), left, is the Democratic nominee in the race. Nick LaLota, right, is the Republican Party nominee for NY-1. Photos by Rita J. Egan

The race to fill U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin’s (R-NY1) congressional seat has highlighted some key issues confronting Suffolk County communities and the nation.

Zeldin announced last year he would vacate his seat to run for governor. Two major party candidates have emerged in his absence, both eager to fill the seat. In a debate with the TBR News Media staff spanning nearly two hours, the candidates covered myriad topics, tackling issues close to home and far away.

Introductions

Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac) is representing her party for the 1st District. She is a former criminal prosecutor, trying sex crimes and fraud cases. Over the last decade, Fleming has served in elective office, first on the Southampton Town Board and later in the county Legislature, where she is today.

Nick LaLota, of Amityville, carries the Republican Party nomination in this race. He served in the U.S. Navy for 11 years and deployed overseas three times. He worked in congressional and state Senate offices before being appointed as the Republican commissioner on the Suffolk County Board of Elections. Most recently, he was chief of staff for the county Legislature.

Outlining priorities

Through their time canvassing voters, the candidates identified their potential constituency’s core legislative priorities. LaLota said he had observed a mix of voter interest in the economy and public safety.

“A lot of folks with whom I speak are tremendously concerned about those two things,” he said. “People want the government to work for them. They expect to have a fair shot at the ability to earn and not have their money overtaxed … and they expect to go home at night and be safe.”

Fleming agreed that crime and economic concerns have piqued voter interest. However, she held that the overwhelming problem for those she has canvassed is declining faith in American democracy and the “protection of fundamental freedoms.”

“Protecting American democracy, that’s at the front of mind for lots and lots of people,” she said.

Abortion

‘ I would insist that government funds not be used for abortions, and I would also insist that … if a child is contemplating an abortion, that the parents get notified about that.’

—Nick LaLota

LaLota maintains the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Dobbs decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, returned the matter of abortion to the states. While he does not view abortion as a federal policy concern, he nonetheless stated his position.

“I do not oppose abortion when it comes to rape, incest or the life of the mother, and I do not oppose abortion in the first trimester,” he said. “Conversely, I do oppose abortion in the second and third trimesters. I would insist that government funds not be used for abortions, and I would also insist that … if a child is contemplating an abortion, that the parents get notified about that.”

‘I believe firmly that it is not a state’s rights issue, that as a congressmember, I have to have a position on it, and that my position is that those protections [under Roe] need to be reinstated.’

—Bridget Fleming

Fleming described abortion as a “critical issue that defines a moment in time in American history.”

“It’s the first time in the history of the United States that a federally recognized human right has been reversed,” she said. “I believe firmly that it is not a state’s rights issue, that as a congressmember, I have to have a position on it, and that my position is that those protections [under Roe] need to be reinstated.”

Economic apprehension

Amid rising inflation, higher food and gas prices, and nationwide economic hardship, both candidates were asked about their favored approach to relieving these financial woes.

Fleming acknowledged that voters in the 1st District are further constrained by the high cost of living in the area. “It’s hard to make ends meet on Long Island,” she said. “Those costs are rising. … We need to look for specific ways to attack those costs.”

She added, “Certainly, taxes are one of them. I’ve been fighting against the cap on our state and local tax deductions … I think it’s critically important that a representative of this district fights the SALT tax cap.”

LaLota contributes much of the nation’s economic distress to unsustainable federal spending. “The federal government hasn’t balanced the budget in 20 years,” he said. “I think that can and should be done in the next Congress.”

Concerning petroleum prices, LaLota proposes establishing national energy independence by tapping into domestic oil reserves.

“We have 43.8 billion barrels of proven oil reserves [as of the end of 2018],” he said. “That’s a 20-year supply, so there’s absolutely no reason to beg OPEC, Russia, Venezuela or anybody else to export their oil to this country.”

Energy and the environment

LaLota views the 20-year supply of domestic oil reserves as both a blessing and a curse. While it offers the U.S. flexibility in the near term, it provides no long-term guarantee for energy independence. 

In the meantime, he supports an aggressive push toward renewable energy sources. “It is right for the private and public sectors to make investments in renewable, alternative energies — wind and solar, specifically — to ensure we are on a trajectory to be energy independent,” he said.

Establishing a clear point of difference, Fleming expressed vehement disagreement with LaLota’s position on drilling, calling it a “completely wrong direction to go.”

The county Legislator held up recent developments in the offshore wind industry, specifically at Smith Point Park, as a prototype for future energy development. She argued Long Island has an opportunity to be a leader in the cause for green energy.

“Not only will we be helping Long Island taxpayers, ratepayers and our natural environment, we’re also serving as a model for the region and for the United States on how we transition,” she said.

On the issue of nuclear energy, both nominees expressed a desire to keep nuclear power away from Long Island communities.

“I don’t think that the community would support it,” Fleming said. Referring to the decommissioned Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant, she added, “It’s been a huge detriment to any kind of progress.”

When questioned on nuclear energy, LaLota responded tersely, “Not on my Island.” For him, nuclear power is a matter of safety for Long Island residents. 

“For safety reasons, putting a power plant on Long Island just doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “It didn’t make any sense decades ago and doesn’t make sense now.”

LIRR electrification

‘If you could bring in funding for the electrification of the rail once and for all, assisting the Long Island Rail Road to get that accomplished, I think you’d do an awful lot for the community.’

—Bridget Fleming

Fleming and LaLota both supported electrifying the Port Jefferson Branch line of the Long Island Rail Road. For both, electrifying the rail is a matter of directing public funds into Long Island communities but working in close coordination with local officials.

“We definitely need to electrify the rest of the line,” Fleming said. “If you could bring in funding for the electrification of the rail once and for all, assisting the Long Island Rail Road to get that accomplished, I think you’d do an awful lot for the community.”

‘When these infrastructure dollars are received from Washington, given back to the district, it should absolutely be done in conjunction with what local stakeholders want and need.’

—Nick LaLota

LaLota concurred with this assessment while decrying the imbalance between the taxes New Yorkers give to the federal government and the infrastructure funds they get in return.

“We need to do a better job, working across party lines, to ensure that we get better infrastructure dollars back for projects like that,” he said, adding, “When these infrastructure dollars are received from Washington, given back to the district, it should absolutely be done in conjunction with what local stakeholders want and need.”

Foreign policy

On top of these domestic pressures, the congressional candidates identified critical instances of geopolitical turbulence in places around the globe.

Most notably, Russian president, Vladimir Putin, launched an invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, widely considered in violation of international human rights law. Fleming stressed her commitment to the Ukrainian war effort in response to Russian belligerence.

“I think it’s critically important for the rule of order and the international rule of law that the United States takes a strong stand, as we have, in conjunction with a united NATO, to condemn this unprovoked aggression, to offer military aid and to offer humanitarian aid,” she said.

On the whole, LaLota agreed with Fleming. He defined U.S. strategic interests in defending Ukraine. “We are the only superpower. We should promote stability throughout the world. We should protect American interests — we have many interests in Europe — and having stability in Europe … is good for America.”

‘I think we have lived in a moment in time for the last 10 years when China depends heavily upon U.S. dollars.’

—Nick LaLota

Along with the war in Ukraine, they also discussed the dangers of a rising China, a regime exerting greater influence politically and economically around the world.

LaLota advocates loosening the economic links that bind the two nations, something he said is unnecessary and counterproductive. 

“I think we have lived in a moment in time for the last 10 years when China depends heavily upon U.S. dollars,” he said. “We buy a lot of stuff — a lot of crappy, plastic stuff — that we shouldn’t have to buy from them.”

He added that American foreign policymakers must “ensure that [China] does not become a greater strategic enemy of ours.”

‘I think we have to keep a very close eye [on Xi].’

—Bridget Fleming

Fleming’s concerns regarding China relate primarily to Chinese president, Xi Jinping, whose unpredictable administration and questionable political associates cause her concern.

“I think we have to keep a very close eye [on Xi],” the county Legislator said. “I agree that we need to put ourselves in an economic position where we’re not beholden to the Chinese regime.”

Closer to home, the United States is observing heightened instability within its own hemisphere, with volatile regimes in Venezuela and Cuba, and growing concerns surrounding the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Both candidates were asked whether the United States must redefine its policy for Latin America.

For Fleming, much of the nation’s immigration crisis is attributed to government mismanagement of asylum seekers. “A lot of these folks are fleeing really dangerous circumstances,” she said. “One of the things we have to fix is a way to handle these asylum applications. We have huge backlogs in the court system, and a lot of it has to do with an unwillingness on the part of government to take seriously the granular issues involved in immigration.”

To remediate geopolitical unrest in the Western hemisphere, LaLota favors strengthening the military, diplomatic and economic bonds between the United States and its Latin American neighbors. 

“In Congress, I would support ensuring that Americans are involved in South America,” he said. “I think the benefit is less illegal folks coming across our border, and less dependence upon the U.S. in decades to come.”

Congressional reform

We have moved away from encouraging thoughtful approaches to government.’

—Bridget Fleming

We suggested the Founding Fathers envisioned Congress as the most powerful and important branch of the federal government. Over time, however, the national legislature has delegated much of its authority to the executive branch, particularly the hundreds of agencies comprising the federal bureaucracy.

At the same time, recent Gallup polling indicates that three in four Americans disapprove of how Congress is handling its job. The two nominees delivered varied responses when asked how they would restore the central role of Congress in U.S. policymaking.

‘If there’s going to be a tax, a fee, a rule or anything in between, it should come from the legislature.’

—Nick LaLota

“I think that this quasi-rulemaking by executive branch agencies has gone too far,” LaLota said. “If there’s going to be a tax, a fee, a rule or anything in between, it should come from the legislature.”

Expanding upon this stance, he criticized the existing culture of pork barreling and logrolling in Washington. He also advocated shorter, more straightforward, germane legislation narrowly tailored to the issues at hand.

“We shouldn’t be sticking all of this pork and these other ideas into [a bill] that has a different title,” he said, adding, “If we got back to that norm, I think we give power back to the people.”

Fleming’s frustrations with Congress stem from the breakdown of informed discourse and norms of civility. To reform the institution, she proposed the reinstatement of these practices.

“We have moved away from encouraging thoughtful approaches to government and are instead so prone to responding to, almost, performance art on the part of politicians and legislators,” she said.

To get the national legislature back on track, the county Legislator emphasized constituent services and a community-centric method of policymaking.

Referring to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, she said: 

“I think of Philadelphia when representatives came on horseback from their various places and asked that the government be shaped in a way that would respond to the concerns of folks in their communities,” adding, “That’s the model of government that I’ve always undertaken and that I think works best.”

The people of the 1st District will get the final say on these candidates on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Incumbent state Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), left, and Democratic Party challenger Skyler Johnson, right, during a Meet the Candidates forum at Comsewogue Public Library on Tuesday, Sept. 20. File photos by Raymond Janis

The Republican and Democratic Party nominees for New York’s 1st State Senate District took to the debate stage on Wednesday, Sept. 28, at the Hampton Bays Senior Center.

Hosted by the Hampton Bays Civic Association, incumbent state Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) and Democratic challenger Skyler Johnson, a Mount Sinai native, tackled various pressing issues in Albany. Questions were submitted by members of the civic, as well as some in the audience.

Abortion

Palumbo described himself as a libertarian concerning abortion law but raised objections to the practice of late-term abortions. “Women have a right to choose and should have a right to choose,” he said. “My only objection is to late-term abortion.” 

On the other hand, Johnson referred to himself as pro-choice and said he supported a woman’s right to choose. He accused Palumbo of not supporting exceptions for the life of a mother. He also called objections to late-term abortions “a myth.”

“If someone is getting an abortion past six months, it is because their life is in danger,” he said. “Late-term abortions aren’t actually a thing. They are a thing that happens when someone’s life is in danger. There is no data, no statistics to indicate that people are getting abortions because they are changing their minds past the sixth month of pregnancy.”

Renewable energy

Johnson said that he would not like to see the expansion of nuclear power on Long Island. For him, the risks imposed by nuclear power plants are not worth the rewards. However, he does foresee ways to promote alternative forms of green energy.

“I do think New York has a great opportunity to invest in green energy, to invest in better transportation,” he said. “That gets more cars off the road, that keeps our air clean, and that lowers the burden on our critical infrastructure.”

Palumbo offered his support behind renewable energy, and said the transition to these novel energy sources should be done “smartly and reliably.”

“The technology is getting there, and we’re pushing,” the state senator said. He added that continued funding for environmental initiatives will be critical to Long Island’s overall health. “We’re a very different animal on Long Island, and the environment is critical. All of the renewables are certainly a part of that whole package.”

Guns in schools

Palumbo said schools should consider having school resource officers, or trained and armed police officers designated to secure schools. 

“The people who should be handling guns are not teachers, but people who are trained,” Palumbo said. “Guns in schools should be with school resource officers.”

Johnson agreed that teachers should not be armed, referring to this as a “commonsense policy.” 

“I want to make sure that we’re doing everything that we can to improve gun safety in New York because there’s a lot that we can mostly all agree on,” Johnson said.

This debate marks the first of several encounters between the two candidates in the coming weeks. Voters will make their picks on Tuesday, Nov. 8. Early voting begins later this month.

Anthony Figliola (left) and Nick LaLota (right) tackled a range of issues during Monday’s Zoom debate. LaLota’s photo from candidate’s websites; Figliola’s from candidate

Two candidates took to the virtual debate stage on Monday, Aug. 8, as the Republican primary contest for New York’s 1st Congressional District ramps up to succeed Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1), who is a state gubernatorial candidate.

Hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, Shelter Island, and the North Fork, declared Republican congressional candidates Anthony Figliola, of East Setauket, and Nick LaLota, of Amityville, squared off for the second time. The debate moderator was Estelle Gellman, who asked questions that were submitted in advance by the public. The third candidate in the race, Michelle Bond, declined the invitation to participate, according to Gellman.

The winner of the Republican primary race will likely face Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac), the presumptive Democratic nominee, in the general election this November.

Introductions

Figliola was born and raised in Rocky Point and currently resides in East Setauket. After serving as deputy supervisor of the Town of Brookhaven, he is executive vice president of a government relations and economic development business, according to his website. He said he entered the race due to a sense of frustration with Washington, which he believes has neglected ordinary citizens.

“People are hurting tremendously,” he said. “What’s happening is that Washington is not listening to them. I’m a regular working-class individual. Our family, we’re in the struggle with you. We understand what’s going on and I think we need someone who’s a regular, working-class person that’s going to fight for the people of this district.”

LaLota is the designated candidate for both the Republican and Conservative parties of Suffolk County. After graduating from the United States Naval Academy, he was deployed three times overseas and is a former Suffolk County Board of Elections commissioner. He said he is running to address the numerous complex issues facing the nation.

“There are important issues that we need to tackle as a nation,” he said. “Issues with respect to the economy, inflation, public safety, the border, protecting our constitutional freedoms — I’m eager to tackle those issues in Congress. There are good Republican and Conservative solutions to each one of those issues.”

Gun violence

After a proliferation of recent mass shootings around the country, the candidates were asked whether they would support additional restrictions on access to firearms, such as a ban on assault weapons or high capacity magazines. 

As a gun owner, Figliola expressed his support for the Second Amendment and added that the majority of gun owners act safely.

“We have some very insane people that are committing these horrendous and heinous crimes,” he said. “I don’t believe we should be throwing the baby out with the bath water.”

Figliola said the issue of mass shootings is a matter of enforcement rather than additional restrictions. To curb mass violence, he believes that the laws on the books should be enforced and that illegal guns should be targeted and removed.

“The issue here is that we are not enforcing the laws,” he said. “When you go to places like Buffalo and that horrendous mass shooting — a shooting of 10 people — there were all these laws that the Democrats and Kathy Hochul, our governor, put in place and they said that that was supposed to stop mass shootings and it didn’t.” He also advocated for adding armed security in schools and for “a solution with mental health, but not going after law-abiding gun owners.”

LaLota said that the majority of gun crimes are committed with unregistered firearms. Like Figliola, he favored tougher enforcement of existing laws. Given his background, he suggests that he has a unique understanding and appreciation for responsible gun ownership.

“I’m a legal gun owner,” he said. “I grew up in a law enforcement family with a deep respect for the Second Amendment and for safely operating a firearm. I furthered that understanding as an officer in the military, where I learned to safely handle firearms.”

For LaLota, the problem of gun safety is closely tied to the issue of criminal justice reform. “In New York, we’re living in tough times with this bail reform law,” he said. “We have some folks out on the streets who should not be out on the streets.” He added, “It’s not a fact of not having enough laws. It’s a fact of not enforcing the laws that are on the books right now.”

Abortion

The recent Dobbs decision out of the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, has placed a cloud of uncertainty over the future of abortion access nationwide. When asked whether they would support legislation that would legalize abortion nationally, they each declined, opting instead to limit the existing abortion laws in the state.

“The recent Supreme Court decision, which gave the power back to the states and thereby the people, is good,” LaLota said. “This gives the maximum amount of power to we, the people, to hold the politicians accountable and have a policy that comports [with] their values.”

He referred to the existing abortion policies in New York as “radical,” suggesting that the state should modify its abortion laws to eliminate late-term abortions.

“We should celebrate life,” LaLota said, adding, “And the way that we celebrate life is by protecting it. I think that in New York, abortion should be on the ballot this November. We should ask every state assemblymember, every state senator and every candidate for governor: Would you support the repeal of the third trimester abortion provision?”

Figliola also supported the Dobbs decision. He argued that the decision-making power to regulate abortions should be in the hands of the people and their elected representatives rather than the Supreme Court.

“I believe that this current court got it right in giving it back to the states because the court should not be in a position to be legislating,” he said. “As a strict constitutionalist, it is the people who elect their representatives, petition their members of Congress and their state legislatures, and they choose what they want to vote on.”

Figliola favored drastic changes to existing abortion laws. “The reality is there shouldn’t be abortions at all,” he said. “On Long Island, between the ages of 18 and 24, we have a third of pregnancies that end in abortion. This is horrendous.” He added, “History is going to look back on us and they’re going to look very unkindly on us that we’re not choosing life — and not just the life of that child but the life of that mother and the hope and the amazing life that the two of them could live.”

Public health

The threat of COVID-19 remains a priority even two years after the height of the pandemic. Both candidates were asked whether they would favor mask mandates, quarantines or mandatory proof of vaccination for public events. In addition, they were asked to provide the steps that the federal government should take to promote the health of American citizens.

LaLota emphasized the importance of providing accurate information to the public while also empowering citizens to make their own health decisions.

“The federal government should allow people to have access to real, reliable information and people should be able to make decisions on their own,” he said. “I would be tremendously against any sort of federal law or federal mandate involving these sorts of health issues.”

Figliola condemned what he called “unconstitutional mandates,” which, according to him, have put people out of work. Regarding potential solutions, he suggests that the federal government begins to put together an endgame strategy for the postpandemic United States.

“I think that the pandemic, by and large, is over,” he said. “We’re now in the ‘endemic’ stages of things, and I think politicians want to find a way to control the people. They’re using the pandemic or whatever the next variant is to try to make people subservient.” He continued, “It’s people’s own individual rights to decide what they want to do with their body, with their children, with their health care — and we’re moving away from that.”

To watch the entire nearly one-hour debate, visit the SeaTv Southampton YouTube channel.

By Daniel Palumbo

The Suffolk Progressives political organization hosted a rally for reproductive rights at Resistance Corner in Port Jefferson Station June 25. 

Over one hundred attendees made their voices heard regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24 decision Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned the 1973 landmark decision Roe. v. Wade and the 1992 decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey. 

Among the attendees were Skyler Johnson (D), who is running for New York State Senate District 1, and Suffolk Progressives activist Shoshana Hershkowitz, both of whom shared their passionate thoughts about this monumental reversal.

— Photos by Daniel Palumbo

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Holding coat hangers and signs high above their heads, nearly 20 protesters stood at the corner of Nesconset Highway and Route 112 shouting “Keep your hands off our bodies,” and “We won’t go back.”

The locals, organized by the North Shore Peace group, came out in protest decrying several states’ moves to severely restrict abortion, including Alabama, Georgia, Ohio and Missouri. In Alabama’s case, abortion will be restricted to only in cases that the woman’s health is in danger. It also restricts abortion for people who are victims of rape, and doctors who perform abortions could face up to 99 years in prison.

The laws have largely been seen as attempts to move abortion to the plate of the U.S. Supreme Court in the hopes that landmark case Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortions, would be overturned.

Protesters held coat hangers high above their heads to symbolize the instrument used when abortions were illegal to perform
“backroom” unsanitary abortions, often out of desperation.

“I’m speechless, I just don’t know what to say anymore,” said Myrna Gordon, a protest organizer.

One protester, Janet Sklar, had a charm necklace that she plucked out of her shirt and laid over her sign. One charm, a coat hanger, had been on that necklace for close to 40 years.

“We were marching in the ʼ70s for this, and look how far we haven’t come,” she said.