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New York 1st Congressional District

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.

Nick LaLota, above, who won the Republican nomination on Tuesday for New York’s 1st Congressional District, will face Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac) in the general election this November. Photo from LaLota’s campaign website

After a contentious primary contest for New York’s 1st Congressional District, Nick LaLota won the Republican nomination on Tuesday, Aug. 23. 

LaLota, chief of staff to presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature, Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), has also served as a commissioner on the Suffolk County Board of Elections and a trustee of Amityville Village. He will face Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac) in November in a race to fill the seat of U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY-01), who is running for governor.

With over 95% of precincts reporting as of 9 a.m. Aug. 24, LaLota received just over 47% of the total vote count. Responding to the election result, LaLota put out a statement on social media. 

“Thank you, the voters of Suffolk County, for placing your trust in me,” he said. “Tonight, we celebrate a primary win against $3 million in outside special interests. Tomorrow, we fight for our community and country against a liberal rubber stamp for [the] Biden-Pelosi agenda.” He added, “Together, we’ll stand up for hardworking Long Island families, hit so hard by their tax-and-spend agenda, and always put #LongIslandFirst.”

Michelle Bond and Anthony Figliola received 28% and 25% of the vote, respectively. Left photo from Bond’s campaign website, right courtesy of the candidate

Although he received the endorsements of the Suffolk GOP and the Suffolk County Conservative Party, LaLota faced two primary challengers before receiving his party’s nomination. 

Michelle Bond, chief executive officer of a cryptocurrency trade organization, and Anthony Figliola, a former Brookhaven Town deputy supervisor, received roughly 28% and 25% of the vote, respectively. Neither candidate could not be reached for comment for this story. 

Following the primary election result, the Fleming campaign also put out a statement. The Democratic nominee condemned LaLota for running on what she considers an extremist platform, arguing that his views are detrimental to the political process.

“Nick LaLota wants to govern from the extremes,” she said in a press release. “He has proven time and time again that he doesn’t know what’s right for our district. From trying to defund the police, to weakening gun safety laws, to disenfranchising Suffolk County voters and supporting efforts to strip women of their fundamental freedoms, LaLota is only committed to exploiting division and advancing his own dangerous agenda.”

Voters will have the final say on Tuesday, Nov. 8, when LaLota and Fleming face off in a general election showdown.

Goroff, center, won out amongst this year's slate of Democratic contenders to run against Lee Zeldin in November. Photo from Three Village Democratic Club

By Donna Newman

Three candidates have announced their intention to seek the Democratic nomination for the House of Representatives for the 1st Congressional District in 2020. They were invited to a Dec.12 meet the candidates night held by the Three Village Democratic Club. Club president, Virginia Capon, welcomed the audience and introduced the evening’s moderator Dave Calone, who was a candidate for the seat in 2016. Capon was pleased by the size of the crowd, which was approximately 120 people.

Questions were solicited from club members prior to the event.

The candidates are Bridget Fleming, Perry Gershon and Nancy Goroff.

Bridget Fleming (D-Sag Harbor) is a three-term Suffolk County legislator representing District 2. She was first elected to the Town of Southampton Town Board in a special election and went on to win a full term a year later. Prior to that she served as a prosecutor in Manhattan for nearly a decade, eventually specializing in fraud in government programs. In her opening remarks she said she saw a clear path to victory next November.

“I have run and won, again and again,” Fleming said. She noted she has 10 years of experience delivering for this district — and her record speaks for itself.

Perry Gershon, of East Hampton, was a mortgage broker for commercial properties until he divested from his company in 2017 to run for office. In 2018 he won the local Democratic nomination for Congress by being the top vote-getter in a field of five. Gershon lost to incumbent Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in the general election, garnering 47.4 percent of the vote to 51.5. Gershon thinks he stands the best chance to win this time because of his previous campaign.

“The hardest part of running for office is getting out the electorate,” Gershon said. “I’ve done it. We built up energy — we inspired volunteerism.” He believes his first experience will be invaluable.

To Nancy Goroff, Suffolk is home. She has lived and worked in the district for 22 years. She raised her children in the Three Village area. Her research and teaching at Stony Brook University have created lots of connections, both academic and governmental. Goroff feels she can bring a new perspective to Congress by offering innovative solutions. A scientist, she said constituents can have faith she’ll make decisions based on science and facts.

“We deserve better,” Goroff said. “[It would be good] to live in a world where government actually tries to solve people’s problems.”

The candidates fielded a question about the elimination of student loan debt.

Gershon said, “The system is broken. [There should be] a trade-off of public service for debt assistance.”

Fleming said, “If you can refinance a car or a home, why not student loan debt?” She created a program while in law school at the University of Virginia offering loan forgiveness in exchange for public service.

Goroff said, “Make education as accessible as possible. Where [students] go should not be limited by parents net worth.”

Another question asked if the candidates would trade a border wall for protection of the Dreamers.

Fleming wanted more details. “We do need firm rules at the border that must be fair and humane. We need a comprehensive solution to immigration issues,” she said.

Goroff said, “We need secure borders, [but] our country values immigrants. We need to give people hope in their home countries, so they don’t have to walk a thousand miles.”

Gershon replied, “Yes. I would do that trade to protect people in this country already. We do need comprehensive immigration reform, too.”

In answering a question on guns, there was consensus among the three that legislation is needed, that the assault weapons ban should be reinstated, that high capacity magazines should be banned and that, if the majority of Americans support universal background checks, the NRA ought not be allowed to prevent such legislation from being passed.

Regarding a question about health care, there was agreement that the Affordable Care Act needs to be improved, that health care is a human right and every American deserves affordable access to high quality care. Goroff and Gershon said they’d favor Medicare for All — as an option.

Should military spending be decreased? All three candidates expressed a desire to restore respect for the U.S. around the world. In light of a recent Washington Post exposé on the waste and corruption of military spending in Afghanistan, Gershon and Goroff called for the military to spend more wisely — with Goroff adding, “First, increase spending on diplomacy.”

What bill would they first introduce as a congressperson?

Gershon answered, “Election reform.”

Fleming responded, “We need to fully fund the EPA.”

Goroff seemed to concur, “Focus on climate-change research funding.”

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Congressman Lee Zeldin, left, meets with constituents at the Setauket Fire Department on Main Street. Photo from Lee Zeldin’s office

Residents of New York’s 1st Congressional District took time out of their busy schedules Aug. 20 to sit down with their congressman to discuss what’s on their minds.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) held mobile office hours from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Setauket Fire Department on Main Street Tuesday. Constituents were invited to sit down, either one-on-one or in groups, with Zeldin or one of his staff members.

Congressman Lee Zeldin, left, meets with constituents at the Setauket Fire Department on Main Street. Photo from Lee Zeldin’s office

While many declined to discuss their specific questions, other residents waiting to speak to Zeldin said they were prepared to bring up issues such as background checks when buying guns, how to curb easy accessibility to assault-style rifles, Medicare, providing for veterans, immigration, health care for preexisting conditions and mandated vaccinations. One attendee wanted to know whether or not Zeldin is in favor of slashing the payroll tax and, if so, what other methods would he suggest to fund Medicare and Social Security.

Among the 71 who attended, several parents had their children in tow to provide them an example of civic engagement.

Sarah, 13, daughter of former Setauket congressional candidate Dave Calone, said this was the first chance she had to speak to an elected official about an issue.

“I wanted to talk with him about gun control,” she said while waiting to get an opportunity to speak with Zeldin. “I wanted to ask him about what measures the government is taking to ensure students are safe in school and other places as well.”

Kathleen Thornton, of Stony Brook, was with her son Jack.

“I thought it was good for him to get a sense of how government works,” the mother said.

The Stony Brook resident wanted to talk to Zeldin about the Excelsior Scholarship Program in New York and the income cutoff. She said the Excelsior funds also were not released until the initial payments to State University of New York schools were due, adding she only discovered issues with the scholarship program while helping her niece with her financial aid forms. While waiting to meet with the congressman, she said she hoped that he would know the right people to connect with to address her issues with the program.

Barbara Kantz, of East Setauket, who waited around two hours to meet with Zeldin, said she came to him with advocacy issues related to the environment and was satisfied with the strategies Zeldin offered, including those she can use as a citizen. She said to him that she knows he is an environmentalist, and she wanted to know how, as a congressman, he translates that to action programs “when we’re living in a time when science is somewhat dismissed, and we have an EPA that actually doesn’t believe in some of the notions of what an EPA should do.”

Three Village resident George Henik, before his meeting with Zeldin, said he would like to get a time frame from him about specific indictments.

“Why is [former FBI Director James] Comey still walking around and writing books and not in prison?” he asked.

Henik said he believes many have used the Congress as their weapon of choice and that some politicians, such as U.S. Reps. Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler, both Democrats, are out of control.

His wife Susan Henik said she also had questions for the congressman including concerns about voter fraud, especially on the federal level.

The couple were optimistic about meeting with the congressman and felt they were addressing issues that people from both parties are concerned about, such as justice and voter fraud.

“These two questions that we have, or topics of discussions that we brought up, no one would want their election being tampered with, no one wants a coup of the president,” Susan Henik said.

According to a press release from Zeldin’s office, those interested in participating in a future meeting, including after work or during the weekend, can call 631-289-1097.