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U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin

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On a call with reporters Jan. 6, U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) said he was in the chambers of the Capitol when it was breached by Trump supporters who stormed the building. He said he and others were ushered to a safe place.

The congressman said he was more saddened than scared by the siege.

Suozzi said there was a Republican congress member objecting to the certification of the electoral results, when the representatives were notified the building had been breached. They were told to reach under their chairs and get the gas masks that were under them. According to the congressman, tear gas at the point already had been used in areas of the building.

“And then there started to be some people banging at the doors,” he said. “Capitol Police drew their weapons.”

Suozzi added that something broke through the main door, and he heard a popping noise.

He said he was up in the gallery with other members of Congress. At one point, there were concerns they couldn’t exit and 30 were still remaining, waiting to see if protesters would break through the doors. After determining what door to use to leave, they finally were able to exit the chambers.

He said when he left the room, there were several protesters on the floor surrounded by Capitol Police.

“I feel very strongly that we have to get back to the chambers, and we have to certify this election,” he said. “And we have to deem Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, President, Vice President, of the United States of America.

Suozzi said he disagreed with his colleagues who are objecting.

“But it was a debate on the floor and that’s what we do in our country — we debate,” he said. “Outside there were protests and protests are okay, too, but not violent protests and this violence that we’re seeing is completely unacceptable.”

He said the president and others fomented the protests.

“This is completely lawless, irresponsible,” Suozzi said. “We must get back to the chambers, and we must certify this election as fast as possible, and show the country and the world that our democracy will continue to thrive and survive and thrive. Even in the midst of this lawlessness, we can always rely on our values, and we have to stick with our values.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R, NY-1) released a statement denouncing the protesters’ actions.

“This should never be the scene at the US Capitol,” Zeldin said in the statement. “This is not the America we all love. We can debate and we can disagree, even on a Jan. 6 following a presidential election. We can all passionately love our country, but in our republic we elect people to represent us to voice our objections in the House and Senate on this day. Additionally, there must be zero tolerance for violence in any form! It is very important now for everyone to please cooperate with Capitol Police who need to gain control of this situation immediately.”

Despite the loss of the presidential election, and with just 18 months on the job, Suffolk County Republican Party Chairman Jesse Garcia is instead looking at big local wins.

Suffolk Republican Committee Chairman Jesse Garcia, center, said the party had big wins in Suffolk despite losses on the federal level. Photo from Suffolk Republicans

The party held onto longtime Republican state Senate seats previously held by Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who’s retiring this year, and Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), who vacated his seat earlier in 2020. Despite a blue wave in 2018 that saw the GOP hold over the state Senate wane, this year Republican Alexis Weik, of Sayville, defeated state Sen. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), making Suffolk County a solid wall of red against a mostly blue Nassau County and New York City.

People “responded to our message of taking back New York State from one-party rule, and raised the voices of Long Island in Albany,” Garcia said in a phone interview a few days after the majority of absentee ballots were counted. All races in Suffolk have now been officially called.

Garcia came into the position in April 2019 from his previous post as chairman of the Brookhaven Town Republican Committee. The Suffolk post was previously held by John Jay LaValle, who had been ardent in his support for President Donald Trump (R) in 2016.

The retirement of multiple high-level Republicans in Suffolk, including LaValle and Flanagan as well as U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-NY2), brought a new urgency to this election beyond the politicking of a presidential election year, even if 2020 wasn’t one of the most divisive elections in recent memory.

Trump squeaked out a win in Suffolk County by just a little over 200 ballots, with 49.40% of the vote compared to Democrat Joe Biden’s 49.37%. This is compared to 2016 when Trump carried Suffolk by close to 47,000 votes. 

Still, Garcia praised the county’s steadfast support of Republicans. Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) defeated Democrat Laura Ahearn for LaValle’s seat, and St. James Republican Mario Mattera defeated Democrat Mike Siderakis to pick up where Flanagan left off. 

As for Congress,, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) held an over-36,000 vote lead against Democrat Nancy Goroff by the time all absentee votes were counted. Republican Andrew Garbarino, of Sayville, defeated Democrat Jackie Gordon for King’s seat, though more votes went blue on the Suffolk side of the district.

Garcia also cited a victory when voters rejected Suffolk County’s proposition 1, which would have increased the terms of legislators from two years to four, something he called “an incumbency protection program.”

Despite Biden’s win on the national stage having been upstaged by Trump’s continued unverified claims that the election was stolen in key states, the campaign has presented little to no evidence of widespread voter fraud — although a Nov. 18 Reuters/Ipsos poll reported nearly half of Republicans nationally say the election was stolen because of voter fraud. 

The Republican chairman said changes to this year’s election process due to the pandemic were as a result of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) “weaponizing a pandemic for his political purposes,” and that the governor used COVID-19 as a way to “scare voters away from the polling places.”  Garcia blamed the governor for moving back the dates of primaries, though Republicans only hosted one primary this year, that being for the 2nd Congressional District held in June.

The chairman also brought up his share of claims of impropriety in the past election, though he did not cite any specific examples of widespread fraud. He said there was a lack of checking to confirm who people were when requesting an absentee ballot and cited the example of a Water Mill man who was indicted by District Attorney Tim Sini (D) for allegedly requesting two mail-in ballots for his deceased mother.

“I know that there are a number of other questionable applications that we hope are under investigation, because that’s what fair and transparent elections are all about,” he said.

Despite their wins, the Republicans still remain a minority in both houses of the state Legislature. Garcia said the Democrats who hold seats in the suburban parts of New York are going to need to “deal with choosing to vote for Long Island taxpayers, against their party and against the governor … or they’re going to join with our delegation to fight for more school aid, the repeal of the catch-and-release bail reform act.” 

As for the near future, the Suffolk County Republican head is looking forward to 2021. Early next year, the Town of Brookhaven will be holding a special election to replace Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), who is leaving to become a state Supreme Court judge. Garcia said they have been doing interviews for candidates and will be announcing their pick as soon as the town supervisor announces a date for that vote.

On the Suffolk side, a large number of seats are coming up for vote once again. Democrats in the county Legislature hold a single-member majority against their GOP counterparts.

“We’re going to look to flip the Suffolk County Legislature into the government into the Republican column the first time since 2005,” Garcia said.

Englebright/Palumbo/Mattera Claim Victory in Respective Races

Lee Zeldin. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

*This post has been updated to include updated information about other area races.

With the number of absentee ballots counted so far, the GOP commissioner of the bipartisan Suffolk County Board of Elections told TBR News Media that U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin’s (R-NY1) reelection over Democratic challenger Nancy Goroff is “mathematically certain.”

“I expect to certify the race in about a week — with the results showing Congressman Zeldin won by almost 50,000 votes,” BOE Commissioner Nick LaLota said in an email statement. The incumbent congressional representative had a lead of over 60,000 votes by the end of in-person vote counting Nov. 3. Absentee ballot counting began Nov. 16.

While Goroff and her election staff said on Election Day they had to wait for the results of in-person voting, Zeldin released a statement that night declaring victory. In it he also thanked Goroff for the race.

“As America enters its next chapter, I am confident we will defeat the coronavirus and continue growing our economy,” the incumbent said in that Nov. 3 statement. 

Zeldin’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for any kind of new statement based on the commissioner’s election call.

A representative from Goroff’s campaign said they are waiting for additional absentee ballots to be counted before putting out any kind of statement.

In other local races, state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) was confident that mail-in ballots would make a difference in the 2020 race for his seat in the 4th Assembly District, and he was right.

On Dec. 2, LaLota confirmed that Englebright was reelected and that official ballot counts would be available shortly.

The assemblyman said it was good to have the ballot count finished.

“This election was unique because fully one-third of the vote came in through mail ballots and was not included in the initial election night tally,” he said. “It was, however, worth waiting for.  The final count was a solid affirmation. I’m grateful that the voters gave me the opportunity to continue representing them in the Assembly. And there is much work to be done in the new year. Until then, please everyone, be safe this holiday season and we will come out of this stronger.”

In person voting showed Englebright behind Nov. 4 with 47.44% of the votes, compared to his challenger Republican Michael Ross who had 51.88% of the votes. At the time, there were nearly 18,000 absentee ballots that still needed to be counted in the district.

Ross did not release a statement by press time.

At the same time, victory was declared by current Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), who defeated Democratic opponent Laura Ahearn to take Senate District 1. The seat had been held by Republican Ken LaValle for over 40 years.

“As our new Senator, I will work hard every day to continue the legacy of retiring State Sen. Ken LaValle and build upon his strong record of protecting the environment, supporting our schools, and fighting for taxpayers,” Palumbo said in a statement. “Thank you for putting your trust in me. I am proud and truly grateful to have the opportunity to continue serving our Long Island communities in the New York State Legislature.”

In a statement, Ahearn congratulated Palumbo for his win and said she would “work with him for the betterment of our communities during these difficult times.”

“I am very proud of the work we all did together as we were just 2.7% points away from flipping this seat, by far the closest this race has been in decades,” Ahearn said in a statement. “For now, I look forward to spending the holiday season with my family, who have been through so much during this remarkable time to run for public office. And of course, there is still much work to be done as we continue to help those who need it most.

In Senate District 2, Mario Mattera succeeded Senator John Flanagan (R). Mattera beat out Democrat and former state trooper Michael Siderakis, of Nesconset.

“Now that the counting is complete, we are ready to work together to bring the voice of all who live in our community to our state government and make sure that the needs of our families are met,” Mattera said in a statement. “The time has come to put Long Island first, and I look forward to getting to Albany to fight for our hardworking families.”

This story was amended to add a statement from Laura Ahearn.

Stock photo

Despite Election Day being Nov. 3, local races have a week or more to settle on the final count.

Suffolk County Republican Board of Elections commissioner, Nick LaLota, said via email they hope counting will be finished before Thanksgiving, Nov. 26, though there is no way to know when everything will be finalized.

Republican candidates took leads in every local state and congressional race based on in-person ballots as the BOE started its absentee ballot count Nov. 16. Election experts have repeatedly said on average more Democrats used absentee ballots than Republicans did, though races will largely depend on unaffiliated voters. 

With that said, it will still be hard going for many Democrats in a few of the most hotly contested races. The U.S. Congressional District 1 race between U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) and his Democratic opponent Nancy Goroff still remains out, though Zeldin currently holds a 65,120-vote lead. There are still over 89,000 absentee ballots left in that race, but Goroff would need to reportedly take all non-GOP registered votes in order to gain the upper hand.

A similar challenge is there in the New York State Senate District 1 race for Democrat Laura Ahearn, who has a steep uphill climb against her challenger, current Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk). Ahearn is down by 18,736 from in-person polling, and there are over 42,000 absentee ballots left to count, and she will need many votes outside the two main parties to gain the seat.

The race for State Senate District 2 between Republican Mario Mattera and Democrat Mike Siderakis is heavily favoring red, as there is a 35,109 difference in votes favoring Mattera with less than 43,000 votes to count. 

The State Assembly District 2 race between Democrat Laura Jens-Smith and Republican Jodi Giglio is likely to go in favor of the GOP. With a 14,355 difference and just under 17,000 absentee ballots to count, Giglio has all but cinched her new position. Jens-Smith has previously told TBR News Media she knows she has very little chance of victory.

Some elections are closer than others, such as State Assembly District 4. Many residents reported surprise in messages to TBR News Media at longtime Assemblyman Steve Englebright’s (D-Setauket) deficit of votes compared to his Republican opponent Michael Ross of 1,966. That race currently has 17,909 absentee ballots left to count.

However, there are a few confirmed elections. State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James), with his lead of 23,419 with in-person ballots, is so far ahead of his young Democratic opponent Dylan Rice even the over-17,000 absentee ballots could not make a dent in the District 8 race.

On Nov, 17, U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) said his opponent George Santos called him to concede. In a statement, Santos credited grassroots supporters and donors for the close race.

“I am proud that we gained the support of every PBA and first responder organization that endorsed this cycle,” Santos said.

Santos said there may be more announcements in the near future regarding his next steps.

“I would like to congratulate Congressman Tom Suozzi,” Santos said. “We wish him well going forward for the benefit of our district and constituents.”

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) declared victory Nov. 18 against his Republican opponent Ed Smyth. This came after votes absentee votes already counted in both Nassau and Suffolk put him over the edge.

“I am humbled to be reelected by the residents of the 5th Senate District and I thank them for their support,” Gaughran said in a statement. “During my first term in office, I worked tirelessly on behalf of Long Islanders and I am proud to have delivered real results — from a permanent property tax cap to support for small businesses navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. I will keep fighting for my constituents, for Long Island, and for all of New York State and I thank the voters for giving me the opportunity to continue to serve them.”

Above, is a breakdown of where each race stands with in-person votes as at Nov. 18 plus the number of absentee ballots left as last reported on Nov. 16 (from the Suffolk County Board of Elections).

Current vote totals are as of the morning of Nov. 18

Congress

NY1

Lee Zeldin (R): 176,323 Votes – 61.31%

Nancy Goroff (D): 111,203 Votes – 38.67%

Absentee Ballots: 89,401

NY3

Tom Suozzi (D): 46,112 Votes – 46.65%

George Santos (R): 52,117 Votes – 52.72%

Absentee Ballots: 34,902

New York State Senate

SD1

Laura Ahearn (D): 55,557 Votes – 42.78%

Anthony Palumbo (R): 74,293 Votes – 57.20%

Absentee Ballots: 42,550

SD2

Mario Mattera (R): 79,762 Votes – 64.10%

Mike Siderakis (D): 44,653 Votes – 35.88%

Absentee Ballots: 42,781

SD5

Jim Gaughran (D): 27,132 Votes – 43.51%

Ed Smyth (R): 34,575 Votes – 55.44%

Absentee Ballots: 21,276

New York State Assembly

AD2

Jodi Giglio (R): 34,290 Votes – 62.39%

Laura Jens-Smith (D): 19,935 Votes – 36.27%

Absentee Ballots: 16,979

AD4

Michael Ross (R): 22,966 Votes – 51.88%

Steve Englebright (D): 21,000 Votes – 47.44%

Absentee Ballots: 17,909

AD8

Mike Fitzpatrick (R): 39,937 Votes – 70.73%

Dylan Rice (D): 16,518 Votes – 29.26%

Absentee Ballots: 17,227

AD10

Steve Stern (D): 24,141 Votes – 49.93%

Jamie Silvestri (R): 24,197 Votes – 50.05%

Absentee Ballots: 18,529

AD12

Keith Brown (R): 30,638 Votes – 57.20%

Michael Marcantonio (D): 22,908 Votes – 42.77%

Absentee Ballots: 15,906

By Kyle Barr and Rita J. Egan

Flags flying, the Trump crowd rolled through local communities Halloween, Oct. 31, despite some local opposition.

Just a few days before the election date Nov. 3, caravans supporting President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign could be seen on major roadways on County Road 83 in Mount Sinai and Route 25A in Port Jefferson and Setauket.

For around 30 minutes, vehicles bearing flags supporting Trump’s reelection rolled down Main Street in Port Jefferson. A crowd of around 20 people stood by the side cheering on the car parade. Most were not wearing masks.

The parade in Port Jefferson was conducted by the right wing online group Setauket Patriots. Their Trumpalozza 3 car parade was a sequel to a separate Trump caravan held Oct. 17, one that lasted for close to an hour and saw hundreds of vehicles rolling down Main Street.

Officials from the Village of Port Jefferson posted a statement to its website and Facebook about before the parade Oct. 28, saying the village does not “condone lawless or disrespectful behavior within our village, regardless of any content or message that any group may convey.” Despite some residents’ complaints of the prior parade, officials said they legally do not have the authority to stop a moving vehicle or issue citations for traffic law.

Both Suffolk County Police and village Code Enforcement were present, keeping spectators behind the barricades and directing traffic down Main Street and up West Broadway.

A crowd of counter protesters, including the North Country Peace Group which normally protest at the corner of North Country Road and Bennetts Road in Setauket, gathered along the south of the road as the caravan passed.

Joining the North Country Peace Group were people holding a rally against police brutality. A few from the south side crossed Route 25A to talk to members of the North Country Patriots who stand across from the peace group every Saturday. One girl walked across the street to stand in front of a member of the Patriots. The two stared each other down for several minutes.

As the caravan passed Bennetts Road, rally members, who held signs showing support for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and vice president nominee Kamala Harris or that read Black Lives Matter and similar sentiments, knelt or turned their backs on the Trump caravan when it came by. Many raised their fists, a regular symbol for BLM. Police officers on the scene said they would arrest anyone who got out of their cars in the caravan or protesters who went in the street to confront them.

Another car caravan supporting Trump and the reelection of U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) got going the same day, starting at the Rose Caracappa Senior Center in Mount Sinai. The caravan, formed by the Brookhaven Town Republican Committee and online group Brookhaven Republican Friends, saw about 20 people and their vehicles stream down Patchogue-Mount Sinai Road going south before eventually turning onto Sunrise Highway and ending at Zeldin’s Shirley offices.

Additional reporting by Julianne Mosher and Steven Zaitz

Stony Brook Democrat Nancy Goroff, left, and Shirley Republican Lee Zeldin, right, are both seaking election for New York’s first congressional district. Photos from campaigns

In a race as hotly contested as that for the House of Representatives’ 1st Congressional District seat, much of the actual policy and positions of candidates is often buried under disinformation and a slate of attack ads. Still underneath all that rigamarole is a decision that goes beyond a question of red or blue. 

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1), who has held the seat for the past five years, is squaring off against Democrat Nancy Goroff, a scientist from Stony Brook who has worked in multiple executive positions at Stony Brook University.

TBR News Media hosted a debate Oct. 23 with both candidates via Zoom, asking them their stances beyond the attack ads on issues from the environment to health care to the COVID-19 response on the federal level. 

Zeldin is looking to retake his seat based on his work in getting masks and other PPE to his home county, the money he helped steer to protecting the Long Island Sound and his help getting the Electron-Ion Collider to Brookhaven National Laboratory.

“When the coronavirus first hit us, I worked with elected officials on both sides of the aisle and all levels of government to secure ventilators, PPE, funding, access to the municipal liquidity facility and so much more,” he said. “We have more work to do.”

Goroff is running on her experience as a scientist, particularly in helping to combat climate change and continue the fight against COVID-19, as well as her administrative work at Stony Brook University working in a department with a multimillion-dollar budget. 

“I want our kids to live in a world where the government is trying to make people’s lives better, and where policy decisions are based on facts and reality,” she said. “I’m going to bring all these experiences to Washington, to be there for the people of this district no matter what.”

COVID-19 Response

The candidates differ greatly in how they see the pandemic was handled at the federal level. While Goroff lambasted the federal government for a “lack of leadership,” Zeldin emphasized the work getting pandemic resources to folks at home.

Goroff said while New York may have been able to dig in its heels early in the face of the virus, the federal government dropped the ball. She cited reports that President Donald Trump (R), and by extension other federal officials, knew early on in January how bad the virus was but misled the public on how dangerous and severe the virus would be in the early 2020 months.

She said the government did not work early enough to get PPE into the hands of those who need it, and that the president still resists promoting the wearing of masks, contact tracing and testing.

“We should have had national action to make sure every community had the PPE they needed, not just whoever makes a phone call to [the president’s son-in-law] Jared Kushner on a Saturday night,” she said. “Here in New York we have no borders, no walls between us and other states, and as long as the numbers are going up elsewhere, we are in danger here.”

Zeldin said the key to dealing with the ongoing pandemic is the same now as it was before, with bipartisan effort. He cited the USNS Comfort coming to New York as well as the Javits Center being converted into a temporary hospital, as well as his connection with the executive officials to secure needed ventilators, testing and finances for New York.

“We were approaching it not as Republicans first or Democrats first, but as Long Islanders, New Yorkers and Americans first,” he said.

Currently, Republican Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has said the Senate will be in recess until Nov. 9 after the election, which means there will likely be no deal on a stimulus bill for now. In terms of economic stimulus for New York, the congressman said it’s “extremely likely” there will be a bill within the next few weeks, which would include money for families, additional Paycheck Protection Program funding, money for state and local governments, food assistance and testing. 

“From all conversations I’m hearing, all these pots of money are quite robust, hovering around the $2 trillion number,” he said. “I don’t think we can have this money fast enough, of course it will take both Republicans and Democrats to agree.”

Goroff said it is imperative we receive assistance from the federal government, both in state and local aid. The problem is though the Democrats in the House have put forward a relief bill that has been rejected by the Republican-controlled Senate, and McConnell has instead focused on rushing the process of the now-installed Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett. 

“We are in an economic crisis that will require significant investment in infrastructure, and particularly clean energy infrastructure so that as we rebuild our economy, we can build the future we want for ourselves and our kids,” Goroff said.

She criticized Zeldin for voting against that original House assistance bill. In response, the congressman said that bill was “known to be dead on arrival once it passed the House,” as a “one house messaging bill.” He said there were several so-called “poison pills” included in that bill that would never get broad support.

Environment and Climate Change

While Zeldin touted his bipartisan support of local environmental initiatives such as the Long Island Sound Stewardship Act, Goroff said more work is needed, especially regarding the response to climate change.

Zeldin cochairs the Long Island Sound Caucus, and said as the one Republican voice in the caucus they need to increase the investment into the Long Island Sound Program. He said there is room in the stewardship act to increase the appropriation as well as the National Estuary Program and Sea Grant. 

The congressman added he has worked hand-in-hand with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers so that two-thirds of their budget was for projects in the 1st Congressional District. 

Goroff said the work done so far to impact the Long Island Sound has been “helpful,” but more needs to be done with not only cleaning the water, especially with creating sewering and providing funds for projects to help reduce the amount of nitrogen going into the water from aging cesspools and septic systems. She also spoke on the need for more coastal resilience.

“We should be restoring wetlands to make sure we have as much resilience as possible, but we must be investing in our coastlines because they are so important to tourism, our economy and our way of life here,” she said.

However, Goroff said there’s an even bigger challenge with climate change. She said her office could be a “resource for every member of Congress, Democrat or Republican” about information related to climate change. 

She said the U.S. should aim to be carbon neutral in energy production by 2035. The scientist added the county should invest more heavily in clean technologies from transportation to infrastructure, as well as invest in research currently going on at BNL and SBU. Such innovations could be exported to other heavy polluter countries so they can better reduce their carbon footprint.

Zeldin said he serves on the House Climate Solutions Caucus, and has cosponsored the Carbon Capture Improvement Act to provide financial incentives to invest in carbon capture equipment.

“The way to achieve results on this is to talk to each other, not past each other and work together on these legislative initiatives,” he said. 

He added he has cosponsored legislation to renew solar investment tax credit, and that he supports new research and offshore wind farm developments off Long Island’s coasts.

Health Care

With multiple efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act in Congress over the past four years, the CD1 candidates both had strong words for each other regarding what the future of America’s health care system should be.

Goroff said she believes every American should have access to high-quality, affordable health care. She said the ACA should be strengthened, and the ongoing pandemic has shown how unequal access to health care has been. She said she would expand the minimum age for Medicare, and said she would support allowing young people or employers to buy into Medicare as well.

“I strongly support expanding Medicare and making Medicare a public option,” she said.

Zeldin said despite the way such topics become more politicized closer to election, the best way for the country to move forward on health care is by working in a bipartisan way. He cited efforts in Congress to impact prescription drug costs. A bill to that effect went forward out of committee, but that bill “became a partisan messaging bill, much to the chagrin of the Republicans and Democrats who put the bill together.”

He said he has supported efforts to protect people with preexisting conditions getting access to health care, and that he has cosponsored bills to have policies across state lines. 

Goroff said Republicans have been working to end the ACA, one by opening up the law to judicial action by removing the individual mandate. She also went after Zeldin for his past history voting to repeal the ACA 15 times in the past several years without offering a new plan to replace it.

“They have taken the actions that specifically put [the ACA] at risk and there are 71,000 people in this district who would have lost their health care if Mr. Zeldin and his party were successful,” she said. “To say now after four years of the president would come up with something … when they still have not offered what their vision would look like, is hypocrisy.”

Zeldin said he voted against the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act bill that removed the individual mandate, though he added a one-size-fits-all approach is not the answer with health care. 

“Of 535 members of Congress, I don’t know a single person in Congress who’s actually against covering individuals with preexisting conditions,” he said. 

SALT Cap and LI’s Brain Drain

As the pandemic leads into a new looming economic crisis, many fear more people could be leaving Long Island. As the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act capped the state and local tax deductions at $10,000 per year, both candidates said they would work to end that cap, as well as bring jobs to Long Island to halt the exodus.

Goroff said the SALT deduction is something she would see reinstated in full instead of being capped.

“You don’t need to have a very large house here to have a $10,000 tax bill,” she said. 

She said while working as associate provost at SBU she developed entrepreneurial programs for students and heard from local business leaders whether their kids could stay here.

“The way we deal with it is to make sure we have good jobs for people,” she said, adding that SBU is a resource which should be tapped to help with new business concepts. She added new green technologies like upcoming offshore wind projects will help keep more people on Long Island.

She also criticized her opponent for voting “no” on a bill that would have brought back the SALT deductions introduced by U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3).

Zeldin said he has introduced several bills to restore the SALT deductions. Suozzi’s bill, which the local congressman said he “would have voted for,” had “required an additional tax increase to be named later” to pay for the deduction’s reinstatement. 

Besides that, he argued the people who benefited the most from the deductions were already relatively wealthy, and those who could already afford to stay.

“Creating more jobs, job growth, bringing down electric costs, controlling tax increases, there’s a lot more that goes into the discussion why for a very long time why we’re losing members of our family to North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida,” he said.

Jamie Vaudrey, a professor of marine science at the University of Connecticut, detailed the issues with multiple Long Island bays across the North Shore. The main issues are nitrogen and how well a bay flushes. Photo by Kyle Barr

A new report by a regional environmental nonprofit says a little under half of all bays on either side of the Long Island Sound were given a poor-to-failing grade. It’s a continuing problem, but more and more local groups are stepping up to dedicate their time and energy to trying to maintain the water as a strong habitat.

At a press conference Tuesday, Oct. 6, Save the Sound, a Connecticut-based environmental nonprofit funded by a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant, released its biennial 2020 Long Island Sound Report Card that described the general health of 50 bays from Long Island and Connecticut based on the previous year’s data. 

Click on the above link to see the grading of the entire Long Island Sound.

Officials and experts revealed that, of those monitored, Suffolk County North Shore harbors were largely better off than those in Connecticut, but several still had issues. Port Jefferson, at least the outer and middle portions of the harbor, was ranked in the top 10 most healthy, with experts saying it most likely has to do with how well the harbor flushes daily.

Meanwhile sites like Northport and Centerport harbors were ranked C- and C respectively. Northport Harbor received a F grade for its excess of chlorophyll, a measurement of how much microalgae is in the water, and its low level of dissolved oxygen, an important factor for the health of fish. Centerport had similar difficulties, but also had issues of excessive seaweed accumulation.

Perhaps the most concerning of North Shore Suffolk County’s waterways was the innermost part of Cold Spring Harbor which received F grades in chlorophyll, seaweed and dissolved oxygen. 

U.S. Reps. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) were both present to offer their support of bipartisan funding for this and future studies as well as initiatives to keep local bays clean. Suozzi said in the past four years, the Long Island Sound Caucus has extended the EPA Long Island Sound program to 2023 and increased the $4 million appropriated to the Sound to $21 million. The House has already passed a bill to up that to $30 million, but has not yet been taken up by the Senate.

Zeldin said the low grades of so many bays only emphasizes the need for more federal funding for further studies and additional relief. 

“Working across the aisle and across the Sound, we’ve made great progress in preserving this critical waterway, but with nearly half of the waterways measured in this report as receiving a D grade or below, there’s still work to do,” he said. 

George Hoffman, a co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force that monitors Port Jeff, also acknowledged a great deal of why the bay has done comparatively well is because of its flushing capacity. Another factor, he said, may be the hundreds of thousands of oysters and shellfish the Town of Brookhaven seeds into the bay. The shellfish do a great job of filtering organic particulates from the water.  

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi said the Long Island Sound Study needs more federal funding. Photo by Kyle Barr

Save The Sound’s Unified Water Study program includes 22 organizations covering 50 harbors on both sides of the waterway. Monitoring begins in May and ends in October. The study also looks at the general health state of the Sound itself. It’s long been clear that the closer one is to New York City, the less healthy the water is. The Western Narrows portion of the Sound received an F grade on all marks, while the Eastern Narrows, which runs from Northport to the edge of Hempstead Bay, received a C grade overall. Areas to the east were reported as much healthier in general.

Jamie Vaudrey, an assistant research professor of marine science at the University of Connecticut, said likely the biggest factor for the health of bays in a modern environment is how well the water flushes in and out of the harbor. Water like that trapped into the southernmost tip of Cold Spring Harbor is more impacted by any real increase in nitrogen.

“They just have this large nitrogen burden coming in that’s not being flushed out,” she said. “In systems like that, really pushing down that nitrogen load is important.”

Nitrogen has been called public enemy No. 1 for coastal waters as it’s the leading cause of hypoxia, namely low or depleted oxygen causing major problems for marine life. This can cause fish or other sea creatures to die off and lead to an excess of seaweed or algae. Some of these algal blooms have even been dangerous to animals or humans.

Though Port Jefferson Harbor’s general health was rated high, it too has experienced its share of dangerous algal blooms, including a so-called rust tide back in 2018. Though this specific bloom doesn’t present a threat to human beings, it kills fish quite rapidly. Those who study water quality have become very concerned with how often these blooms have appeared since the early 2000s.

For some of the struggling bays in the Town of Huntington, New York State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) called for a funding stream from the federal government on down that can really start to make a dent in Suffolk County’s lack of sewage treatment facilities and get the ball rolling on nitrogen-reducing septic systems, which individually can cost a homeowner $10,000 to $15,000 apiece without government funding. 

“People can’t do that on their own — we need tax credits, we need funding,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin said Suffolk County’s federal assistance is going to come down to closing the gap between each party’s proposed bills. File photo by Alex Petroski

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) has been in the thick of federal discussions about another program to support state and local governments.

He said the federal government is having “active talks with respect to there being a next coronavirus response bill … I have been advocating directly to the president and his chief of staff [Mark Meadows] and leaders in Congress about Suffolk County and our local towns and villages.”

The local congressman, whose district covers the North Fork and South Fork all the way west to most of Smithtown, said President Donald Trump (R) called his house last Sunday night and that he used the opportunity to talk about getting funding for local government. Zeldin brought up the MTA with the president.

“I’m trying to get top line numbers for our county, towns, villages, the MTA and Port Authority,” he said.

Zeldin suggested three factors affected a national funding bill. The first is that the Nov. 3 election is rapidly approaching.

“You have to have a willingness to allow your political opposition to also have a win when you have a government that’s divided between parties,” he said. “The only way for a next coronavirus response bill to become law is similarly to the way the past coronavirus response bill became law,” by Republicans and Democrats working together.

Passing another bill would give everyone, including U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Trump a win, the congressman said.

“That’s a problem for some, because there are people who really don’t want the president to get reelected,” Zeldin said. “If anyone wants to suggest that that’s not a factor, a political calculation and electioneering, they are incredibly naive to that absolute factor to these talks.”

Additionally, the Republicans and Democrats have been far apart in the amount of funding. The Democrats initially had passed a bill in the House for approximately $900 billion for state and local governments out of a $3.4 trillion total aid bill, but the congressman claimed Democrats are sticking to their highball number. According to Axios, Pelosi is now aiming for a new total aid package hovering around $2.2 trillion with local assistance reduced to $436 billion.

Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have offered a $150 billion package for state and local governments.

“You can’t stick to a state and local government funding number as high as $900 billion,” Zeldin said. “That’s far more than state and local governments are asking for. If you insist on $900 billion or bust, there’s not going to be any additional state and local funding.”

The additional dynamic that comes into play is that some Democrats who were elected for the first time in Republican districts have been putting pressure on Pelosi in the last few weeks, Zeldin said.

“They want there to actually be negotiations and compromise to get it over the finish line,” he said.

With talks restarted between congressional Democratic leadership and the Trump administration, Zeldin said he was “hopeful” that the discussions would result in a new bill.

He said the amount of money the states and local governments are asking for has also declined since the original request. Indeed, New York State has cut its request to $30 billion from $60 billion.

Any bill that passed wouldn’t likely indicate how county and local governments should spend the money, the congressman said.

“I’m not looking for Congress to break up every dollar being appropriated for Suffolk County,” Zeldin said. “The best thing to do would be to provide flexibility, so that county level elected officials can determine the best use of additional funding.”

Local legislators joined U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R) at a press conference Sept. 14 in Smithtown. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) invited elected officials from across Suffolk County and from all levels of government to join him Monday, Sept. 14, on the front steps of Town Hall to send a plea for help to the capital as Congress members prepare to negotiate the next federal COVID-19 package.

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine speaks at the Sept. 14 press conference in Smithtown. Photo by Rita J. Egan

On hand was U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1), who along with Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY19) introduced the Direct Support for Communities Act in the House of Representatives. The bill was also introduced in the Senate by New York Sens. Chuck Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D).

Wehrheim said the legislators are calling on Congress for direct coronavirus funding while their municipalities face historic financial shortfalls. He thanked Zeldin for working across the aisle and advocating for a bipartisan proposal for the funding that local governments could use for essential services and to offset lost revenues during the ongoing pandemic.

Zeldin said while there has been legislation to provide relief for families, small businesses and for state and local governments under the CARES Act, there was still more that needed to be done.

He gave the example of the Town of Brookhaven, which was excluded from the last relief package. The congressman said for a town to receive CARES Act funding directly it needed a population of more than 500,000. Brookhaven has just under that number. The town had requested $12 million from the federal government, according to Zeldin.

“It’s very important that if and when Congress provides additional support for state and local governments, that the money that is sent from D.C. to Albany actually makes its way to the constituents represented by the men and women who are here.”

— Lee Zeldin

“The formula of how that CARES Act money was distributed was very strict to ensure that the money could only be used for COVID-19 related expenses,” he said. “It’s important for there not only to be more funding for state and local governments, but also more flexibility in how that money is spent.”

The legislation introduced recently by Zeldin would allow a new formula to disperse relief funding based on population. Under the new guidelines, if the act is passed, Brookhaven could potentially receive the $12 million.

Zeldin said with the new formula half the money would go to the counties based on population and the other half to towns, cities and villages.

“It’s very important that if and when Congress provides additional support for state and local governments, that the money that is sent from D.C. to Albany actually makes its way to the constituents represented by the men and women who are here,” the congressman said.

During his speech, four protesters jeered Zeldin as he spoke and held up signs, one of which read, “Lazy Lee Must Go! CD1 Deserves Better!” 

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) also spoke at the press conference. He said the pandemic has shut down the economy and the effects will reverberate for the next 100 years. He thanked Zeldin for his help with what he called “a rescue bill.”

“Government is no different than the average family,” he said. “Our revenues are down, and we still must provide services. We need some help. We need some leadership.”

Town of Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci speaks at the Sept. 14 press conference in Smithtown. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said since the middle of March towns have provided much needed essential services such as senior centers providing meals for those in need, garbage pickup and public safety agencies patrolling the beaches and parks, which he said may have seen more visitors in the last few months than in the last 15 years. He added that the continuity of services continued without federal assistance and it’s important to remember that the future is unknown with COVID-19.

Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) said the coronavirus has wreaked havoc on every aspect of county and local government functions.

“We are on the verge of utter collapse, and without intervention and swift intervention from the federal government, our county government and local governments will no longer exist as we know them here,” the comptroller said. “And guess what? We deserve better. We deserve better from Washington. We deserve a government that is going to actually be receptive to this crisis.”

New York State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James), Suffolk County Legislators Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and Rob Trotta (R- Fort Salonga), plus Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter (R), Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar (R), Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman (D) and New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) also spoke at the event to show their support for the bipartisan bill.

There will be a significant reduction in the number of people who can commemorate 9/11 this year, with many like the annual event in Shoreham being closed to the public due to COVID-19. File photo by Kyle Barr

TBR News Media reached out to several local elected officials at the national, state and county level to let them share their thoughts as we head into another commemoration of the attacks on the World Trade Center.

*This post will be updated as more officials respond to our questions.*

Sen. Gaughran Shares his Thoughts on 9/11

State Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport) spoke with the TBR News Media on the eve of the 19th year since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

TBR: What do you think of when you reflect on 9/11 today?

Gaughran: When I think of 9/11, I obviously think of the heroism and the number of people I know who died. I certainly think of the police officers and the firefighters and the first responders who, without hesitancy, ran right into those buildings. Probably, some of them knew they were going to get killed. Maybe others figured it was another day when they were going to try to save people.

TBR: Who is the first person you think of in connection with 9/11?

On Sept. 11, 2019, Gov. Cuomo signs 9/11 bill, sponsored by N.Y. State Sen. Jim Gaughran.

Gaughran: Since I have been in the senate, the first person that comes to mind more than anyone else is Tim DeMeo, who is a constituent of mine, who was working for the Department of Environmental Conservation. He was in charge of dealing with oil spills, other contaminated sites and other hazardous clean ups. He was in Manhattan, driving over the Brooklyn Bridge to Brooklyn, when the plane crashed. He got a call, “You should turn around, go back to Manhattan. This is something we’ll have to deal with.”

He turned around. The second plane crashed. He was permanently injured by debris. He stayed there. The next day and the next day, throughout [the clean-up] with all the other heroes…

He worked alongside police and firefighters and others working at the scene. He got very sick. He was not entitled to the same disability retirement benefits that everybody else was who was there. The way the state legislature wrote the bill, it was written so it would [be for] uniformed employees. He was not one of them. He was in the Department of Environmental Conservation. There were eight or nine other people like him. One of the first who came to see me in my district office, he came and told me a story … He said, “everybody else has been helped and I haven’t.”

He has significant medical issues. Attempts to pass a bill never went anywhere. I ended up writing a bill. We passed a bill last year, on 9/11. The Governor [Andrew Cuomo (D)] signed the bill.

It’s my proudest achievement so far. It didn’t help as many people as some of the other legislation I dealt with. I’m proudest of [that bill]. All these people were just as much heroes as everyone else. They were left out. New York was ignoring them.

TBR: How would you compare the heroism of first responders who raced to the burning buildings in Manhattan to the heroism of first responders and health care workers who have dealt with the ongoing unknowns and challenges from the pandemic?

Gaughran: I think it’s basically the same. A nurse or a doctor or a firefighter or an EMT who picks up somebody and puts them in an ambulance and brings them to the hospital are doing this knowing they could easily contract COVID and face the same issues that people they are trying to help are facing. The risks are the same. Running into a burning building is a more immediate risk. Dealing with a sick COVID patient, who may give you the disease, you’re facing a risk that potentially could cost you your life.

TBR: Do you think the divisiveness of today will ease during 9/11?

Gaughran: I would hope so. I remember on 9/11, watching George W. Bush at the site, that iconic image, with the bull horn and everything. That wasn’t that long after the election. My kids were young. They paid attention to everything. [They said] “dad, you didn’t vote for him.” This is a moment when we all have to stand behind him. It was a different world then. It’s hard to get people to agree to the same thing today. The president we have now is not going out of his way to try to create national unity.

I voted for Al Gore, but Bush did push for national unity after that, including visiting mosques, to make it clear that even though the terrorists who killed us were of a certain background, the folks who were living in the United States who happened to be Muslim are patriotic citizens like everyone else.

Rep. Lee Zeldin Shares his Thoughts on 9/11

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1) responded to questions from TBR News Media on the eve of the 19th year since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

TBR: What do you think of when you reflect on 9/11 today?

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

Zeldin: The bravery, selflessness, fearlessness, and resolve of first responders, Americans, and our entire nation as a whole. When so many of us think about 9/11, we remember exactly where we were that day, when ordinary Americans became extraordinary heroes. We vividly remember what we heard, what we saw and how we felt. We remember first responders running towards danger at the greatest possible risk to their own lives.

While our memories of those moments have not faded, most importantly, neither has our resolve to rise stronger than ever before. New Yorkers remain committed, especially this year, to remember, honor and exemplify those Americans, who in the face of unconscionable evil, were the very best of who we are.

TBR:  Who is the first person that comes to mind in connection with 9/11?

Zeldin: It’s difficult to choose just one person who comes to mind, but with the full permanent funding of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund signed into law last year, one of the first people who comes to mind is Luis Alvarez. While he wasn’t with us to witness the legislation he fought so hard for signed into law, he spent his final weeks with us continuing the fight until the very end so other 9/11 first responders wouldn’t have to.

TBR: In the context of the pandemic, is 9/11 overlooked?

Zeldin: Even in the midst of a pandemic, the commitment of New Yorkers to Never Forget, as we’ve seen with the Tribute in Light and the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, underscores how dedicated New Yorkers are to the memory of those who died on that day and the so many who have passed since due to 9/11 related illnesses.

TBR: How would you compare the heroism of first responders who raced to the burning buildings in Manhattan to the heroism of first responders and health care workers who have dealt with the ongoing unknowns and challenges from the pandemic?

Zeldin: The same bravery in the face of clear danger and uncertainty that drove so many first responders on 9/11 to save countless lives at the expensive of their own, is the same bravery that has spurred so many of our local first responders and health care workers to serve throughout the novel outbreak of coronavirus.