Key quotes from a raucous Congressional debate in Riverhead

State Senator Lee Zeldin (left) and Congressman Tim Bishop (right) took turns a podium in Polish Hall to address questions Wednesday night in Riverhead.
Republican state Senator Lee Zeldin (left) and Democratic Congressman Tim Bishop (right). (Credit: Grant Parpan)

The two major party candidates for the 1st Congressional District squared off at a contentious debate — at least, contentious between incumbent Democrat Tim Bishop and the GOP-dominated crowd — in a packed Polish Hall in Riverhead Wednesday night.

State Senator Lee Zeldin of Shirley, a Republican and Iraq War veteran who unsuccessfully ran against Mr. Bishop in 2008 before seeking office in Albany, enjoyed a political home-field advantage among the nearly 250 who showed up at the event, organized and sponsored by, an online news website.

RiverheadLocal co-publisher Denise Civiletti moderated.

At times during the debate, specifically when Mr. Bishop faulted Tea Party members in Congress for much of the gridlock in Washington, the crowd degenerated into shout-downs and name-calling.

“You’re a liar!” yelled one attendee, after Mr. Bishop said “compromise has become a four-letter word in Washington under Tea Party control.”

The scene was somewhat reminiscent of Congresman Joe Wilson’s interruption of President Barack Obama during the 2009 State of the Union address, when Mr. Wilson yelled, “You lie!”

This local man went on to shout, “You have the blood of a lot of innocent babies on your hands!”

“Will you please leave the room?” Ms. Civiletti snapped.

“Sure,” the man said, though he only walked to the back of Polish Hall, where he remained for the rest of the debate.

Mr. Bishop, a former Southampton College provost who lives in Southampton, is seeking a seventh two-year term in office. He was first elected in 2002 by defeating then Republican Incumbent Felix Grucci.

Aside from the interruptions, the candidates did, for the most part, each have ample time to answer questions on a range of topics, from different aspects of immigration issues — which always elicited passionate responses from the crowd — to how the U.S. should combat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Below are some select quotes from their answers.


Bishop: “We have doubled the number of border protection agents. We have doubled the budget for Customs and Immigration Enforcement. We have built several hundred miles of fence. We’ve spent millions in providing technological means of monitoring the border. The people we’ve seen trying to gain entrance illegally went from about a million and a half to about 500,000. That’s real progress, but we have a ways to go.”

Zeldin: “A functional Congress would be passing compromise legislation. I believe that you could be liberal, moderate or conservative, and be reasonable and rational. Republicans, Democrats, share power and have to be willing to sit down at a table to find common ground to move our nation forward. There isn’t any one solution to be able to better secure our borders.”


Zeldin: “I think that one of the keys is bringing them out of the shadows, so they have the ability to pay for some of the benefits they are receiving, but to go to the extent of granting them citizenship, I just cannot support that.” (wild applause)

Bishop: “What we do is what the comprehensive immigration bill suggested, a 15-year path to earned citizenship. The most workable, the most enforceable and the most humane way to deal with a problem that has no easy solutions is to put people on a path to earn legalization.”


Bishop: “If anything that could make the Affordable Care Act rollout look good, it’s the Common Core rollout in the State of New York. It’s been atrocious. And that’s on him (Zeldin). It’s not on the federal government; it’s on the state. Common Core needs to be fixed. Common Core should not be thrown out. But the fight is in the states. I know he wants to put this on the federal government and make it a wedge issue in this campaign, but he’s walking off the field.”

Zeldin: “We  … have special ed students who are being set up to fail. If you’re 10 years old but at a second-grade reading level, to be forced to take a fifth-grade test is wrong. They’re throwing kids into the deep end without a life jacket. Congress provided hundreds of millions to help fund … this. Common Core would not have been implemented on its own, on its merits. Instead you have to dangle carrots; the federal government had to give the states money.


Zeldin: “It has led to higher deductibles. Higher premiums. Lost doctors. Cancelled policies. Longer wait times. Hospitals getting monopolies. Less insurance networks here. There are many different proposals as far as how to replace it. I support allowing children to be able to stay on their parents’ policies, to allow people with have existing conditions be able to gain coverage. We need to get people off Medicaid as opposed to more poeple on Medicaid. Some people on Medicaid are not going into the workforce because they would risk getting kicked off Medicaid.”

Bishop: “I believe that the Affordable Care Act is a work in progress. I believe that we are going through transitional difficulties. There are elements of the law that are very, very good, and we need to keep them. And there are other elements we need to fix. The problem that we have is, any other mature legislative body — and I would argue that the House under Tea Party control is not a mature legislative body (heckling, interruption) — a mature legislative body would set about the task of fixing those things that are wrong.”


Bishop: “The administration’s strategy is one that would keep our role minimal, training and equipping moderate opposition supported by airstrikes from us and other nations. Let us remember when we went to Iraq in 2003, we did so to depose a dictator. And we did, in about five minutes. Then we found ourselves there for 11 years fighting enemies that did not exist when we invaded. There was no ISIS. There was no al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. There were no Sunni militias … It can’t be done military. It has to come from the governments of the Middle East and Sunnis being made to feel a part of the governments, as opposed to being disenfranchised and repressed.

Zeldin: “I wish I can stand here and tell you that his (President Obama’s) strategy is going to work and destroy ISIS. When I was in Iraq in 2006 I had a chance to meet these Iraqi military and Iraqi law-enforcement. It is a victory to get them to show up to work. They’re not well-trained. They’re not fighting out of love of country or patriotism to uphold the Iraqi constitution, way of life and rule of law. They have no desire at all to go to western Iraq and kill ISIS. The president should appoint a general to be in charged, on the ground, someone like a David Petraeus, with the flexibility and resources to implement a vision to turn the tide.”


Zeldin: “I have had the opportunity to work together with Supervisor (Sean) Walter over the course of my years in the state Senate. He has his map for the property and a vision working with folks at the local level and hearing feedback to come up with the right vision to improve the property. (As state senator) we were able to secure millions of dollars to help Riverhead Town in order to be able to move forward with their vision for EPCAL.”

Bishop: “I have been one of the leaders in an effort to get a fund for sewer and wastewater projects re-authorized. Last year, we increased the authorization for money spent. In addition, it creates a new financing mechanism … which gives the ability of municipalities to deal directly with the treasury and borrow money from the treasury at very favorable rates so they can put in place the kinds of infrastructure they need.”

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