The two candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in the June 28 primary for the First Congressional District seat squared off in what was their first public debate Wednesday night.
Former Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst of Bridgehampton and attorney and former Suffolk County Planning Commission Chairman Dave Calone of Setauket are seeking the nomination to oppose Republican incumbent Lee Zeldin in the November general election.
In an event sponsored by the East Hampton Town Democratic Committee and hosted at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Amagansett, the candidates gave their backgrounds and then answered questions submitted by the committee on specific topics. There were no questions from the public.
The most recent Federal Election Committee campaign finance disclosures, show that Ms. Throne-Holst has raised $1.15 million for her Congressional campaign and Mr. Calone has raised $940,792 for his.
Mr. Calone is a former state and federal prosecutor who says he fought corruption and terrorism in those roles. He also had been chairman of the Suffolk County Planning Commission, which gives advisory opinions to towns on certain development projects.
Mr. Calone recently stepped down from that position to run for Congress.
He also owns a company called Jove Equity Partners, which helps build technology companies.
“I’m proud to tell you that we’ve had 10 companies launch in the last two years right here on Long Island,” Mr. Calone said Wednesday.
Mr. Calone also formed a non-profit company called Patriot Boot Camp, which helps active-duty service members and recent veterans start their own companies.
Ms. Throne-Holst of Bridgehampton had been Southampton Town Supervisor for the past six years and was a councilwoman in the two years prior.
She had another year left on her supervisor term but decided to step down at the end of 2015 to concentrate on running for Congress.
Ms. Throne-Holst started the Hayground School in Bridgehampton in 1996 and she also was the director of the non-profit Bridgehampton Childcare and Recreation Center, where she brought a Head Start program and other community service projects there.
After that, she received a graduate degree in human rights and conflict resolution and worked in the United Nations’ department of peace keeping, where she worked on a project that lead to the first democratic election in the Congo in 41 years.
“That was an eye opener,” Mr. Throne-Holst said Wednesday.
Soon after she was asked to run for Town Board. She says she helped straighten out the town’s fiscal problems and enacted tough building standards and stringent environmental preservation efforts in that office.
Why are they running for Congress?
Mr. Calone says “Tea Party Republicans” are putting the country’s environment and economy at risk.
“And the worst part of it is that our congressman is at the head of the parade,” he said.
Mr. Calone says the first-term Congressman from Shirley has voted to cut student loans and research and development funding. He said Mr. Zeldin has missed two-thirds of his committee meetings and spends more time on Fox News “talking tough” than he does looking out for his constituents. He said Mr. Zeldin voted to make it easier for people on the terrorist watchlist get guns.
Ms. Throne-Holst claimed Mr. Zeldin denies that climate change exists, and never called her once when she was supervisor. She said he’s defunded Pell grants for college students and “does not represent this district.”
Both support gun control measures and promised to fight for them.
“We allowed the gun lobby to control Congress and our congressman is one of the ones controlled,” Mr. Calone said.
“We have to treat gun control like we would treat a public crisis,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “Surveys show that over 70 percent of people want gun safety laws.”
Both candidates said the country needs “income equality.”
Mr. Calone said this starts with a strong middle class.
“Unions must be strengthened and we must raise the minimum wage,” he said.
Ms. Throne-Holst said it’s important to fund Universal Pre-K and to change how schools are funded. Currently, by funding schools through property tax, people in wealthy neighborhoods often get better schools, she said.
“America needs to play a role in that solution,” Mr. Calone said. The U.S. cannot “impose a solution where we leave a vacuum there, because that causes chaos,” such as what happened with Iraq, he said.
But he stressed that the solution must be an “Arab solution,” rather than one imposed by the U.S.
Ms. Throne-Holst also said America “must play a leadership role” in the Syrian refugee crisis. “We have a moral responsibility to do our fair share,” she said.
America at war
Ms. Throne-Holst said the U.S. can’t repeat what it did in Iraq when it comes to invading Syria.
“We can’t go in and think we can bomb the daylights out of them and then leave and all will be good,” she said.
“I don’t believe we should go to war unless there’s a clear and imminent threat to our country or to one of our allies,” Mr. Calone said.
A spokesperson for Mr. Zeldin offered the following response to the candidates’ criticisms: “The Congressman did vote to expand Pell Grants and cosponsored bills that supported advance energy research at BNL and Stony Brook, while opposing cuts to the Department of Science.
“Regarding the terrorist watch list, Mr. Zeldin introduced a bill to prevent terrorists from buying firearms and explosives in the United States, while protecting the Second Amendment rights of law abiding Americans.”
She said Mr. Zeldin has been sought after by television networks for interviews on national security issues due to his military background.”