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Congressional challengers debate online; League of Women Voters host Dems live via YouTube

Four candidates vying for the Democratic nomination to oppose Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in the 1st Congressional District met Monday night in a virtual debate hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, Shelter Island and North Fork.

In addition to businessman Perry Gershon, who unsuccessfully ran against Mr. Zeldin in 2018, the candidates are scientist Nancy Goroff, who was chair of the chemistry department at Stony Brook University; County Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac), who’s also an attorney; and Greg Fischer of Calverton, a business strategist who is also running for the Riverhead School Board.

The debate was streamed live via YouTube; the recorded debate is now available on the YouTubeSEA-TV Southampton site [See video below].

The challenges of online gatherings were in evidence, as timekeeper Barbara McClancy had to close a door at one point to block out the noise of her dogs’ barking at a passing train.

In projecting themselves as best suited to defeat the incumbent, who has been closely aligned with President Trump, each of the candidates highlighted his or her professional background.

The decorum of most of the debate gave way to a sharp exchange among Perry Gershon, Nancy Goroff and Greg Fischer, who stated that he’d been working with doctors and researchers to find a “prompt cure for COVID.” When he stated that people on Long Island were “killed” because of “mind-boggling negligence” in the veterans home and hospitals where physicians with no emergency health care experience were supervising nursing staff, Mr. Gershon challenged him.

“We must be grateful for the Herculean efforts of our first responders,” he said. “We needed all hands on deck.” He cited an ICU doctor who’d spoken at a Gershon town hall, saying they had provided the best care possible. “Wrong,” said Mr. Fischer. “It was a disaster.”

Ms. Goroff, the science professor who would be the first female Ph.D. scientist in Congress if elected, also asked for time to rebut his claim, saying “Anyone can put up a website saying he has a ‘cure.’ The claim needs to be tested and carefully vetted.”

In response, Mr. Fischer shouted, “You obviously haven’t read what I published. It’s an old-time technology turned into a cocktail that prevents sepsis.”

One feature of the online debate was the ability to post comments in real time. In response to this exchange, viewer Rosaria Sasso posted: “A man yelling at a Ph.D. woman is not a winning strategy. Please look up Mansplaining.”

In response to a question about how millennials could find housing and jobs to stay on Long Island, the answers varied. Ms. Goroff pointed out that education had to be made more available and affordable, using Pell grants for the less advantaged.

Mr. Fischer noted that many millennials are “de facto homeless” because they need to stay at home. He proposed part of the answer lay in “re-vamping the tax system,” and correcting trade imbalances: “They’ve sold our economy out with so-called ‘free trade.’”

Ms. Fleming said that part of the answer lay in affordable housing: “I fought for affordable housing, resulting in the first affordable rental housing east of the Shinnecock Canal in history. We have to be sure we’ll have a Congress member to fight those fights in Washington.”

“A lot of young people want to stay on Long Island,” Mr. Gershon said. “They need to get better paying jobs and not be burdened by student debt. The federal government shouldn’t be profiting off student loans.”

Mr. Gershon cited his background as a real estate lender that would enable him to support those efforts. He also called for bipartisan support for a new infrastructure initiative.

Some candidates spoke of areas where they differed with Rep. Zeldin and the president. Federal government loan programs for young people entering public service are needed, Ms. Goroff said, as part of the answer to moving young graduates toward employment. “But,” she said, “the Trump administration has made that almost impossible.” Mr. Gershon cited the cap on state and local tax deductions as particularly harmful to the Long Island area. “We need to repeal that,” he said. “Lee Zeldin has deserted Long Island.”

A spokesperson for Mr. Zeldin, in response to the comment by Mr. Gershon, pointed to several comments the congressman has made in support of restoring the SALT deduction.

“I’m willing to work with anyone on either side of the aisle to secure tax relief for my constituents,” Mr. Zeldin wrote in a 2019 op/ed.

Mr. Fischer said he was not a party to “hate or partisan politics. I have mentioned Donald Trump or Lee Zeldin fewer times than the other candidates,” adding that he prioritized solutions using “strategy, planning and economics.”

Ms. Goroff cited her record as a scientist dealing with climate change as her strongest qualification, adding that she had been endorsed by Emily’s List, the National Organization for Women and the National Institute for Reproductive Health. She said she can be a resource for both sides of the aisle in renewable energy, research and technology to address climate change.

Ms. Fleming said the Democrats need to “take back” the 1st District and cited her record as the only candidate for the seat who had won against Republicans five times and received the endorsement of 19 of 20 public officials who have endorsed in this race, as well as several unions. “I’m the one most likely to win,” she said.

The primary will take place on June 23.