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Times Review endorsements for Congress, president, state Senate and Assembly

Times Review Media Group published its list of endorsements in the Oct. 29 papers. This year, we weighed in on the federal races for the 1st Congressional District and president; state elections for Senate and Assembly, as well as three propositions.

The full list of endorsements is available below:

Congress: Nancy Goroff
President: Joe Biden

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed our lives since the first confirmed case in Suffolk County was reported in early March. We’ve seen more than 2,000 county residents perish from the virus, dozens of whom lived on the East End. We’ve seen businesses struggle to stay afloat, demand at local food banks skyrocket, schools forced to adapt to remote learning and soaring rates of unemployment.

It’s a national crisis on a scale unmatched by anything our country has faced in decades.

And our federal government has failed in its response at a time when we desperately needed coordinated, smart and sincere leadership. More than eight months since the pandemic first hit the U.S., cases continue to surge at record levels all across the country, resulting in more than 5,600 fatalities in the last seven days alone as of Oct. 27, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For our elected leaders in the federal government, the pandemic has been a nuisance on the path toward their ultimate goal of consolidating power (look no further than the scramble to appoint a Supreme Court Justice Monday with voting already underway in the election). Change is needed. Editors of The New England Journal of Medicine, in an unprecedented editorial, wrote that our nation’s leaders have “taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy.”

“When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent,” the Oct. 8 editorial said.

The ineffective response to the pandemic is the top reason why we’ve tied our federal endorsements together, choosing Democrats Nancy Goroff to represent the 1st Congressional District and Joe Biden for president.

When Ms. Goroff announced her bid for Congress in July 2019 — her first run for political office — she cited her experience as a scientist to help combat climate change and make health care affordable. Little did we know at the time how her expertise would align perfectly to help combat a national crisis. Ms. Goroff, who brings 23 years of experience teaching at Stony Brook University where she had been chair of the chemistry department, rightly said during a recent debate that it’s “infuriating” how the wealthiest country in the world has “suffered the most deaths [and] the most cases.”

She added: “We are farther behind every other developed country in the world. And we know that it’s because of an irresponsible president and his reckless and incompetent response to this pandemic.”

That response was to largely punt responsibility to individual states, creating a haphazard set of 50 different plans. In an online debate Monday evening, Ms. Goroff’s opponent, incumbent Lee Zeldin, said he would give the federal response a B grade and pointed to his accomplishments early on such as securing needed personal protective equipment for Suffolk County at a desperate time when supplies were exhausted. He said he approached the response as “Long Islanders first” and not in a partisan way. To look back now as a “Monday morning quarterback” on decisions and statements made at the pandemic’s onset goes both ways, he said. That’s true. But we’re now almost in November and there are still head-scratching decisions and statements being made, starting with those coming from the president.

We know for a fact that the best way to mitigate risk of spreading the virus is to wear face coverings and practice social distancing. Yet the president continues to be dismissive about them, even after the virus spread in the White House.

Given a chance Monday night to specifically address face coverings, Mr. Zeldin still danced around it. It shouldn’t be that hard for the congressman to reiterate a message to his constituents on the importance of wearing face coverings. At the same time, President Trump continues to downplay increases in COVID-19 cases by saying it’s all tied to testing.

Mr. Zeldin frequently pitches himself as a bipartisan lawmaker who’s willing to work across the aisle to get the job done. And he deserves credit for working alongside the Democratic governor and county executive during the pandemic.

But we can’t get past his tribal devotion to the president. The political website FiveThirtyEight calculated a career score of 88.9% for how often Mr. Zeldin votes in line with the president’s position. The congressman’s Twitter feed, which has considerable reach, is a nonstop flood of nonsense. He’s criticized Ms. Goroff during the campaign for misstating facts, yet he never has anything to say about the president’s deluge of lying. At a recent Wisconsin rally, the president made 131 false or inaccurate statements in 90 minutes, the New York Times reported. That’s par for the course. 

On Oct. 16, Mr. Zeldin used Twitter to call for the Department of Justice and FBI to open a criminal investigation into “the Biden Family’s global pay to play operation,” — a last ditch attempt to stir up a scandal that Trump and Republicans have been trying manufacture for over a year.

Yet when it came to the president’s impeachment, Mr. Zeldin insisted it was a “sham.”

On health care, Mr. Zeldin said he supports coverage for preexisting conditions, but he’s always backed the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act. There’s still no clear Republican health care plan or concept introduced of how preexisting conditions can be covered if the ACA is overturned in the Supreme Court.

It’s unfortunate that Mr. Zeldin has gravitated so far to the right as he represents a largely moderate district with many diverse communities. We made this point in 2018 and it’s only gotten worse. The congressman undoubtedly works hard at his job and he’s not an official who reverts to sending a representative to local events. He shows up, at least when he knows the crowd will suit him.

But the stakes are too high to give him a pass for the made-for-Fox News persona. His campaign has centered largely on pinning his opponent as a radical, mad scientist. But we see Ms. Goroff as thoughtful and intelligent and willing to approach issues with a level-headed viewpoint. She’s willing to look at criminal justice reform without fear-mongering about looters and rioters taking over the suburbs. She’s willing to address climate change, perhaps our most pressing issue once the pandemic dies down. We would have liked to see her make a greater presence on the North Fork during the campaign, but this was an unusual set of circumstances during the pandemic.

We live now in a deeply divided country and the troller-in-chief deserves blame for instigating the worst in so many. He’s giving credence to conspiracy theories while turning the “fake news” phrase into the everyday lexicon. As an opinion column in the New York Times noted in September, “everything that benefits Mr. Trump is true and everything that inconveniences him is false.”

The country needs Mr. Biden to restore credibility in our country and confront the many issues ahead. 

At a rally in Ronkonkoma this month, Mr. Zeldin told the crowd that he never pictured himself as someone who would say the next election is the most important of our lifetime. “You can’t say that every November,” he told the crowd. “But this November’s election is the most important election of our lifetime.”

That we can agree with. We endorse Ms. Goroff for Congress and Mr. Biden for president.

State Senate: Laura Ahearn

In recent years, the race for the 1st state Senate District was largely a forgone conclusion. Longtime state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) rarely faced a strong campaign from the other side and his proven record of fighting for our area on vital issues, such as education and the environment, made him an easy endorsement.

In our 2016 endorsement for Mr. LaValle, however, we noted that we once again wished there was a choice.

Now, as Mr. LaValle enters retirement from the state Senate after 22 consecutive victories and as its longest-serving member, voters are presented with two strong candidates, both of whom have backgrounds as attorneys, in a race that has heated up for the first time in years. 

Current Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) is well known to voters on the North Fork, having served in the state Assembly since 2013. Democrat Laura Ahearn of Port Jefferson, who founded the Crime Victims Center, may not be as familiar a name locally, but her background and expertise are worthy of the state Senate position.

The prospect of a state senator with local roots on the North Fork such as Mr. Palumbo is certainly enticing. The 1st Senate District covers a wide area, including both forks and stretching west into Brookhaven Town. To have a hometown senator who understands unique issues facing the North Fork representing the district in Albany would be a nice boost.

But that alone wasn’t enough to earn our endorsement.

Ms. Ahearn pitches herself as an independent fighter who has spent her career working on social justice issues and standing up for the rights of crime victims and the less fortunate. As criminal justice reform took center stage in both national and local elections this year, Ms. Ahearn will bring a voice to the table in Albany that understands how to approach meaningful change in policy. She’s worked with law enforcement through the Crime Victims Center and has experience on the county’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. She understands law enforcement; her husband is a retired Suffolk County police officer.

Mr. Palumbo made criminal justice a key part of his campaign, arguing that he would fight to repeal changes to the bail system. But Mr. Palumbo was already in the Assembly when those laws were passed and he provided no clear alternative other than returning to the status quo. Some of the criminal justice changes such as bail reform came before the national uproar sparked by the death of George Floyd. As a nation, people are demanding more reforms, not to revert to the way things used to be. In the minority party, Mr. Palumbo won’t be able to make any effective changes on that issue.

Ms. Ahearn criticized her opponent on environmental issues and voting rights, both of which are valid concerns. She criticized her opponent’s 67% grade in the 2019 State Environmental Scorecard published by the New York League of Conservation Voters. And Mr. Palumbo voted against the expanded early voting that began in 2019, citing it as an unfunded mandate. As we’ve seen this week with massive lines at polling places all across Suffolk County, voters are eager for the opportunity to vote early. The fact it took New York this long to implement early voting is an embarrassment. Mr. Palumbo should have found a way to support it sooner.

It’s a concern to see Mr. Palumbo drifting more toward the right and the Trumpism that has smothered the Republican Party. His wacky press conference in April equating the COVID-19 crisis with terrorism made no sense then and even less now. He pushed last month for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to allow catering halls to expand to at least 50% capacity, which could potentially allow for gatherings of more than 100 people depending on the size of a venue. It’s a reckless position considering what we’ve learned about superspreader events.

Mr. Palumbo mentioned several times during a recent debate the implementation of the North Fork Behavioral Health Initiative as a key accomplishment. We agree the program was much needed and has been successful, but we also lauded the effort in his 2018 re-election run for Assembly.

As the landscape shifts on the federal level, particularly with a conservative-majority in the Supreme Court, the rights of individual states may become more important than ever in upcoming years. We need elected officials in our state government who will stand up to protect the rights of all, including minorities and women.

We endorse Ms. Ahearn.

State Assembly: Laura Jens-Smith

On April 22, more than a month after the COVID-19 pandemic had swept into Suffolk County, Riverhead Town Board member Jodi Giglio and state Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo held an unusual press conference.

The purpose of the conference was to blame China for the pandemic. While we later learned from the taped conversations President Trump had with journalist Bob Woodward that the president knew the pandemic was going to be very bad, and was five times deadlier than the common flu, in public he downplayed the virus and said it was the fault of China, where the virus was first detected.

That day, Ms. Giglio and Mr. Palumbo came out in support of a lawsuit against China that would declare the pandemic a deliberate act of terror. The action, if successful, would have allowed local businesses harmed by the virus to dip into the Terrorism Risk Insurance Fund, created after the 9/11 terror attacks, with close to $1 trillion available for a proven act of terror. COVID-19 wasn’t one.

At the time of the press conference, Ms. Giglio was already the Republican candidate for the state Assembly. 

The position in the state Legislature has nothing to do with international relations. Those jobs manage the nuts and bolts and bread and butter issues that impact every eastern Long Island resident. The press conference on China felt like a strange distraction from the harsh reality of the moment.

In September, Giorgio’s Catering in Baiting Hollow was one of 16 bars and restaurants statewide that had its liquor license suspended by New York State for “egregious violations of pandemic-related Executive Orders.” 

Ms. Giglio argued that the governor’s restriction of no more than 50 persons at catering hall events was unfair. She organized a rally in Hauppauge to appeal to the governor to allow catering businesses to open at 50% capacity.

Ms. Giglio, 53, is running for the 2nd Assembly District seat, which includes all of the North Fork and parts of Brookhaven. She is one of three candidates for the post: former Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, 57, is running on the Democrat and Working Families lines, and William Van Helmond, 57, is running on the Libertarian line. Ms. Giglio has served five two-year terms on the Riverhead Town Board and touts her strong pro-business and environmental credentials as reasons why she should be elected to the state Assembly. She cited the state budget deficit as a top issue.

Ms. Jens-Smith was Riverhead’s first female supervisor before being defeated for reelection last year. She served six years on the Mattituck-Cut-ch-ogue school board, and two years as its president. Mr. Van Helmond is the owner of a landscape and property management business and deserves a pat on the back for his calm, no-name-calling approach to running for office — something you don’t see much of in this election cycle. He ran unsuccessfully for Riverhead Town Board last year as well as a late write-in campaign for Riverhead highway superintendent in 2017. His run for the Assembly is a bridge too far for Mr. Van Helmond.

Ms. Giglio has been a strong supporter of local businesses. And that is how it should be. But taking the side of a facility that thumbed its nose at the state’s virus guidelines in the middle of a pandemic — and lost its liquor license over it — was a mistake.

And it’s not like COVID-19 is behind us: Just last week, after hosting a wedding, North Fork Country Club in Cut-ch-ogue shut down all service operations for two weeks after members of its staff tested positive for COVID-19. Additional effects related to COVID have been felt here.

Principally because of Ms. Jens-Smith’s strong background in education and her tenure on the school board, she has earned our support for the state Assembly. Her role there, if elected, should be entirely focused on addressing the issues that are most pressing for this district:  the continuing rise in the cost of government and education, the state’s dismal fiscal picture, and how to keep our schools the best they can be with the available funding without going back to the taxpayers to ask for even more funds.

Taxpayers say they have reached the tipping point with property taxes; we accept that as a starting point for future discussions.

Ms. Jens-Smith has provided a more levelheaded approach to a pandemic response, arguing the medical community should lead the plan. We all want businesses to be open and succeed, but doing so without proper guidance is a grave mistake.

Beyond the critical bread-and-butter issues, her focus must also be on land preservation and the environment, all the while making sure our small businesses can navigate these extraordinarily hard times as we continue to battle a virus that the federal government failed to take seriously nine months ago and has all but given up any effort to tame.

Proposition 1: Vote no

There’s never a good time for a county legislator to be arrested. But the announcement last week that Dr. William Spencer, a physician and Democrat who has served in the Legislature since 2012, was arrested for offering to illegally supply narcotics to a prostitute in exchange for a sex act came at a particularly poor time considering a proposition now up for vote.

County residents will decide whether to increase the length of a legislator’s term from two years to four. It’s a measure largely backed by the Democrats in the Legislature.

Voters should reject the measure and maintain the two-year terms. As the arrest of Dr. Spencer (D-Centerport) highlights, the fortunes of an elected official can change quickly. It also highlights how a legislator is not required to resign while charges are pending. So far, Dr. Spencer has not resigned, although he has agreed to step down from his leadership posts, Newsday reported.

Also consider Legislator Rudy Sunderman (R-Shirley), who vowed to remain in office after facing perjury charges.

Two current legislators facing criminal charges is not a good backdrop against which to extend term lengths to four years.

At the legislative level, campaigning every two years is not as burdensome as may be for higher levels of office. Keeping two-year terms makes sense.

We vote no on Proposition 1.

Proposition 2: Vote no

The wording of Proposition 2 will undoubtedly leave some voters who are not closely following county government a bit confused. Essentially, the proposition asks voters to allow the county to shift funds from a Sewer Assessment Stabilization Reserve Fund to help plug holes left in the budget due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We believe voters should reject this measure.

The county faces no easy path toward fixing budget shortfalls. The relief should come from the federal government but, so far, despite nearly weekly pleas from County Executive Steve Bellone, that has not materialized. The Long Island Pine Barrens Society recently argued that the proposition’s wording is “purposefully misleading to the public.”

County Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Southampton) said before the July vote adding this proposition to the ballot that it is a “tough, tough situation.”

“I don’t love having to look to these funds to support county services, but at the same time I recognize the strain that this terrible unprecedented pandemic has imposed upon us,” she said.

The county should take a closer look at its own budget fat before taking the easier approach of shifting money from another fund.

Ms. Fleming and Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) both voted for the measure to be brought to a public vote. 

Now that it’s here, our vote is no.