The redistricting process in New York opened the door for a familiar name to now have the chance to represent Southold Town. Assemblyman Fred Thiele (D-Sag Harbor), with nearly three decades of experience representing the South Fork and Shelter Island, is seeking reelection in the expanded 1st Assembly District that for the first time includes most of the North Fork. He is being challenged by Peter Ganley of Southold, a Republican candidate in his first run for public office. He is also the treasurer of the Southold Town Republican Committee.
The candidates addressed a variety of topics Monday night in a virtual debate hosted by the League of Women Voters of Hamptons, Shelter Island & North Fork. It was moderated by Estelle Gellman.
Mr. Thiele, 69, touted his long track record in the Assembly, saying he has worked to protect open space through the Community Preservation Fund, has improved public transportation through the South Fork Commuter Connection, has provided support to school districts with state aid and has supported traditional industries such as farming, fishing and tourism.
Mr. Ganley, 26, who also has backing of the Conservative party, is a former staff member for Rep. Lee Zeldin, who represents 1st Congressional District and is now the Republican nominee for governor. He said he is a “North Fork guy to my bones,” and has gotten to know the South Fork during the campaign. He cited high taxes, crime and corruption as some of his key issues. Mr. Ganley painted Mr. Thiele as a politician with “one foot out the door,” citing a second home the assemblyman is building in North Carolina. Mr. Thiele said he has not spend significant time in North Carolina and does not plan to retire yet.
Here’s how the candidates responded on some of the topics:
Both candidates said they support early voting that is now in effect in New York. Mr. Ganley said for absentee ballots, voters should have a legitimate reason for doing so, such as being away at college or serving in the military. “There are plenty of legitimate reasons,” he said.
Mr. Thiele said he respects voters’ position on absentee ballots, noting two propositions were both rejected last year. One proposition would have allowed no-excuse absentee voting and a second would have allowed same-day voter registration.
“I do think with regard to registration, we should reduce the time-frame further so that it’s closer to Election Day,” Mr. Thiele said.
In response to a question about gun control in New York, Mr. Thiele said his record shows “strong support for gun safety,” which started with the SAFE Act and said he’s voted for restrictions on carrying concealed weapons. “My record has been perfectly clear,” he said.
Mr. Ganley, who like most Republicans this campaign has focused on crime, said the priority should be keeping guns out of the hands of violent criminals. He said he supports red flag laws and would support a ban on owning guns for anyone convicted of domestic violence. He said the Clean Slate Act that aims to seal criminal records after a set period would make it hard for employers to know whether a candidate has been convicted of a violent crime.
In response to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, the candidates discussed their stances on abortion. Mr. Ganley said he believes abortion in the third trimester can be allowed in instances of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is at risk. He said he believes there should be a parental requirement for anyone under 18.
Mr. Thiele said the Supreme Court did an “incredible disservice” and added that state legislatures are the last line of defense. Mr. Thiele said he is the best candidate to protect a woman’s right to choose.
Both candidates said they do not support mandatory vaccinations. Mr. Thiele said any orders related to masking if cases were to spike in the future should be at the discretion of local health departments. Mr. Ganley said he is vaccinated but added that employees should not have been fired for refusing the vaccine. “I think our current assemblyman should have [stood] with health care heroes and defended them during the time when they were laid off,” Mr. Ganley said.
Northwell Health, the largest health care provider in the state, fired 1,400 workers last year for refusing to be vaccinated, which represented just under 2% of its workforce.
In response to a question on how to help businesses recover from the pandemic, Mr. Thiele pointed to efforts the state has taken, such as a cap on gasoline tax, a middle class income tax cut and rebate to property taxes. He said what he hears often from small businesses relates to unemployment insurance rates.
“New York should use its money to pay down its debt, seek some relief also from the federal government and not put the burden on small businesses,” he said. “That’s what other states are doing.”
Mr. Ganley said spending needs to be scaled back so the state can lower taxes. He criticized the estimated $600 million in state funds slated to go toward a football stadium for the Buffalo Bills.
“I believe cuts need to be on some of the ridiculous non-bid contracts,” he said.
He added: “I definitely believe to we need to make this more affordable and a better place to do business and a smarter place to do business and attract more businesses in with a more competitive tax climate.”
Mr. Ganley said he supports limits on campaign contributions and supports limiting contributions for people who do business with the state. Mr. Thiele said the landmark Supreme Court decision on campaign finance has been the root of the problem.
“The biggest step for us is to have a good and viable public finance campaign system,” he said.
The candidates were asked to discuss the most pressing issues for the district. Mr. Ganley cited crime, and while noting the East End is far different from New York City, he said people he has spoken to are scared.
“We have a rising violent crime problem,” he said. He criticized Mr. Thiele for voting for bail reform and other criminal justice reforms.
“It’s a bad policy and it should be repealed and we should start over,” he said.
Mr. Thiele said he did not support cashless bail, which was included as part of the state budget. He said major policy initiatives should not be part of the budget. He said judges should have more discretion when deciding on bail and expanding the number of bail eligible crimes.
Mr. Thiele said his most pressing issues are affordable housing, and he urged voters to pass the Community Housing Fund, which would add a half-percent transfer tax to the 2% community preservation fund tax on real estate transactions. He also cited transportation and traffic and water quality as his biggest issues.