Local business owners packed a Mattituck restaurant last night to hear from candidates for Congress, State Senate and Assembly in a forum hosted by the region’s three Chamber of Commerce groups.
Each candidate, one at a time, was given a chance to address the crowd that was seated for dinner in two separate rooms at Pace’s Dockside restaurant. The audience had the opportunity to ask questions following each speaker’s remarks, in a freewheeling format that was both unmoderated and untimed.
The Zeldin/Throne-Holst race is November’s most competitive local contest and that came through last night. The first three speakers, the candidates for state offices, gave brief remarks and fielded few questions, wrapping up in under 30 minutes altogether. The remaining hour and 10 minutes was taken by the congressional candidates’ remarks and answers to questions from the audience.
Zeldin, a two-term state senator before unseating former congressman Tim Bishop in 2014 at age 34, touted the passage into law of two bills he sponsored: the Common Core Opt-Out Act, which prohibits the federal government from penalizing states that opt-out of the Common Core curriculum; and the Safe Bridges Act, adopted as part of a fully funded federal highway act, providing one-quarter of a billion dollars in funding to repair “functionally obsolete and structurally insufficient” bridges.
He also spoke of his success battling a plan to reroute a portion of interstate truck traffic bound for the N.Y. metro area from I-95 to Long Island by way of Cross Sound ferry and North Fork Roads. A second traffic-related win, he said, was the fight against a rule that would have allowed larger, heavier trucks on local roads.
Zeldin and Throne-Holst were at odds over their vision for health care reform, with the Republican advocating for the repeal and replacement of Obamacare and the Democrat advocating for its retention with certain revisions.
“Repeal and replace with what?” Throne-Holst asked. “If we repeal it without a replacement, 22 million Americans would lose their coverage,” she said. The cost to our hospitals, which are shouldered with the burden of uncompensated care to uninsured patients, would skyrocket, she said.
She criticized her opponent’s support of a bill repealing the Affordable Care Act that also defunded Planned Parenthood.
“Millions of young Americans have only that as their access for birth control, cancer screening, STD screening and treatment,” Throne-Holst said.
Zeldin said small and medium-sized business should be able to pool their policies to get the best possible coverage for employees. He said he favors continuing the requirement for coverage of pre-existing conditions and continuing coverage for adult children to age 26.
“We should also allow people to set aside earnings pre-tax to help cover heath costs,” he said.
Zeldin blamed the “dysfunctional implementation” of the Affordable Care Act for the bankruptcy of Health Republic a year ago, which left 200,000 New Yorkers scrambling for a new coverage on short notice. He said the company sold its plan too cheaply in order to gain customers and then couldn’t deliver and remain solvent.
Throne-Holst blamed the Republican-controlled Congress for undermining health insurance exchange plans like Health Republic, she said, by refusing to release Obamacare’s risk corridor funding, which was put in place to stabilize the new plans in their first few years of operation since the new insurance companies has no feasible way of assessing their risk exposure as start-ups.
Zeldin, who said he opposes New York’s $15 minimum wage, said the federal government should work toward “leveling the playing field, simplifying the tax code and making investment possible.”
Throne-Holst, a former three-term Southampton Town supervisor who calls herself a fiscal conservative who is “unabashedly” a social liberal, said she prides herself in being able to work across partisan lines to get things done. She said she turned Southampton’s fiscal situation around during her eight years in town hall, including two as a councilwoman.
In contrast, she said, Congress is “mired in gridlock” and has not been able to accomplish even the Republican majority’s own agenda, including tax code reform.
“Our tax code today gives away the store to the top 1 percent of earners
and big corporations,” she said. “It makes it so that American businesses making money off-shore do not have to pay taxes in the United States of America. That’s over $400 billion of unrealized tax revenues. Who makes up the difference? All of us.”
Zeldin called for immigration reform that would streamline and expand the high-tech visa program and cut the processing time for agricultural work visas to aid local farmers. But he said the country’s immigration problems can’t be solved in one bill and Congress should act on the items that have bipartisan support.
“Let’s not hold that hostage over a debate over the most controversial elements of this fight — where there are strong philosophical differences,” he said.
“I approach this with certain principles that guide me,” Zeldin said. “One is every nation’s background is our rule of law and a nation without borders isn’t a nation at all.” He said he has a lot of compassion for people who are working to come into the United States legally.
Throne-Holst said Congress needs to get real about dealing with immigration reform. “We have somewhere between 10- and 15 million undocumented immigrants in this country today and if we don’t start talking about realistic programs for how we’re going to deal with that, we’re going to continue to have the issues we’re dealing with today,” she said.
Throne-Holst called for deporting criminals, securing the nation’s borders and providing “a path to citizenship” for law-abiding immigrants in the country without proper documentation. “There’s no excuse for why this has not gotten done,” she said.
Zeldin was asked by a woman in the audience, who did not give her name, about his support for the Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump.
“Somewhere there has to be country over party,” she said. “I have a problem with Donald Trump, from McCain to the Khans to the disabled man… He really has no substance. Why can’t you say ‘I will not support him’?” she asked.
“I do support Trump over Hillary,” Zeldin said, to loud applause and cheers. “I have my reasons for it — a lot of important, substantive issues and I respect your ability to vote the other way. That’s what makes America great,” Zeldin said.
He also called “for the national dialogue to get as healthy as possible as quickly as possible” after the election.
“When we wake up Nov. 9, it is so important for as quickly as possible for the narrative that we see on national news to return to a healthy, substantive dialogue on how to move this country forward, to secure our country and promote our economy,” he said.
Candidates for state legislative offices speak
Greg Fischer of Calverton, the Democratic candidate for State Senate challenging longtime incumbent Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) has run unsuccessful campaigns for political office seven times in the last decade — he has sought the offices of tax assessor, town supervisor, town councilman and school district trustee. He stressed his background in business and said he will be an advocate for the business community in the state senate. He called for a cross-Sound tunnel between Long Island and Connecticut and “double-decking” the L.I. Expressway. Fischer said the State Legislature has too many lawyers — including LaValle — and doesn’t work to improve the economy.
LaValle, who was first elected to the State Senate in 1976 and is one of its two most senior members, stressed his connection to his constituency and said he prides himself on his willingness to listen to their concerns.
“I’m very proud of building an alliance to put Eastern Long Island Hospital with Stony Brook University Hospital,” he said. “It will bring in the kind of specialty care people need and create new jobs in the region.”
LaValle said he is very proud of his efforts to protect and preserve the environment, having authored farmland preservation and pine barrens protection legislation. He also touted the effectiveness of the real property tax cap, which he said has saved the taxpayers of the First Senate District $500 million dollars since its implementation several years ago.
“It should not be changed,” he said. “It has been the stalwart against rising taxes.”
Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) is running for re-election with no real opposition. Michael Conroy of Manorville is on the Democratic line on the ballot but has not been actively campaigning and did not appear for last night’s forum. (Conroy was on the Democratic line for State Senate in 2014.)
Palumbo said he is opposed to the $15 minimum wage as bad for small business owners. He said he is proud of his efforts in opposition to Common Core and his participation as a member of a statewide heroin and opiate abuse task force.