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Sep 25, 2012 4:26 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Bishop And Altschuler Debate In Hampton Bays

Sep 25, 2012 5:39 PM

It was a simple question from a high school student that touched a nerve among the audience at a congressional debate between Democratic incumbent Tim Bishop and Republican opponent Randy Altschuler at Hampton Bays High School on Monday evening.

“Congressman Bishop and Mr. Altschuler,” began Jennifer Linares, a representative of the 2013 class, “as students, we are taught not to bully. If adults wish us to treat each other with dignity and respect, why are both of you running negative ads and sending out negative fliers instead of concentrating on your own achievements and accomplishments?”

The room burst into applause, and the question generated agreement among the two. Both candidates admitted to running negative ads against each another, and Mr. Bishop said it was an unfortunate part of today’s political climate. Both also agreed that they’d rather have a real debate on the issues.

Mr. Bishop said the “state of our politics has deteriorated dramatically” in the 10 years he’s spent in office, and the political dialogue has take on an “uncivil” and “personal” tone. He called the trend “deplorable.”

“We all find ourselves engaged in a war of attack as opposed to a positive exposition of our strengths,” Mr. Bishop said. “That is really what campaigns should be about.”

Mr. Altschuler, a St. James businessman who challenged Mr. Bishop two years ago, also acknowledged the bitter attack ads. He said “it’s been a struggle” to maintain a positive campaign against the incumbent, noting that his opponent’s ads have been targeting him for outsourcing jobs.

“To be honest, I was very surprised and disappointed when I entered politics two years ago, [when] Congressman Bishop and I ran against each other for the first time, what the state of it was,” Mr. Altschuler said. “It is disappointing.”

The debate between the two men, which was the first one on the South Fork this season, lasted for about an hour, as the two were scheduled for another debate immediately after in Coram. It was hosted by the Hampton Bays Civic Association. The two answered questions from Bruce King, the civic association’s president, and also took a handful of questions from local journalists.

The questions touched on a range of issues, including the future of Medicare and Medicaid and how they’re affected by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—popularly politicized by Republicans as “Obamacare”—military spending, the status of a multimillion-dollar project to repair Dune Road in Hampton Bays and East Quogue, immigration reform, and bipartisanship.

On bipartisanship, Mr. Altschuler said several times that both Democrats and Republicans were to blame for not coming to the table and dealing with a host of issues. Responding to a question about whether he has strayed from his party to vote for the good of the district, Mr. Bishop pointed to two cases—voting against a bill that would make it easier for charter schools to get started, and voting for a bill to keep the federal student loan interest rate at 3.4 percent.

Mr. Altschuler added that he would support investing in infrastructure in the 1st Congressional District, including sewer districts, highways and dredging, despite Republican attempts to keep those items out of a budget. He said he also supports investments in universities, research and institutions like Brookhaven National Lab, because they inevitably help spur economic growth.

“At the end of the day, you know, I fault Congressman Bishop for voting with his party all the time,” said Mr. Altschuler. “If I come back here and I’m doing the exact same thing, I’m just as guilty as he is. The answer is, neither party knows exactly the right way to do things. The answer is sometimes the one side and the other, but it’s always got to be the right answer for this district and this country.”

On the question of Dune Road’s chronic flooding, and whether either candidate would prioritize funding a nearly $7 million project to elevate sections of the thoroughfare, both were supportive. Mr. Altschuler reiterated that he believes investments in infrastructure are important and “can reap benefits” for businesses. But he also pointed out that there’s a need to be mindful of costs because the nation is currently plagued by whopping debts and deficits.

Mr. Bishop emphasized that the Dune Road project is “a classic example of the short-sightedness of the policies that are now in place in Washington—that is, a moratorium on earmarks.” He explained that since Dune Road is not a “federal aid highway,” the only way the project could get funded is through a partnership between Southampton Town, Suffolk County and New York State. “If we had earmarks, we could do it, but since we don’t, we cannot,” he added.

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