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May 28, 2018 10:16 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Democrats Face Off At Debate In Hampton Bays

May 28, 2018 2:17 PM

From Donald Trump to Nancy Pelosi, from helping health care to helping the working class, from helping the immigrant community to helping each other, the five hopefuls in the Democratic congressional primary race laid out their left-leaning credentials last week at a candidates’ debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons.

Held at Hampton Bays High School on Thursday, May 24, it was the candidates’ second face-to-face-to-face-to-face-to-face debate of the campaign.

All five of the Democratic candidates held up the party’s health care mantra for 2018, “Medicare For All,” as the best hope for providing affordable health care to middle- and lower-class Americans.

Each agreed that comprehensive immigration reform, paths to citizenship for so-called “Dreamers,” and combating misinformation and race-baiting by Republicans and President Trump with concerns about MS-13 gang violence had to be at the top of the party agenda.

They also all agreed that whoever of the five should win the June 26 Democratic primary, he or she would receive the full support of the others in the general election effort to unseat U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin in the 1st District.

Beyond those issues, however, the lock-step agreements among the five candidates—Kate Browning, Elaine DiMasi, Perry Gershon, Vivian Viloria-Fisher and David Pechefsky—faltered. Each had variations in how they think the Democrats can win back the 1st District seat, on what the party’s priorities should be for Suffolk County’s working-class residents, and how they see Mr. Zeldin having failed the district.

Mr. Gershon, more than any of the others, hung the election and the rallying cry for Democrats on President Trump and Mr. Zeldin’s strong support of him.

“Our country is under attack right now,” Mr. Gershon said. “Donald Trump and his election has changed the landscape. It’s not just the issues we care about … but the whole republic and what we stand for.”

Ms. Browning, who was recently term-limited after 12 years in the Suffolk County Legislature, focused on what Mr. Zeldin himself hasn’t delivered to the county in her view, and said the party needs to focus on “bread-and-butter” issues for middle-class Long Islanders.

“He’s so far to the right, he’s forgotten who he is representing,” she said. “He takes notes from the NRA. He’s a veteran, but a lot of vets are very disappointed with him. He’s anti-labor, he’s gutting [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration], he’s gutting the [EPA’s Superfund program]. And Social Security and Medicare, they want to gut that, too.”

Mr. Pechefsky, who has worked on housing for the New York City Council and in African countries helping set up democratic institutions, said that the party will have to cobble together a coalition of voters from a variety of sources.

“To win, we are going to have to excite and engage people who are not typical midterm voters,” Mr. Pechefsky said. “Young people and certain demographic groups. If we don’t do that, we won’t win.”

Ms. DiMasi, a former scientist at Brookhaven National Laboratories, said that she saw the election swinging on the ability of Democrats to point to a path to more jobs in the district, which she said will come with a focus on a shift to clean, renewable energy sources.

“I’m a candidate who has a plan for how to create new clean energy jobs for this district,” she said, saying the county needs to “leverage exactly what we have. Expand trade schools … so there are not breakdowns in the pipeline for anyone who wants an education to get them into clean energy jobs.”

Ms. Viloria-Fisher, also a former Suffolk County legislator, said that the policies Mr. Zeldin has supported show a lack of inter-personal concern for the less fortunate, the environment and bettering the lives of his constituents. She pointed to cuts to programs like Meals On Wheels, medical research and environmental initiatives.

“I went to see him after the travel bans—there was no depth, no empathy,” said Ms. Viloria-Fisher, who was born in the Dominican Republic.

On the subject of immigration as a whole, she added: “I’m the only person [here] who has stood up to the fear-mongering against immigrants: A truck sat in front of my house for six hours with a sign that said ‘Deport Vivian Fisher,’” Ms. Viloria-Fisher recalled. “We need a path to citizenship. We need something for migrant workers.”

The need to embrace immigrants, despite the successes at the polls Mr. Trump and Mr. Zeldin have seen supporting crackdowns on immigrant communities, was something all the candidates saw as important.

“We should not fall into the narrative that immigration is a problem,” Mr. Pechefsky said. “We should [see] that it is a strength, that it makes American society stronger.”

“I’m an immigrant myself—I’m standing here living the dream, and that should be afforded to any immigrant who comes here,” added Ms. Browning, who was raised in Ireland and is married to a New York Police Department officer. “We have many immigrants who are working, who obey the law and need to stay here.”

Ms. DiMasi said that America’s immigration system is a sound one overall that holds up the values that are important. It allows families to stay together, it attracts people with skills who are a boon to the economy, and it allows for compassion when catastrophes strike in other countries.

All the candidates agreed the Republicans have dropped the ball on reforming health care, after making it the party’s marquee policy stance for so many years, and have labored to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” instead.

All five applauded the “Medicare For All” proposal the Democratic Party has begun touting as the best path to retooling the Affordable Care Act toward a universal health care system.

“Health care is a right, not a privilege,” Ms. Browning said. “The Republicans, for how many years, said they have a plan. But when they got there, they didn’t have a plan.”

Ms. DiMasi said that Obamacare’s weakness was that it was vulnerable to sabotage by cutting subsidies that were under the control of lawmakers and the White House. Other national health care systems around the world would not have such weaknesses and would save the government money that could be put toward infrastructure work, she said.

Mr. Gershon said that the Medicare For All approach would be better than Obamacare because it would remove the burden from small-business owners to provide insurance for employees, “That would allow small businesses to thrive,” and would free workers from being “a slave to their employer” because of their need for health care coverage, he said.

On the raging opioid addiction crisis in the country, Ms. Browning said aggressive pursuit of dealers, on the streets and in the laboratories, should be the path forward.

“I’ve been to too many funerals for young people who died from drug addiction,” she said. “Law enforcement is part of it. But we need to go after the drug companies, just like the cigarette lawsuit. They need to provide the money to get the country out of this.”

“We have to have our doctors be almost re-trained in the use of painkillers,” Ms. Viloria-Fisher said.

Ms. DiMasi said that big pharmaceutical companies were to blame for pushing drugs to be used in instances in which they never would have been used in the past.

Recalling the last challenge to Mr. Zeldin, which involved a contentious and at times highly personal fight between Anna Throne-Holst and David Calone in 2016 for the Democratic nomination, the candidates this time around have all said that regardless of who wins, it’s crucial that everyone support the nominee.

“The Democrats must win this election to put a check on the president,” Mr. Gershon said. “Whoever wins this primary, I’m going to do everything in my power to elect the Democrat.”

“Thank you, Perry—I will accept your help, and I will give you my help,” Ms. Browning said. “I will support whoever wins, because I’m doing this for my family, I’m doing this for my children.”

Mr. Pechefsky struck a similar note. “I’m running for Congress to do something, not to be someone,” he said.

Ms. Viloria-Fisher said all the candidates need to work to raise the level of discourse and how residents view them.

“I was talking to someone about Trump, and I asked them, ‘How can you stand his lies?’ and she said, ‘Well, all politicians lie,’” Ms. Viloria-Fisher said, shaking her head. “Hold us to a higher standard than that.”

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This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By SpeedRacer (160), Southampton on May 28, 18 1:21 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By HamptonClassic (132), Southampton on May 28, 18 1:35 PM
Good field of candidates, lots of good ideas. From the standpoint of principle and goals, any of them would be acceptable, IMO.

So who's got the best chance to beat Lee Zeldin? I believe it has to be someone with roots in the district, preferably in the western part where the votes are, and not someone who can be labelled a carpetbagger.

A candidate who's new to the game would be alright, but not a rank amateur with zero experience, not for an important race like this.

A ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on May 28, 18 7:57 PM
1 member liked this comment