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Democratic Congressional hopefuls attend North Fork forum

02/13/2018 6:00 AM |

Residents across the North Fork got their first introduction last weekend to seven individuals who will vie for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin in November.

While the Democratic primary is still months away, the hopefuls have been making the rounds at various events to build momentum and visibility among voters. The Southold Democratic Committee hosted a forum Saturday at the Hellenic Snack Bar & Restaurant in East Marion, where the members of the field outlined their vision to an audience of about 60. It was one of three forums scheduled for this month alone.

The prospective candidates include former Suffolk County Legislator Kate Browning of Shirley; Elaine DiMasi of Ronkonkoma, a former physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory; businessman Perry Gershon of East Hampton, who has worked in commercial real estate finance; Westhampton native Brendon Henry of Center Moriches, a bartender who also works in ordering and pricing for a plumbing contractor; David Pechefsky, a former New York City Council staffer from Port Jefferson; and  Vivian Viloria Fisher of Setauket, who served as a county legislator until she reached her term limit in 2011. The newest person to join the race is Bruce Gordon Miller Jr., a Port Jefferson Village trustee and former teacher and Port Jefferson school board member.

“Every one of these candidates is so far and away superior to Lee Zeldin,” said Kathryn Casey Quigley, chairwoman of the Southold Town Democrats. “No matter who wins this primary, we will stand behind you and help you win.”

Each candidate gave an introduction and then had the chance answer a few questions, submitted to the committee in advance, om topics ranging from immigration to health care. They expressed similar viewpoints and a general dislike of the incumbent they hope to unseat.

“Lee Zeldin stands for all of the things that, as Americans, are contrary to our values,” Ms. Viloria Fisher said in her introduction. “He doesn’t welcome the stranger; Democrats welcome the stranger. He doesn’t stand for a woman’s right to choose; Democrats stand for that. He doesn’t stand for helping the poor and making government an instrument of help.”

All candidates said they favored of universal health care and helping immigrants.

“I stand with Dreamers, I’ve worked with Dreamers,” Mr. Henry said. “I want to introduce a policy where we introduce tax ID numbers to everyone, get everyone in the system, give everyone a chance to work, to have a license, to insure their cars, to live and rent in safe residences.”

Ms. Browning said she thinks there needs to be a better visa program to allow local farmers to hire people to provide the support they need.

When asked how they plan to beat Mr. Zeldin, many brought up fundraising needs and their own strategies.

“To beat Lee Zeldin is a one-two punch,” Ms. DiMasi said. “First we show voters how much harm he’s really done. There are numbers of people who would be harmed when he wants to vote against marriage equality, against universal health care, against Planned Parenthood. The second punch is to be the candidate who [can] get out all the Democrats and independent voters we know will not vote for Trump anymore.”

Mr. Gershon said that, as of Dec. 31, his campaign has raised over $1 million and has $812,000 in cash on hand. The Democratic primary is June 26.

“Zeldin is already ahead of us,” he said. “We need to stay competitive. We need to keep the fundraising going. It’s an unfortunate part of politics.”

Mr. Miller said he is working on taking veteran votes away from Mr. Zeldin, as he is a veteran himself.

On Thursday, Feb. 15, the Indivisible Patriots of Long Island will hosting a Meet the Candidates event at 7 p.m. in the Westhampton Room of the main building at East Wind Catering in Wading River. There is no charge to attend. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

On Monday, Feb. 26, East End Dem Women will present a debate on women’s equality and reproductive health. The location will be provided with the RSVP to [email protected], according to the group’s chairwoman, Jennifer Maertz. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., and the debate starts at 6:15. Admission is free.

Photo caption: Perry Gershon of East Hampton said his campaign has raised over $1 million. (Credit: Rachel Siford)

CORRECTIONS: The Democratic primary for the House race is June 26, 2018. Mr. Pechefsky currently lives in Port Jefferson and is no longer a staffer in the city council. And Ms. Browning is a former county legislator. She term limited out Dec. 31.

WITH TAYLOR K. VECSEY

[email protected]

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