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Election 2020: Zeldin, Goroff clash on a number of issues in online debate

Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Mastic) and his Democratic opponent, Nancy Goroff of Stony Brook, squared off in a debate Monday that was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, Shelter Island and the North Fork, along with the Brookhaven and Smithtown LWVs.

The candidates argued about what they’d said about each other in campaign advertisements.

“I got in this race because I want our kids to live in a world where the government is actually trying to make people‘s lives better and policy decisions are based on facts and realities,” said Ms. Goroff, who is a scientist and professor at Stony Brook University. “I was so frustrated and infuriated at politicians’ willingness to ignore the facts and ignore the evidence on issue after issue.”

“I was born and raised on Long Island,” Mr. Zeldin said. “My wife and daughters and I live now just a few blocks from where I grew up. In the Army, I spent four years on active duty. I spent the last 13 years in the Army Reserve where I currently serve with the rank of lieutenant colonel. In the past I’ve served as a military intelligence officer, prosecutor, magistrate and parachute trooper with the 82nd Airborne Division.”

Ms. Goroff said she lived in Stony Brook for 23 years and raised her two daughters and put them through public school there. 

At Stony Brook, she taught and conducted research and served as chair of the chemistry department, where she oversaw 300 employees and a multi-million dollar budget. 

Mr. Zeldin said he is ranked as the 12th most bipartisan member of Congress by the Lugar Center and the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University.

“I work with anyone to find common ground and help, however possible,” he said. This year, Mr. Zeldin said, he was able to get “massive supplies” of PPE and other medical supplies for hospitals, the county and small businesses in his district, as well as for a $2 billion Electron Ion Collider Project at Brookhaven National Lab.

The candidates were both asked why the death toll from COVID-19 is greater in the United States than any other wealthy nation.

Mr. Zeldin said it’s important to attack the virus early on, and by working together. He said that didn’t happen in December and January because “the Chinese Communist Party and the World Health Organization made sure that the facts were muzzled.”

“Unfortunately, it started in China and spread to the entire world,” Ms. Goroff said. 

“It’s really infuriating that we are the wealthiest nation in the world and have suffered the most deaths, and the most cases,” she said. “We are further behind every other developed country in the world and we know it’s because of an irresponsible president and his reckless and incompetent response to this pandemic.” 

Defund the police? 

That’s a phrase that has been heard in many campaigns this year, and Ms. Goroff says she doesn’t support defunding the police, as Mr. Zeldin’s advertisements have claimed she does. 

“I will start by setting the record straight, because unfortunately my opponent has been spreading lies about my positions,” Ms. Goroff said. “So let me be very clear: I am against defunding the police. The police play a very important role in keeping us safe. The police also need to have the resources and the training to do their job well.”

But, she added, “we have seen in incidents this spring and summer that there are issues we must address as a society. Issues of systemic racism and issues of how to do things better. I am committed to working with all stakeholders to make sure that we address those issues and that we look at how to do things better.”

“Let’s talk about some facts,” Mr. Zeldin said. “My opponent called the police dangerous. That is on video. My opponent said that we should send non-police to respond to domestic violence crime scenes instead of sending police. That’s on video as well. During a New York One primary debate, it was asked whether the candidates supported federal funding to combat MS-13. The other three Democratic candidates clearly and unequivocally said yes. My opponent was the only one on stage who refused to.” 

Mr. Zeldin said his opponent supports a bill calling for cashless bail nationally, as well as a mass prison release that includes violent prisoners. 

He said that at a screening with county law enforcement organizations, “she was asked to condemn the rioting, looting and violence against police and she refused to. Everything here is documented.”

“Once again Mr. Zeldin is telling stories for political expedience instead of actually sticking with the facts,” Ms. Goroff said. “Let me be clear, I am against rioting, I am against looting and I am against letting violent criminals on the street.”

She added, “That doesn’t mean we can’t do better and when we look at the incidents that we saw, George Floyd‘s death and Breonna Taylor‘s death, it’s clear to any of us that we must do better.” Mr. Zeldin said he is always working with members of the opposite party. 

“That’s the only way to get something done when you have a” split government, he said.

“It would be nice if Congressman Zeldin was better at getting things done than actually talking about them,” Ms. Goroff responded. “Unfortunately, in the six years he’s been in office, he has only passed three pieces of legislation that he originated, and two of them were naming buildings.”

Mr. Zeldin said he has passed 10 pieces of legislation that he originated.

“In Congress, I will be a leader, in particular, on the issue of climate change,” Ms. Goroff said. “I will have my office be a research resource for every member of Congress. Republican and Democrat. So they can get access to the best information available.”

Mr. Zeldin said he serves on the Bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, and cosponsored a bill called the Carbon Capture Improvement Act, which creates financial incentives for industrial plants, facilities and power plants to invest in carbon capture and storage equipment.

“The science is absolutely clear that human activity and human emission of carbon dioxide and methane and other carbon compounds is the cause of this climate change,” Ms. Goroff said. “Thankfully, it is not too late, but we must take vigorous and sustained action.”