SUFFOLK COUNTY, NY — The clock is ticking as residents get ready to head to the polls —in what's evolved into one of the most heated races in the midterm elections— to cast their votes for the representative of New York's First Congressional District this Election Day.
Here's what you need to know before heading out to the polls this November.
Election Day: Tuesday, Nov. 6
Polling Times: Polls will open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- Lee Zeldin — incumbent (R)
- Perry Gershon — (D)
District: The First Congressional District of New York includes most of central and eastern Suffolk County, including the East End, Brookhaven Town, and most of Smithtown. View the district map here.
Meet the candidates facing off to represent New York's 1st Congressional District and hear what they have to say on the issues in an in-depth Q & A.
What prompted you to run for office?
LZ: Whether as an active duty Army Officer and now in the Reserves, a New York State Senator, and now as our Congressman, it has been a great privilege and honor to serve the community that has always been my home.
PG: Our country is under attack from an existential threat of authoritarianism, personified by the candidacy and presidency of Donald Trump and enabled by Lee Zeldin. I am a successful businessman of 25 years who knows how to build alliances and achieve compromises where all sides feel victorious. I stand for Democratic principles of job growth, universal and affordable healthcare, protection of our environment and a fair society for all. Trump's rise was made possible by the near-universal unpopularity of our elected officials in the 21st century, and by running for office I look to change that trend. I am committed to working with both parties to try to actually restore bipartisan cooperation. It is imperative that all of us fight back before our country is hopelessly overrun.
What is it about your experience, before taking office and during your time in the seat, that you feel makes you uniquely qualified to hold this position?
PG: I am 56-years-old and am running for office for the first time in my life. My background as a 25-year entrepreneur and job creator makes me uniquely qualified to serve this district in Congress. I understand how the economy works, and have a strong vision on how we can build a strong future for Long Island. Most importantly, my experiences have reinforced my appreciation for creating solutions. To me, the best deal is when both parties want to come back for another. We need more of that in Washington.
LZ: I have proven myself as an effective workhorse for my Congressional district with a detailed record of securing wins for the community I grew up in, and am now raising my twin girls in with my great wife. My opponent, on the other hand, admits to recently registering in our district just to run for Congress. Whether in the Army, as a small business owner, or in elected office, I've been actively serving and delivering for our Congressional district throughout my entire life in one form or another. In the State Senate, I successfully fought to repeal the MTA Payroll Tax for 80 percent of employers, a job killing tax that was hurting small businesses. I led the successful efforts to repeal the saltwater fishing license fee and create the PFC Joseph Dwyer Program, a statewide program now in New York to help our returning veterans cope with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). I sponsored legislation to enact the nation's strongest property tax cap and helped reduce middle income tax rates in New York to the lowest level in 60 years. I also wrote the law that protects our fallen veterans and their families from protests at military burials. In Congress, I introduced my adult day health care bill for disabled veterans that was signed into law and secured a new health care clinic for East End veterans. I have brought the President to our area multiple times to work together to defeat MS-13 and other violent gangs. I have supported our local environment, by tripling funding for the Long Island Sound Program, fully funding the National Estuary Program, and securing House passage of multiple bills to help preserve Plum Island. I have secured the passage and enactment into law of my common core amendment and Safe Bridges Act and have successfully resolved almost 10,000 constituent cases in favor of NY-1 residents. Ranked as the 39th most bipartisan Congressman in America, I will work with absolutely anyone and everyone to improve the community I grew up in, and will continue to work hard to effectively represent the residents of the greatest Congressional District in our country.
What are the greatest issues facing our nation?
LZ: Protecting our national security at home and abroad is priority number one, from defeating MS-13 and gang violence to better securing our borders, pursuing the most effective and consistent foreign policy, and ensuring our military and veterans are best supported. Growing our economy, which is firing on so many cylinders right now, is also very important. Nothing is more personal, though, at the moment than the need to do even more to combat the heroin and opioid abuse epidemic.
PG: Proving affordable and accessible healthcare is one of the most important challenges facing our country, and if we cannot come to a bipartisan consensus on the best approach, it will be devastating to the well-being of our citizens.
I believe the next national financial crisis will come from student debt. Decreasing the cost of higher education and expanding access to alternative pathways — like community college and vocational training — is key to keeping America and Suffolk County economically competitive and successful. We have to take action on this.
If we do not take aggressive and swift action to mitigate our impact on climate change, we will reach the point of no return. This already impacts the water we drink and the air we breathe, and has exacerbated natural disasters across our country. We cannot kowtow to corporate interests in this fight to save the earth.
Where do you stand on this issue of healthcare in the United States?
PG: Healthcare is a right, not a privilege, and we must treat it as such. While there were many issues with the Affordable Care Act, it expanded healthcare coverage. I am committed to preserving affordable coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing Medicare to directly negotiate with pharmaceutical companies.
I will fight to stabilize insurance exchanges through bipartisan reforms so that we're able to increase the number of people with health insurance and lower premiums for all Americans. I'll prioritize maintaining subsidies to stabilize the system and keep healthy people enrolled. A public option is the only real, long-term fix for the ACA to make sure that Americans have affordable, universal healthcare at the lowest possible total cost to the country.
LZ: The only way to achieve truly great, big progress with health care in this country is going to be with bipartisanship. I'm willing to work with absolutely anyone at all to find common ground on this issue. I do not believe a one size fits all federal government takeover of healthcare is the answer. I also do not believe Obamacare is the answer. People get their healthcare in our country in different ways. Some people are in the individual market. Others receive coverage through the employer market. Others receive Medicare and Medicaid while other Americans get their coverage by working for the government. The answer lies in working together to ensure each is operating as efficiently as possible while also pursuing ways to reduce the actual cost of delivering healthcare to patients. We must tackle the heroin and opioid abuse epidemic, which is why I cosponsored the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which became law, focusing on prevention, treatment, education, and rehabilitation. We must also research cures to diseases both well known and rare, which is why I cosponsored the 21st Century Cures Act, which became law.
Additionally, we must reduce the cost of prescription drugs, which is why I strongly supported the FDA reauthorization legislation that became law to bring generic drugs to market faster. I also support Medicare negotiating the cost of drugs like what takes place in other federal agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs. By the way, even though it polls better for my opponent to shamefully lie to the public otherwise, I have always fully supported covering individuals with pre-existing conditions.
I would also add that I find it absolutely disgusting and vile that my opponent is mailing around images of coat hangers, stating that is 'Lee Zeldin's plan for women's healthcare.' It was the single most awful mail piece I have ever seen in any campaign I've ever been a part of. Meanwhile, he has gone all in for a full blown federal government controlled, one size fits all takeover of health care in America that would give free health care to illegal immigrants, and bankrupt Medicare for seniors, all with absolutely no idea how to pay for it.
What measures must be taken in relation to gun control to ensure safety for our citizens and children moving forward?
LZ: We need to do everything in our power to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, terrorists, and the mentally ill. I cosponsored and voted for legislation, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, to address the serious mental health component underlying gun violence. Under current law, many families have nowhere to turn when a loved one is facing a mental health crisis and may hurt himself or others. I also introduced the Protect America Act to keep firearms and explosives out of the hands of terrorists while protecting the second amendment rights of law abiding Americans. Also, gun free zones have been identified as target rich environments for criminals, which is not good. We also need to enforce more of the laws currently on the books. Most of the time when someone attempts an illegal purchase of a firearm they are never prosecuted, which is also a big problem. I support fixing that. There is a lot that we can do that I would be supportive of. I voted in favor of the Stop School Violence Act that passed the House. I also support the ATF changing their rule on how to regulate bump stocks, being that it effectively converts a firearm to a fully automatic weapon.
PG: To make progress on gun violence, we need to set aside politics and bring Republicans and Democrats together to find common ground again and common sense. When it comes to gun violence prevention, I have a few basic priorities. Background checks should be required at a national level before guns may be purchased — and we must close the loopholes in the current system. Certain guns such as assault weapons should be registered, just as cars are today. Assault weapons should not be freely available, and I support a renewal of the provisions of the old 1994 law, as well as a ban on "bump stocks." And most of all, we should not impose "concealed carry" laws on our states.
On the issue of climate change, what must be done to protect the environment?
PG: Global climate change is real and we feel the results directly here on Long Island. We have to take accountability, and use legislation to protect our environment. Our district has two urgent environmental concerns that we must address. First, coastal beach erosion, as a result of rising sea levels, is already damaging homes and businesses. In Congress, I will not only take steps to mitigate our changing climate, but also work with coastal residents and businesses on ways to build resilient infrastructure and strengthen their livelihoods. We should stay in the Paris Climate Agreement, increase funding for the EPA, and identify and promote sustainable energy.
Second, we must protect the aquifer by ensuring that nitrate waste is properly treated so we don't pollute our bodies of water. Waste management and sewers are a serious issue in Suffolk County that requires cooperation from the local, state, and federal government. If we allow too much nitrate into the ground, we destroy the ecosystems we all rely on. I will act to protect all of Long Island's waters, for both our economy and quality of life.
LZ: All Americans should have access to clean air and clean water. I am a member of the Bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus which brings all sides together on this important topic. As a caucus, we were successful in defeating a toxic rider to the 2017 defense bill that would have barred the DOD from assessing climate change (Perry Amendment to FY 2018 NDAA).
One of my top priorities in Congress has been to safeguard our environment and preserve the abundance of our natural resources that are so important to our life, culture and economy. To allow for continued research, public access and permanent preservation, I've secured unanimous House passage of multiple bills I introduced to stop the sale of Plum Island. I am the bipartisan co-chair of the Long Island Sound Caucus and have successfully tripled funding for the EPA Long Island Sound program to $12 million and secured full funding for the National Estuary Program at $26.7 million. In fact, I just secured a new law to reauthorize the Long Island Sound program at $65 million per year, which is a big victory to protect the Sound.
To protect our air quality, I've supported important funding for clean and green energy to heat and cool our homes with technology that doesn't pollute our air, with much of the research taking place right here on Long Island at Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Lab. To fully capitalize on these technological advancements, Congress must encourage the development of new energy infrastructure as well as the modernization and development of existing infrastructure. I also successfully fought to kill a misguided proposal to reroute thousands of CT's tractor trailers onto rural East End roads via the Cross Sound Ferry, kept bigger and heavier trucks off the Long Island Expressway, and supported the expansion of freight rail service to Long Island and better service on the Long Island Rail Road, all keys to reducing air pollution and congestion on Long Island. I oppose offshore drilling off of our coast and support the use of offshore wind, but our fishermen must be given a seat at the table in order for this to work. As result of the country's transition to increased use of lower emitting energy sources such as renewable energy and natural gas, U.S. carbon emissions in 2017 were the lowest level since 1992.
Please tell me where you stand on immigration, especially as it relates to the East End or Long Island economy?
LZ: America is, and always has been, a country built on the dreams of immigrants; a nation of freedom, hope and opportunity. People of different cultures and religions, people who desire to become a part of our country, are welcomed and encouraged here, because diversity is part of what makes our great nation that much greater. Every year, there are at least a million people who come to our country legally and I am in full support of legal immigration. However, we have been faced with a major crisis. Everyone should have the opportunity to pursue the American dream, but you have to come here legally. There are well over 11 million people living here illegally, and many more breaking the law to come here each day. I do not support illegal immigration. I believe that every nation's backbone is it's rule of law and a nation without borders is no nation at all.
We must increase border security and interior enforcement, including support for our hard working ICE agents and other law enforcement. My opponent took the position during his Democratic primary in support of the sanctuary city policy of cutting off coordination and cooperation between ICE and our local forces. I couldn't disagree any more strongly with that proposal. I would add that I am against the policy of separating children and their parents. Some people have insisted on trying to fix every challenge in our immigration system with one piece of legislation. It hasn't worked. There are so many solutions that liberals and conservatives agree upon but those solutions get held hostage over the most controversial components where there is deep disagreement. Let's get done everything where there is widespread bipartisan agreement. Step one is stepping up border security and interior enforcement.
In terms of guest worker visas for local employers, the current temporary worker program, with great uncertainty, imposes excessive costs on East End employers, requiring employers to reapply annually — an expensive and time-consuming process. We must address a legal path for local businesses to employ temporary workers in order to maintain a reliable workforce. I brought House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte to Long Island recently to address these issues with local employers who face employment shortages every year. We had a very productive dinner meeting at Digger's in Riverhead. Chairman Goodlatte's proposal pairs E-verify with a new visa program for employers to maintain a reliable workforce. This bill includes mandatory E-verify to protect American workers by ensuring all employees are authorized to work in the U.S through verification. This is the best legal option and supported by the American Farm Bureau, which is desperate for a solution to retain a steady workforce and stable food supply for our country. I will continue to support our agricultural industry to ensure they have the employment stability that fulfills their important needs for our nation's food supply. This is all the more important given the new reality, which is a great problem to have, that there are now more available jobs in our country than there are people to fill the positions.
PG: We need comprehensive immigration reform. Not only must we focus on a responsible pathway to citizenship for immigrants, we must also allocate resources for law enforcement to prevent threats. On our southern border, this includes resources like intelligence-gathering devices, personnel, and information sharing methods that help the U.S. and Mexico stop drugs and weapons from being trafficked on the border. On Long Island, we will combat the dangerous threat of MS-13 by providing more resources for law enforcement to eliminate gang violence and investing in social services programs that prevent gang involvement. Countless Long Islanders have died at the hands of this gang. We must take bold action to stop MS-13 from taking more innocent lives.
That being said, immigrants play a vital role in society today. Our businesses rely on immigrants, often to perform roles and functions that American-born workers prefer not to do. Our Dreamers are in this country for no fault of their own and should not be punished for it — especially while they are adding to our economic and social well-being. They have become a vital and vibrant part of our local economy, and to push them all out in the name of xenophobia would be extremely misguided.
What must be done in regard to helicopter noise on the East End?
PG: I support reassessing the North Shore helicopter route, addressing the impact of traffic on affect communities, and improving altitude enforcement. An all-water route over the Atlantic may be the most viable option.
LZ: This is an issue throughout the East End and especially unfair to local residents who live under a flight path nowhere near where the aircraft are landing when all water routes exist but aren't being utilized. I believe an all-water Atlantic Ocean route makes the most amount of sense for helicopters traveling from NYC. My legislative proposal was recently passed and signed in to law requiring the FAA to reassess the North Shore Helicopter Route. Use of all water routes should not be that complicated but unfortunately the North Shore Helicopter Route which transitions over the North Fork was mandated by the FAA before I took office and was extended in August 2016 with zero notice or accountability. Changing the law will force the FAA to do the right thing for East End residents, which starts with a public hearing in two weeks and the opening of a public comment session, during which the FAA must consider the creation of an all water Atlantic Ocean route.
What do you think must be done to ensure the future of Plum Island as a preserve or educational facility?
LZ: Republicans and Democrats from NY in Congress, and Republicans and Democrats from NY out of Congress, are working together to preserve Plum Island. The Senators know that whatever they can pass in the Senate, I can get passed in the House. Several times since entering Congress, I've gotten multiple different proposals passed in the House with strong, bipartisan support to stop the sale of Plum Island to pursue a better path that would focus on using the research infrastructure for another research mission, continuing to preserve the 90 percent of Plum Island that is undeveloped, and to expand public access. It's most unfortunate how hard my opponent has been trying during his campaign to turn this into a hyper-partisan issue when an all Democratic Party Congress in 2008 created the law to sell Plum Island to the highest bidder. Bipartisanship needs to rule the day here.
PG: Plum Island is a precious New York asset. I will fight to make sure Plum Island is not sold and to facilitate passage of appropriate legislation in both houses of Congress. Lee takes credit for passing a bill in the House that would provide a one-year period to study alternative disposition strategies for Plum Island and prohibit pre-marketing of the Island until 180 days after the submission of the report to Congress. I would go much further than this, and pass a bill that protects Plum Island, full stop.
With the future or Roe vs. Wade possibly in jeopardy, what are your thoughts on Roe vs. Wade?
PG: I have always been, and will continue to be, unequivocally prochoice. I believe that reproductive health and reproductive freedom are inalienable human and constitutional rights, and we must always ensure Roe V. Wade remains the law of the land. I have participated in both years of the Women's March for my wife, for the women in my family, and for every woman and girl across Long Island and America who deserves better. If elected, I will continue to speak out for reproductive health and freedom, but I will do more: I will fight to advance these rights and freedoms and resist and undo every effort to limit them.
LZ: I am Pro-Life.
In light of the horrific act of hate in Pittsburgh, what will you do personally to work toward a bi-partisan approach to tackling hate crime?
LZ: Violence and hate have no place in our society. That principle should apply to all, regardless of red or blue, conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat. Throughout my time in Congress, I have worked with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to target hate and discrimination that has taken many forms. Both constructive dialogue and substantive action are important to pursue with bipartisan cooperation and solutions.
PG: Congress must lead the charge in protecting all Americans from hate crimes, and should rise above partisanship in doing so. I support Congressman Cohen's call to hold hearings on hate crimes and the domestic terrorism done by white supremacists. I would also vote for legislation that will direct the Department of Justice to take concrete action to prevent and combat anti-Semitism. We have to pass common sense gun reform so that those who attempt to commit the most heinous acts cannot out-gun our law enforcement officers. There is no reason for any civilian have to an assault rifle, let alone someone who wants to use it to carry out acts of mass destruction. We cannot continue to arm hate.
Why should voters choose you on Election Day?
PG: We are overdue for a return to civility in politics, a bipartisan approach to solving problems, and a representative in NY-01 who is in sync with the people who live here. My views on protecting affordable healthcare, including for people with pre-existing conditions; on investing in infrastructure like an electrified LIRR all the way to Montauk; on re-funding the EPA and protecting our clean water and air while working to stop climate change; on equality for women, that starts with fully funding Planned Parenthood and closing the gender wage gap; and on common sense gun safety protections that protect our children in school, and families in houses of worship and shopping malls, rather than take voting instructions from lobbyists — are all far better aligned with Long Islanders' views than are my opponents'. That's why all eight local editorial boards unanimously endorsed me after speaking at length with both candidates in the race.
LZ: I have proven myself as an effective workhorse for my Congressional District with a detailed record of securing wins for the community I grew up in, and am now raising my twin girls in with my great wife. My opponent, on the other hand, admits to recently registering in our district just to run for Congress. Whether in the Army, as a small business owner, or in elected office, I've been actively serving and delivering for our Congressional District throughout my entire life in one form or another. In the State Senate, I successfully fought to repeal the MTA Payroll Tax for 80 percent of employers, a job killing tax that was hurting small businesses. I led the successful efforts to repeal the saltwater fishing license fee and create the PFC Joseph Dwyer Program, a statewide program now in New York to help our returning veterans cope with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). I sponsored legislation to enact the nation's strongest property tax cap and helped reduce middle income tax rates in New York to the lowest level in 60 years. I also wrote the law that protects our fallen veterans and their families from protests at military burials. In Congress, I introduced my Adult Day Health Care bill for disabled veterans that was signed into law and secured a new health care clinic for East End veterans. I have brought the President to our area multiple times to work together to defeat MS-13 and other violent gangs. I have supported our local environment, by tripling funding for the Long Island Sound Program, fully funding the National Estuary Program, and securing House passage of multiple bills to help preserve Plum Island. I have secured the passage and enactment into law of my common core amendment and Safe Bridges Act and have successfully resolved almost 10,000 constituent cases in favor of NY-1 residents. Ranked as the 39th most bipartisan Congressman in America, I will work with absolutely anyone and everyone to improve the community I grew up in, and will continue to work hard to effectively represent the residents of the greatest Congressional District in our country.