Zeldin, Gershon spar in televised debate

In a debate hosted by News 12 Long Island, which aired Monday, 1st District congressional candidates Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), the incumbent, and Perry Gershon (D-East Hampton), the challenger, faced off on issues like healthcare, the economy, and more.

In their opening statements, the candidates took different routes to boost themselves up. Zeldin, a two-term congressman, touted his record on veterans, the economy and local issues, while Gershon expressed his concern for the direction of the country since the election of President Donald Trump. Zeldin did not mention his opponent in his one-minute opening statement, but Gershon accused the congressman of not facing voters and voting against protections for preexisting conditions.

“We need a check on the president’s agenda, not a rubber stamp,” Gershon said.

The first question from moderator Doug Geed was on what Trump was doing right and wrong. Zeldin answered by touting the president’s visits to Long Island to address the problem of MS-13, and said he’s had dinner at the White House with the president to discuss foreign policy matters like the Iran nuclear deal and the moving of the U.S. Embassy in Israel. Zeldin added that he opposed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by Congress last year, which the president supported, as well as the administration’s policy on offshore drilling. He said he’s spoken up both for and against the president and could be an independent voice. Gershon said he disagrees with Trump on healthcare and offshore drilling as well, but said the biggest problem is the divided culture the country has become.

Gershon called for a clean passage of the DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented minors who came to this country as children a multistep path to permanent residency. He added that he wants closed borders and systems in place that are enforceable. His strategy, he said, was to allow immigrants to come out of the shadows, and therefore prevent them from becoming prey to gangs like MS-13.

“I strongly support legal immigration. I strongly oppose illegal immigration,” Zeldin responded, adding that border security needs to be strengthened. “A nation without borders is no nation at all.”

As the debate started to gear up, both candidates began to attack one another with issues that have been longstanding in this campaign. Zeldin accused Gershon of flip-flopping on issues, and pointed viewers to a website full of Gershon videos that the campaign has used against him. Gershon responded by accusing Zeldin of distorting his statements and using altered video. Zeldin also accused Gershon, as he has throughout the campaign, of not being a real Long Islander. Gershon responded by saying he’s been a taxpayer on Long Island for over 20 years.

The candidates also discussed healthcare, with Zeldin supporting easier access to affordable care, but didn’t give many specifics on how to achieve that. Gershon wants to protect the Affordable Care Act as well as Medicare and Medicaid. He then said a Medicare-for-all system is the goal, but it would be “down the road.”

It didn’t take long for another heated argument, with Zeldin accusing Gershon of campaigning to “scare” seniors through a mailer saying Zeldin’s vote to repeal the ACA would increase their healthcare costs. Zeldin responded, citing New York law preventing healthcare costs to be based on age. Gershon accused Zeldin of personal attacks on him, including calling him “ghoulish” and “nasty” nicknames. “All I want to do is talk about issues,” he said.

The candidates used their closing statements to take last shots at one another just a week before the election.

“I’m honored to be the only Long Islander running in this district,” Zeldin said, repeating his points on healthcare, and touting the results he’s gotten in his two terms. Gershon said the election is an option for Long Islanders to give their voice on whether or not the country is moving in the right direction.

The election is on Tuesday, Nov. 6. The full debate can be viewed online at news12.com.

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