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Zeldin, Goroff Debate Future of N.Y. Congressional District

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Candidates in New York’s first congressional district faced off this week in an online debate organized by the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons. And while this race is between Republican incumbent Lee Zeldin and Democrat challenger Nancy Goroff, President Donald Trump loomed above it.

Zeldin had the tougher job in the debate. He and Trump won the district by double digits in 2016. Now the latest polls put Goroff and Zeldin in a dead heat. But, Trump’s numbers in the district are worse: 4-points behind Vice President Joe Biden.

Zeldin was on the attack for much of the night. This happened most forcefully around law enforcement and an attack ad run by an outside group that claims incorrectly that Zeldin wants to restrict abortion even if a woman’s life is endangered. 

“She should be leading the charge to take that ad down,” Zeldin said. “But she won’t she wants to benefit from it to scare women. Provide the facts. And that’s why channel seven took that ad down.”

In 2015, Zeldin voted to ban abortion after 20 weeks unless the woman’s life were in danger. His campaign website states her prefers alternatives to abortion.

Technically, Goroff has no control over outside groups. But instead of rebuking the ad’s content, she criticized Zeldin’s ads that claim she wants to defund the police. 

“And your campaign is advertising that I want to defund the police when I have said very clearly,” Goroff said “Over and over again that I don’t want to defund the police.”

Zeldin’s campaign is largely built on casting Goroff as a radical in support of rioting and releasing criminals from jail. What Goroff actually says is that she wants to invest more in social services and not have cops solving problems such as homelessness and drug treatment. Though she doesn’t say where this funding would come from. 

The debate took place over Zoom.Goroff appeared relaxed, often drinking from a coffee mug. Her focus was to blame Trump, Republicans, and by association Zeldin, for everything ranging from waning global influence to the coronavirus. 

“And we know it’s because of an irresponsible president and his reckless and incomptent response to this pandemic,” Goroff said. “And unfortunately Congressman Zeldin called his response phenomenal.”

In the debate, Zeldin shifted blame for the coronavirus to a lack of warning signals from China and the World Health Organization, while at the same time touting his own efforts to secure medical supplies from the White House. 

With the pandemic, Zeldin tried his best to sound upbeat. He said unemployment--now at 8.5%--is coming down and that a relief package from Congress is right around the corner.

“This next Coronavirus response bill that should get done--listen there’s a great deal that could be had tonight,” Zeldin said. “We could go back to Congress this week and have something passed and signed into law that would provide a substantial amount of funding.”

Though realistically, a relief bill before the election is unlikely. Right now, Senate Republicans, where Zeldin has no influence, opposes the latest agreement between the White House and House Democrats. 

The clear policy differences between Zeldin and Goroff fall largely along party ideologies. Goroff is the candidate for voters who prioritizes issues like climate change, expanding health care coverage, and Black Lives Mater; Zeldin is the candidate for voters who prioritize law and order over protests and a continuation of tough immigration enforcement. 

Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including an IRE award, three SPJ Public Service Awards, and a National Murrow. He was also a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and Third Coast Director’s Choice Award.