Things are getting testy on the campaign trail between the two candidates, but on Thursday, October 25, at The Independent, a cold truce ruled the day.
The incumbent, Lee Zeldin (R) and his challenger, Perry Gershon (D) have engaged in several snippy debates of late as they fight for Zeldin’s First Congressional seat, but managed to keep it civil during a Q & A with The Independent’s editorial staff.
The two candidates talked in measured terms and were polite, though not cordial to each other. Each accused the other of making untrue statements at prior debates and especially in television ads, which are airing with increasing frequency as Election Day nears. Gershon, for example, said he never invested in foreign oil companies. “The Zeldin campaign suggested I invested in offshore oil, tweeted it out, and put it in ads.”
“A great source is his Financial Disclosure Form,” Zeldin countered. “It shows an offshore oil bond worth between $250,000 and $500,000.” Gershon said the investment was a Louisiana Offshore Oil terminal, when pressed.
Zeldin accused Gershon of being against President Donald Trump and trying to paint he and President Trump with the same brush. “You compared Trump to Hitler and said that’s why you decided to run against Lee Zeldin.”
Gershon said he’s running for issues that matter in this district: “Health care, the environment, gun safety, and a woman’s right to choose — it’s issue based.” Zeldin said he frequently votes against Trump. He noted that the Lugar Center Bipartisan Index ranked him 45th last year and 39th this year.
Trump’s shadow looms large, Gershon agreed, “I’m 56. I was 55 when I decided to run and I was motivated by Trump’s presidency. This country is going in the wrong direction.”
Gershon said Zeldin wanted to cut Medicare for seniors; the incumbent denied it. Cleary, the matter of health care is one of the most clearly defined between the two.
“Medicare for all is about getting everyone coverage,” Gershon said. The current system drives people to emergency rooms, which “is a big drain on our economy. It’s a horrible burden on working families and employees.” He acknowledged there would be a learning curve going into Congress as a newbie but said he would seek coalitions from other new members. Zeldin boasted that during his first term (he’s seeking his third) he co-sponsored many successful bills with Democrats.
Gershon said the country was better with the Affordable Care Act despite its flaws and criticized Congress for not passing an alternative but cutting the legs out of Obamacare by eliminating the individual mandate. “The mandate was a way to lower costs and create a pool.”
Zeldin said TrumpCare would have provided a 10 percent decrease in premiums. More to the point, the ACA doesn’t work in most places because there are not enough providers, so there is no competition for their services. Gershon wants a single payer system, and said he did not want to nationalize health care. He said taxes would be raised to pay for it. Neither was optimistic about an immediate fix. Gershon acknowledged selling a Medicare-based system would take patience. He stressed it was a necessity that had to be pursued. Zeldin said the problem is there aren’t enough solvent health care providers to provide the competition needed to drive premium prices down. Shopping for out of state providers is an option worth pursuing, he stressed.
When Gershon claimed Zeldin wanted to deny health coverage to people with preexisting conditions, Zeldin pointed out the practice is against the law in New York State and “has been since the ‘90s.”
Gershon did not reply when Zeldin charged illegal immigrants would be given Medicare if Gershon had his way. Both men do not support a call to abolish Immigration Custom Enforcement and do away with the agents. “I know some people do, but I strongly oppose getting rid of it. ICE is a necessity,” Gershson opined. Zeldin is a strong backer of ICE and has worked to round up MS-13 gang members in the district.
The candidates clashed on the Muller investigation. Zeldin denied he wanted it to conclude in the near future, as Gershon suggested. “I never said that. I said it should not be open-ended,” Zeldin said.
“It should be allowed to continue,” Gershon said.
Zeldin is pro life, he acknowledged. “My daughters were born in the 25th week, the second trimester. I’m pro life unless there are certain emergencies.”
“Women have the right to choose,” said Gershon. But, he offered, abortions “should not be done in the third trimester.”
Zeldin was born and raised on Long Island. He grew up in Suffolk County and graduated from William Floyd High School in Mastic Beach. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at Albany and then his law degree from Albany Law School, becoming New York’s youngest attorney at the time, at the age of 23.
Zeldin deployed to Tikrit, Iraq, with an infantry battalion of fellow paratroopers in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is still in the Reserves.
After graduating from Yale in 1984, Gershon founded one of New York’s first sports bars and followed with a 25-year career as a lender to commercial real estate. He moved to East Hampton fulltime in 2017 but has maintained a residence on the East End for 20 years. He acknowledged he never voted in a local election here until last year.