Democratic Representative Tim Bishop and his Republican challenger Randy Altschuler answered challenging and controversial questions from students on Thursday, Oct. 11, when the two visited Stony Brook University during two different sessions of POL 102 (Introduction to American Government).

Although the candidates running for New York’s First Congressional District focused on their policies rather than attacking each other, both had to deal with tough questions regarding their records.

One student asked Bishop to comment on recent ads questioning his ethics after he received a $5,000 campaign contribution from a constituent who had asked the Congressman for help with a federal fireworks permit earlier this year. The five-term incumbent representative, who spoke at the evening session of the class, said someone had told his campaign that the individual seeking his help with the permit “wanted to make a contribution,” and that all his campaign did was provide the information.

“This is not a solicitation,” Bishop said. “That is not a quid pro quo … The ads that are running against me are fundamentally dishonest.”

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Altschuler, who came to the morning session of the class, was asked about recent criticism over outsourcing. The St. James businessman was the CEO and co-founder of OfficeTiger, a business process outsourcing company dedicated to upgrading business support services. The company created 4,000 jobs—750 of which were in the U.S.—according to Altschuler’s campaign website.

“We had employees all around the world,” he told students. “Outsourcing doesn’t mean stealing American jobs or offshoring American jobs. Outsourcing means doing a task that somebody else doesn’t do themselves … I created jobs everywhere. I created jobs around the world. We live in a global economy. I’m proud of the record of creating jobs and knowing how to do it.”

The race is one of the most watched in the country. In 2010, Bishop defeated Altschuler by only 593 votes. The GOP is also hoping to unseat the Southampton congressman, which could help the party keep control of the House for the next two years.

The 1st Congressional District comprises most of Central and Eastern Suffolk County, including most of Smithtown and the towns of Brookhaven, Riverhead, Southampton, East Hampton, Southold and Shelter Island.

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A few students who saw both candidates on Thursday said Altschuler was more “laid-back” than Bishop. Raman Kaur, a senior biology major, said Bishop’s answers became defensive after he was asked about recent allegations against him.

“Debating-wise, Randy did a better job explaining his stand on the issues that were addressed,” said Kaur, who’s a T.A. for both sessions of the class. “[Altschuler] basically answered the questions that students were concerned about and he wasn’t defensive like Tim Bishop was when it came to addressing controversial issues.”

Professor Jason Rose, who teaches both sessions, said the candidates made it very visible how different they are.

“The two candidates have profound differences in how they approach the problems facing our district and the nation,” Rose said. “Representative Bishop talked a lot about public sector employment in our area, including Stony Brook University, while Randy talked about encouraging private sector job-creation to build the tax-base so that we can boost the economy and pay for those public sector jobs and services we all want.”

Bishop said that one of his priorities in Congress is to watch for how federal proposals impact the largest employers in the 1st Congressional District, especially SBU—the largest employer.

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“In my view, if there’s something going on that’s good for Stony Brook University, then that’s good for us, that’s good for our economy [and] that’s good for our region,” Bishop said. “And if something that’s being proposed is bad for Stony Brook University, then in the same way, that’s bad for our region [and] that’s bad for our economy because it can hurt employment here.”

Altschuler said that, if elected, his number one priority would be fixing the economy.

“The economy is the number one issue by far,” he said. “There’s no question in my mind. That’s where all of our focus should be.”

He also said he would be working to help small businesses grow on Long Island. The 41-year-old candidate said he wants to turn this district into “the Silicon Valley of the East.”

Bishop answered challenging questions regarding military downsizing, the Affordable Care Act and the crisis between Iran and Israel. When a student asked the congressman what he thought about the controversy surrounding Megaupload, a file-sharing website shut down by the federal government earlier this year, Bishop was not able to answer.

“I don’t know about the Megaupload case. I’d like you to teach me about [it],” he asked the student. “I promise I’ll call you and will try to learn what you know.”

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Bishop got personal when a student asked whether he supported legalizing marijuana.

“I’m not a big fan at all of marijuana,” he said. “I have a 33-year-old daughter who spent time when she was a teenager in a residential rehab.”

While Bishop avoided referring to his opponent, Altschuler did not hesitate to criticize Bishop by name while talking to students. The businessman even commented on a recent report by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington that ranked Bishop as one of the 12 most corrupt members of Congress.

Among other topics, Altschuler also answered questions about student debt, national debt and health care reform.

The Affordable Care Act was one of the issues on which the two men disagreed the most. Altschuler, who wants to repeal the law, told students the Act is not reducing the cost of health care.

Bishop said repealing the law would be “an enormous mistake” and that opponents of the act have not offered any alternatives to replace it.

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