New York’s 1st congressional district incumbent Rep. Tim Bishop and his challenger, New York State Sen. Lee Zeldin, gave voters a chance to hear their positions on key international, domestic and local issues of the midterm elections at the Staller Center on Monday, Oct. 27.
Stony Brook Votes, a non-partisan student activist group on campus, started planning for the event over the summer. The group, which includes senior history major Dan Smith and junior history major James Alrassi, organized the debate to encourage the Stony Brook University community to vote.
“Two months ago when I first had the idea of setting up this debate, I never thought I’d be standing on stage talking to fellow students and community members, but here we are,” Smith said. “I want everyone here to consider this: If a small group of students can get everyone together here for a debate imagine what we can all do if we go out and vote on Nov. 4. This is an important election coming up, but not a lot of students are thinking about it or talking about it.”
Richard French, president of Regional News Network and host of “Richard French Live” on Fios1, moderated the debate.
One issue French asked the candidates about was Ebola and what the policy should be in dealing with it in the United States, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo changed positions regarding quarantine amid health care professionals’ concerns about overreactions about the disease.
Bishop said that both the governors of New York and New Jersey, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are revising their policy and that health care professionals who return from West Africa should be treated in a way that safeguards health without discrimination in an “evolving” situation.
“I think where we are headed is a set of guidances that are based on sound science, which is important, which is based on protecting human health, which is the most important imperative any elected official has,” Bishop said.
Zeldin said that he is in favor of a ban on direct travel from West African countries, called the reaction from the government a failure and said that under-reacting leads to crisis.
“The president made the decision to appoint an Ebola czar who had absolutely no health care experience,” he said, adding, “It’s be nice to have an Ebola czar with some bearings whatsoever as to how medical research works, how to diagnose and how to treat Ebola, which the Ebola czar does not.”
The candidates were also asked if they were in favor of putting more Suffolk County men and women on the ground overseas to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
“As far as Syria goes, that would be a whole new front,” Zeldin said. “If the president and Pentagon would want to go there it should not happen without a debate in Congress as to whether we should open up that whole new front.”
Bishop said that he does not support “wholesale reintroduction” of U.S. forces on the ground, but agrees with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey in that a military strategy that could fully defeat ISIS does not exist.
“What he said, and I believe that he’s right, is that what’s necessary in Iraq and in Syria is the formation of inclusive governments that will not repress and alienate the Sunnis,” Bishop said. “They are alienated, they are repressed and they are disenfranchised. That is the fuel, if you will, that creates entities like ISIS.”
In regards to whether there should be a national minimum wage set at $10.10 an hour, Zeldin said he does not support it, citing how New York’s minimum wage is nearing $9 an hour. He said that young people are leaving Long Island because they cannot afford to start families there and that policy should help create well-paying private sector jobs.
“It’s not whether you make $8 or $10 or $12 or $15, you can’t make it on Long Island,” he said. “We need to get smarter with the way the government helps create private sector jobs, by helping our businesses to what they do best.”
Bishop said he supports a national minimum wage of $10.10, calling it “modest,” because it would stop reliance on safety net programs, such as food stamps.
French asked the candidates about the “brain drain” of young people leaving Long Island. Zeldin said that health care, energy and unfunded mandates all add to costs and are part of why well-paying private sectors jobs should be created to stop the “brain drain.” Bishop said it is necessary to create jobs through investing in infrastructure and create a better-trained workforce, citing Stony Brook University’s business incubators as part of the solution.
Other questions included immigration, how teachers should be evaluated instead of the Common Core, gun control, rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy, climate change and the balance between liberty and security of U.S. citizens.