In New York’s Congressional District 1, former Chairwoman of Stony Brook University’s Chemistry Department Nancy Goroff (Democrat) and incumbent Lee Zeldin (Republican) are on the ballot for the Nov. 3 election.
Zeldin, ranked the second most conservative member of Congress from New York by GovTrack, has represented eastern Long Island since 2015 and is closely aligned with President Donald Trump. Two years ago he was reelected after beating Perry Gershon, the Democratic candidate, by only four points.
Unlike Zeldin, Nancy Goroff is a political newcomer who has spent most of her career in academia. Running as a Democrat and member of the Working Families Party, she decided to take an 18-month leave of absence from her post at Stony Brook University to pursue a congressional campaign. Her past positions at the university include associate provost, interim dean of the Graduate School, and most recently chairwoman of the chemistry department.
As a scientist and professor, her campaign is based on examining the facts and evidence to generate solutions to the climate crisis, healthcare access and coronavirus response. She hopes to bring a science perspective to policymaking in Congress and addressing climate change is one of her top priorities. If she wins the election, she would be the first member of Congress to hold a doctorate in science.
“I am really committed to making sure we take serious sustained ambitious action on climate change. And we need to because it is long term, the biggest threat we face to our way of life,” Goroff said in an interview with The Statesman.
Born and raised in Suffolk County, Zeldin is a former attorney, army veteran and current officer in the United States Army Reserve. During his five years in office, his top priorities have included protecting America’s security at home and abroad, supporting veterans, first responders and law enforcement. His proposed amendment to allow states to opt-out of the Common Core standards while keeping federal funding became a law in 2015.
Zeldin has also helped to bring several federal projects and funding to Brookhaven National Lab, including $2 billion for an Electron-Ion Collider and $115 million for a Quantum Information Science Center.
“I support Zeldin because he has delivered proven results for Long Island,” said Kenneth Rothwell, junior sustainability studies major and president of the College Republicans at Stony Brook University. “During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Zeldin fought and secured over a million items of PPE for Long Island’s healthcare workers. In Congress, Zeldin helped secure a compromise that helped secure emergency loans to many families and businesses across the nation.”
To tackle the climate crisis, Zeldin has tripled funding for the EPA Long Island Sound project and permanently funded and reauthorized The Land and Water Conservation Fund while in office. He serves as a member of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus and is a cosponsor of the Carbon Capture Improvement Act, which would create financial incentives for industrial plants, facilities and power plants to invest in carbon capture if passed. He also serves on the PFAS Task Force, which addresses manmade chemical contamination in water sources.
“Completely surrounded by water, we all want to see our environment protected, we want our coastlines to be secured. We want to stay here and fight for our home,” Zeldin said at a virtual climate change discussion hosted by Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Students for Climate Action and the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund.
Goroff has set a goal to make the United States carbon neutral by 2035, by investing in renewable energy, energy-efficient buildings and clean vehicles nationwide. But she has not given her full support for the Green New Deal, a progressive climate change initiative spearheaded by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
“I am deeply concerned by the effects of climate change. Our beaches are covered with trash. Our shorelines are eroding. Our climate needs to be prioritized,” said Catherine Maglione, a Miller Place resident and student at Columbia University, who has been phone banking for Joe Biden’s campaign. “Goroff has science on her side, and I trust her wholeheartedly to examine the facts and fight for policies that will significantly better our communities.”
Most recently, Goroff has received high profile endorsements from former President Obama, former Vice President and Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer. The New York Times and Long Island’s premier newspaper, Newsday, have also endorsed her with faith that her science background will be an asset in Washington.
“I like her ties to Stony Brook and especially her science background,” said Dylan Kattou, a freshman applied mathematics and statistics major at Stony Brook University, who voted for Goroff by mail. “I think science is being ignored right now and I hope that in Congress Goroff pushes the government to listen to the scientists.”
The 314 Action Fund conducted a poll in order to gauge support for the candidates this month, showing Zeldin leading by one point, 49 to 48, and 2% of voters undecided. The margin of error is 4.9%. An earlier poll conducted in August by the Global Strategy Group found that when voters heard balanced profiles of both candidates, the vote shifted by nine points, putting Goroff into a 4-point lead over Zeldin (47% to 43%).
This election comes at a time when the country is divided along partisan lines and public health issues, such as climate change and the pandemic, are politically polarized.
Trump won District 1, where registered Republican voters outweigh Democrats by roughly 3,000 voters, by eight points in 2016. But his rising unpopularity due to his response to the pandemic could sway voters to choose a candidate that is critical of the president, instead of one who unwaveringly supports him like Zeldin has, according to The New York Times. Goroff said her background as a scientist also puts her in a unique position to deal with the timely issues that threaten public health.
“There are many people who voted for Trump and Zeldin in the past, but who have been really disenchanted by the president and Zeldin because they aren’t wearing masks everywhere they go,” Goroff said. “And they know that the president and Zeldin have really let them down.”
Zeldin was ranked the 12th most bipartisan member of the House of Representatives by FiveThirtyEight, despite voting in alignment with Trump 88.9% of the time. He has touted Goroff as a “radical professor,” though many of her stances are considered centrist. For instance, she does not support defunding the police, nor does she think all public higher education should be free.
Goroff believes that the federal government needs to evaluate the allocation of federal funding and she believes in reinstating the previous higher tax rates for wealthy Americans and corporations in order to fund proposed initiatives for public health resources, education and public housing.
To increase access to health care, Goroff has proposed to decrease the minimum age for Medicare while also offering it as a public option for all Americans and their employers. She believes that people should still have the opportunity to choose between a private and public option. She also wants to allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices for medications.
Zeldin, along with the majority of Republicans, has voted to amend the Affordable Care Act and is against protecting coverage for preexisting conditions. In a virtual debate between the two candidates on Oct. 20, Zeldin accused Goroff of spreading misinformation about his views on health care reform, but his votes show he’s consistently voted for health care reforms rated unfavorable to consumers by sites like healthreformvotes.org.
Some constituents have said that they have felt Zeldin’s absence over the years, leaving their voices unheard. In the past three years, he has not held a town hall or hosted virtual events since the pandemic began. Zeldin’s team declined The Statesman’s request for comment.
“I think what my students need most is somebody who’s going to go down to Washington and make the world a better place by using policies to solve the problems that matter to people. Whether that’s climate change, or health care, or getting us out of this pandemic,” Goroff said.
Alek Lewis contributed reporting.