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Democratic Congressional hopefuls attend East End forum

RACHEL SIFORD PHOTO Perry Gershon of East Hampton said his campaign has raised over $1 million.
RACHEL SIFORD PHOTO Perry Gershon of East Hampton said his campaign has raised over $1 million.

Residents across the East End got their first introduction last weekend to seven individuals who will vie for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Mastic) in November.

While the Democratic primary is still seven months away, the hopefuls have been making the rounds at various events to build momentum and visibility among voters. The Southold Democratic Committee hosted a forum Saturday at the Hellenic Snack Bar & Restaurant in East Marion, where the members of the field outlined their vision to an audience of about 60.

It was one of three forums scheduled for this month alone with the Democratic primary scheduled for June 26, according to the Suffolk County Board of Elections.

The prospective candidates include Suffolk County Legislator Kate Browning of Shirley; Elaine DiMasi of Ronkonkoma, a former physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory; businessman Perry Gershon of East Hampton, who has worked in commercial real estate finance; Westhampton native Brendon Henry of Center Moriches, a bartender who also works in ordering and pricing for a plumbing contractor; David Pechefsky, a New York City Council staffer who hails from Patchogue, but lives in Brooklyn; and  Vivian Viloria-Fisher of Setauket, who served as a county legislator until she reached her term limit in 2011.

The newest candidate to join the race is Bruce Gordon Miller Jr., a Port Jefferson Village trustee and former teacher and Port Jefferson school board member.

“Every one of these candidates is so far and away superior to Lee Zeldin,” said Kathryn Casey Quigley, chairwoman of the Southold Town Democrats. “No matter who wins this primary, we will stand behind you and help you win.”

Each candidate gave an introduction and then had then answered a few questions, submitted to the committee in advance, on topics ranging from immigration to health care. They expressed similar viewpoints and a general dislike of the incumbent they hope to unseat.

“Lee Zeldin stands for all of the things that, as Americans, are contrary to our values,” Ms. Viloria-Fisher said in her introduction. “He doesn’t welcome the stranger. Democrats welcome the stranger. He doesn’t stand for a woman’s right to choose. Democrats stand for that. He doesn’t stand for helping the poor and making government an instrument of help.”

All candidates said they favored  universal health care and helping immigrants.

“I stand with Dreamers, I’ve worked with Dreamers,” Mr. Henry said. “I want to introduce a policy where we introduce tax ID numbers to everyone, get everyone in the system, give everyone a chance to work, to have a license, to insure their cars, to live and rent in safe residences.”

Ms. Browning said she thinks there needs to be a better visa program to allow local farmers to hire people to provide the support they need.

When asked how they plan to defeat Mr. Zeldin, many brought up fundraising and their own strategies.

“To beat Lee Zeldin is a one-two punch,” Ms. DiMasi said. “First we show voters how much harm he’s really done. There are numbers of people who would be harmed when he wants to vote against marriage equality, against universal health care, against Planned Parenthood. The second punch is to be the candidate who [can] get out all the Democrats and independent voters we know will not vote for Trump anymore.”

Mr. Gershon said that, as of December 31, his campaign has raised over $1 million and has $812,000 in cash on hand.  “Zeldin is already ahead of us,” he said. “We need to stay competitive. We need to keep the fundraising going. It’s an unfortunate part of politics.”

Mr. Miller said he is working on taking veteran votes away from Mr. Zeldin, since he, like the congressman,  is a veteran

On Thursday, February 15, the Indivisible Patriots of Long Island will host a “Meet the Candidates” event at 7 p.m. in the Westhampton Room of the main building at East Wind Catering in Wading River. There is no charge to attend. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

On Monday, February 26, East End Dem Women will present a debate on women’s equality and reproductive health. The location will be provided with the RSVP to [email protected], according to the group’s chairwoman, Jennifer Maertz. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., and the debate starts at 6:15. Admission is free.