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Candidates for 1st Congressional District discuss the issues

On the surface, the two candidates hoping to represent Suffolk County’s 1st Congressional District appear to value similar things.

During recent interviews with Times Review Media Group, both listed public safety, the economy and basic freedoms — especially when it comes to health care — as top priorities. But the policies they back are very different.

Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac), a seasoned local government official and former attorney, has positioned herself as a firm advocate for abortion rights, while Nick LaLota, a former Suffolk County Board of Elections commissioner, has said he’s opposed to second and third trimester abortions. 

Ms. Fleming highlighted her past work on public safety initiatives and easing relations between police and communities. She supports enhanced mental health services and the use of body cameras, according to her campaign website, and supports “full investment in public safety to ensure our first responders are well-trained, well-paid, well-led and able to meet the demands we place on them.”

Mr. LaLota has emphasized that he would work to secure more funding for local departments and said that as a former Amityville trustee, he “made sure we put more cops on the street than at any other time in our village’s history.” He also said he would support the pending “Protect and Serve Act,” which would make police officers a protected class across the county. 

Ms. Fleming also addressed the need to reverse inflation and offer relief to working families, and said she would promote policies that prevent price gouging and supply chain disruptions, fight for “good jobs right here on Long Island” and advance legislation to make communities more affordable. 

Mr. LaLota similarly acknowledged that the high cost of living on Long Island is “rising far faster” than local wages and said he would fight for policies to lower inflation and rising prices. He also said Congress should incentivize the safe extraction of more oil and rein in the national debt, as well as promote American manufacturing. 

Ms. Fleming was the first to enter the congressional race, in spring 2021, campaigning to fill a void left by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who is running for state governor. She secured the Democratic nomination without a primary after several other challengers dropped out. 

In August, Mr. LaLota defeated two challengers to win the Republican primary for the 1st Congressional District. In his recent interview with Times Review, he highlighted an America with a history of “more freedom and more opportunity to more people than any other nation our world has ever known.”

“We’re living at a watershed moment right now where there might not be the same opportunity for the next generation as there is for this generation,” he said. “We need to make serious decisions as a government with respect to our economy, with respect to our national security and with respect to our freedoms.”

Ms. Fleming said “fundamental freedoms” and “American democracy itself is at stake” in the 2022 election cycle, and emphasized her tenure representing residents on the East End.

“We have to take that seriously. Each of us has to stand up for what we believe in, in order to support American democracy,” she said. 

“Having the government less involved in people’s lives was mainly the reaction post-COVID, about specifically forcing parents to have their kids be vaccinated,” Mr. LaLota said. “A lot of parents with whom I speak are tremendously anxious about the government making their health care decisions for them. And they want politicians to put roadblocks in between governments and their kids.”

He added that many people he’s spoken with have cut back on trips to New York City, out of concern for rising crime, and cited the high cost of living as one of the primary factors driving residents out of the state and off Long Island. 

“We, of course, as a state lead the country in out-of-state migration. It had traditionally been because of our high cost of living, driven by higher property taxes and higher income taxes. Now, it’s the public safety threat that has some folks leaving as well,” Mr. LaLota said. 

Ms. Fleming also listed public safety, inflation and cost of living as top priorities should she be elected, as well as “freedom of medical care decisions,” especially when it comes to “abortion and protection for women’s fundamental right to make their own decisions.” 

Abortion has been a top issue in the upcoming election cycle since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, although its prominence has been waning in recent weeks. 

Ms. Fleming has positioned herself as a candidate who will fight to federally codify the protections of Roe v. Wade.

Mr. LaLota originally wrote on his campaign website that the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade was a “step in the right direction” and added that the state Legislature should repeal the “extreme provision which allows for third trimester abortions.” He has since softened his stance. 

“I do not oppose abortion when it comes to rape, incest and the life of the mother. I do not oppose abortion in the first trimester. Conversely, I do oppose abortion in the second and third trimesters,” he said. “I would insist that government funds not be used for abortion. I would also insist that parents get notified before their minor child contemplates abortion.” 

Mr. LaLota said abortion is a state issue and he would not vote for federal regulations.

In terms of public safety, he said he would oppose a Democratic bill that would remove qualified immunity from police officers and said he would attempt to secure more funding for local departments, especially for training. 

Ms. Fleming said she has the support of police unions and highlighted her former roles as a criminal prosecutor, police commissioner and member of public safety committees. 

She added, in her interview with Times Review, that there needs to be more support for the American middle class. She said she would help pass a cap on the tax for gas, a tool that has helped bring prices down over the past few months. Supply chains must function properly, she added, and the government should not “incentivize wildly profitable corporations [on] price gouging or otherwise holding up production in order to profit off the backs of middle-class people.”

“At this moment in time, as we’re coming out of the pandemic, when there’s war in Ukraine, we have supply chain issues, we have production issues, we’re seeing inflation and costs rise,” Ms. Fleming said. “It is a critically important moment for Long Islanders and for the American economy. We need to render aid.” 

Mr. LaLota highlighted the importance of controlling national debt and balancing the federal budget. He also suggested taking a “multinational approach” to climate change to “ensure the U.S. alone isn’t bearing the brunt of this.”

“Locally, I would support infrastructure investments like the Fire Island to Montauk Point infrastructure project, which helps fortify features which helps protect properties from flooding. I think that the approach should be multifold, not just one facet,” he said. 

Ms. Fleming said she has worked to address climate change on Long Island for years and emphasized that Suffolk County, with nearly a thousand miles of coastline, is “under direct threat of climate change.”

There needs to be more investment in climate action, she said, such as the commercial wind project planned for the 1st District, more electric charging stations and incentives to purchase electric vehicles and rely on cleaner energy. 

Early voting begins Saturday, Oct. 29. Voters can find their local polling site at https://voterlookup.elections.ny.gov

More information about Mr. LaLota and his policies may be found at his website: nicklalota.com/about-nick

More information about Ms. Fleming and her policies may be found at bridgetforcongress.com/issues.