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John Avlon and Nancy Goroff debate East End issues

With less than two weeks left until the Democratic primary on Tuesday, June 25, two congressional candidates vying to run against Republican Rep. Nick LaLota in November took part in a debate Tuesday.

The League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, Shelter Island and North Fork, as well as the leagues of Brookhaven, Smithtown and Huntington, hosted the virtual debate between John Avlon and Nancy Goroff, who will be on the ballot alongside Mr. LaLota, the incumbent running for reelection.

This is Ms. Goroff’s second run for the 1st District seat in Congress; her first, in 2020, pitted her against former Republican congressman Lee Zeldin. Mr. Avlon is a newcomer to the political stage.

Mr. LaLota was first elected in November 2022, winning the seat Mr. Zeldin had held since 2015. With his term set to end in January 2025, both Democrats have their eyes set on turning this almost decade-long red seat blue.

Ms. Goroff taught at Stony Brook University for over 20 years and chaired its chemistry department. She is president of the nonprofit Gallery North in Setauket and serves on the board of the Institute of Digital Media and Child Development, as well as the National Advisory Board of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

She also helped launched the Long Island Strong Schools Alliance in 2021 after “three right-wing MAGA extremists” were elected to a Smithtown school board.

John Avlon is a former CNN commentator and previous editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast. He is also an author and presidential historian, according to his website. He was a speechwriter for former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani during his second term and in the aftermath of 9/11. 

Mr. Avlon has appeared on a variety of television shows, including “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” “The Daily Show” and “Real Time with Bill Maher.” 

Farming, climate change and family

The debate touched on broad issues such as reproductive rights and the threat of nationwide abortion ban, gun control, the impacts of social media and artificial intelligence, foreign policy and the rise of hate speech.

Both candidates also addressed local issues, including the cost of housing, the specific impacts of the climate crisis on Long Island, the need for stronger veteran services and the struggles facing small farmers.

Mr. Avlon said preservation of open spaces and comprehensive immigration reform to provide temporary work visas are crucial in supporting small farmers, while Ms. Goroff noted that those farmers need to receive their fair share of government aid.

“Everything we can and should do, as members of Congress, is to make sure small family businesses know that we got their back,” Mr. Avlon said. “Too often, they feel like the system works for the big guys and not them, and that’s something we could do.”

Climate change is an “existential threat” that needs to be taken seriously, Ms. Goroff said. She believes in investing in the “technology of tomorrow” and examining project ideas that would be most effective in combating the climate crisis.

She added that she is dedicated to working with community members on their concerns about extreme weather and threats to clean water.

Ms. Goroff said she has also heard community concerns about gun violence. As a Moms Demand Action-recognized gun sense candidate, she said the assault weapons ban needs to be reestablished, that universal background checks need to be put in place and loopholes for private sales, as well as waiting periods for background checks, must be closed.

“We are very fortunate here in New York to have some of the strongest gun safety legislation in the country and for that reason, we also have one of the lowest [rates] of gun violence in the country,” Ms. Goroff said. “We need to make sure similar legislation is applicable to the whole country to keep people safe.”

Mr. Avlon said it is no longer “plausible” to be in denial about climate change and he thinks Long Island can become a leader in the next generation of green technology, as it has already been proven with the increasing use of wind power.

Housing affordability on Long Island was cited as a priority issue by both candidates. Ms. Goroff said the solution to this problem is restoring the full deduction on state and local taxes. Mr. Avlon criticized Mr. LaLota’s lack of action on these deductions because of his and other Republicans’ investment in the “red state-blue state divide.”

If more Democrats are elected to Congress, Mr. Avlon said, the state and local tax deduction would be restored and the Child Tax Credit expanded.

“We as Democrats need to make an extra effort to reach out and make sure we are strengthening the middle class and making it easier to raise a family,” he said. “Together, we can restore all the promise that involves living on Long Island.”

Ms. Goroff said if she is chosen to represent CD-1, her first order of business will be setting up an office of constituent services to create more opportunities for open dialogue with residents — something she claimed Mr. LaLota does not provide.

Mr. Avlon held a similar view, saying that in-person town halls where members of Congress can listen to the concerns of their constituents is “part of the job.”

“[LaLota’s] office hours are a state secret. You have no idea unless you are part of his inner circle,” Ms. Goroff said. “Any elected member of Congress has a duty to listen to their constituents, this is part of our absolute responsibility … and one I look forward to upholding.”

According to the Federal Election Commission, Mr. LaLota has raised over $2.1 million in campaign funds, while Mr. Avlon has $1.1 million and Ms. Goroff just under a million dollars in contributions.