L.I. race may determine fate of public education, gun violence, women’s rights, protecting children and discrimination

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A diverse group of area residents from local Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities on Long Island joined together knowing that the New York State Senate District 7 (North Hempstead area) race will have a major impact on some of the issues that we care most about, and it may well be decided by a razor-thin margin.

In the 2016 election, State Senator Elaine Phillips (R) won the district by just 2.5 percent (3,409 votes). In her re-election race in November, she will face Town of North Hempstead Councilwoman Anna Kaplan (D).

The outcome of this race may once again decide which party controls the state Senate, and whether NY will have the power to provide any state-level checks and balances on federal policies.

We offer this analysis of the candidates’ records and stances on some important issues in the hopes of providing some insight into what’s at stake and urge you to vote on Tuesday, November 6th.

Issue 1 — Public Education

Great public schools are the crown jewels of Long Island. There is a debate in the State Senate about how our tax dollars should be allocated between public schools versus for-profit charter schools.

Phillips is a vocal proponent of more charter schools. After receiving $2.5M of support from a pro-charter school PAC during her 2016 campaign, Phillips supported the 2017-18 budget plan to significantly increase funding for charter and non-public schools. New York State United Teachers union has called the package “a nearly $350 million gift to the charter industry,” saying the reimbursement provision would cost local school districts $124 million.

Kaplan is a staunch supporter of public education and opposes diverting funding from underfunded public schools towards for-profit charter schools.

Issue 2 — Gun Violence Prevention

With the recent epidemic of mass shootings and gun violence, the debate around solutions is whether to focus on reasonable gun control measures or armed guards in public places.

Phillips’ position on guns has been inconsistent. Phillips initially voted against four amendments that would have banned bump stocks, provided more thorough background checks, authorized judges to remove guns from those found to be danger to themselves or others, and created a state Firearm Violence Research Institute.

After a backlash, Phillips reversed her opposition and stated she now supports the measures.

However, due to her vote, that legislation did not pass. She has since worked to pass a domestic violence gun control bill. On the other hand, she has also sponsored measures to put armed guards into schools, essentially a “good guy with a gun” bill, which is the NRA’s proposed solution to combat gun violence through more guns. She has also made no public statements about the recent controversial NRA event in her district.

Kaplan is unequivocal about strengthening New York’s gun control laws. She supports the aforementioned gun control legislation and has spoken out against the NRA event.

Issue 3 — Women’s Rights

With the recent changes to the Supreme Court, women’s rights, especially reproductive rights, may be at risk.

Phillips has said “she’s passionate about protecting women’s health.” She met with Planned Parenthood to discuss the Reproductive Health Act (RHA), which would codify Roe v. Wade into state law, and co-sponsored the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act (CCCA), as a sign of support. However, during a procedural vote to move the bills forward, Phillips walked out of the room and returned after the legislation was killed. She had been the swing vote.

Kaplan is clear in her support for women’s rights and their right to choose. Kaplan supports the CCCA and RHA, from which Phillips withdrew her support.

Issue 4 — Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse

Currently, New York, along with Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama and Michigan, is one of the states with the least victim-friendly reporting laws in the country. New York requires most child sex-abuse victims to sue by the age of 23, 19 years before the average age at which such victims report their abuse. The proposed Child Victims Act would extend the statute of limitations to age 50 in civil cases, and to age 28 in criminal cases.

Phillips opposes the Child Victims Act due to pressure from organizations like the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts. She sponsored an alternative Child Victims Reconciliation & Compensation Fund bill, which would reallocate $300 million of public funds to compensate child sex abuse victims. Unlike the Child Victims Act, it does not extend the statute of limitations, nor does it hold child sex abusers accountable. On the contrary, it protects them from damages and effectively uses public funds to subsidize their crimes.

Kaplan supports the Child Victims Act and has promised to push for its passage.

Issue 5 — Hate/Bias Crimes and Minority Rights

Around the country, there has been a documented sharp spike in hate crimes and bias incidents, including the recent tragic shootings of eleven Jews at a Pittsburgh synagogue and two African Americans at a Kentucky supermarket. In our communities, we have witnessed swastikas scrawled in local school bathrooms, on walls and in playgrounds. Our local Muslim and Hispanic communities report an increase in bias incidents, much of which goes unreported for fear of recrimination.

In her 2016 race against Adam Haber (D), Senator Phillips refused to denounce an ad paid for by her party that depicted her Jewish opponent as a cartoonish dancing fiddler with traditionally anti-Semitic facial features. While she privately expressed dismay, Phillips claimed there was nothing she could do about it.

In the 2017 race for Nassau County Executive, Phillips again remained silent when Jack Martins (R), resorted to the same tactics with a campaign mailer claiming a vote for his Democratic opponent would bring MS-13 gang members to the neighborhood. In addition, she remained silent on the Muslim Travel Ban and voted to further target undocumented immigrants at a time when they were already subjected to the federal government’s family separation policies.

Kaplan is running on a platform to bring “All of Us Together.” As Town Councilwoman, Kaplan supported the Not In Our Town initiative to help reduce bias and discrimination and passed legislation banning gender-identity discrimination in North Hempstead. Kaplan, an immigrant herself, escaped the Iranian Revolution as a teenager and has publicly criticized the administration’s zero-tolerance family separation policies.

In this increasingly divisive political climate, we need strong, principled, unifying leadership to strengthen our public schools, fight for sensible gun safety measures, guarantee women’s rights, protect our children from sexual predators, protect our most vulnerable communities and speak up against bias and discrimination, especially when it’s inconvenient.

While we respect everyone’s right to have different priorities and opinions, we urge you to consider these issues when you vote in this important election. After the election, we urge our future State Senator to fight for these issues and to lead in a way that celebrates the rich diversity of our district and brings out the best in all of us.

Matt Harris, Port Washington
Toufique Harun, Albertson
Meer Abdul-Waali, New Hyde Park
Don Buford, Port Washington
Farhana Huda Islam, New Hyde Park
Alethea Shapiro, East Hills
Lorri Staal, Port Washington

About the Authors:
Don Buford, Matt Harris and Lorri Staal are co-founders of Shamor. Toufique Harun, Farhana Huda Islam and Meer Abdul-Waali are organizers of Muslims For Progress. Alethea Shapiro is a soccer mom turned engaged citizen and women’s rights activist.

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