Ra, Port discuss issues ahead of election for 19th Assembly District

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State Assemblyman Ed Ra and challenger Gary Port discussed the issues facing Long Islanders during a virtual debate with Blank Slate Media on Thursday. (Screenshot by Robert Pelaez)

State Assemblyman Ed Ra (R-Garden City) and his Democratic challenger, Gary Port, clashed over the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic in a virtual debate hosted by Blank Slate Media on Thursday.

They are running against each for the fourth time in the 19th Assembly District, with Ra having won all three previous contests.

The district stretches into all three Nassau County townships. It includes Franklin Square, Garden City South, Garden City Park, New Hyde Park, Westbury, Carle Place, Mineola, Williston Park, Old Westbury, Brookville, Old Brookville, Upper Brookville and Glen Head.

Port, a lawyer, criticized Ra for writing opinion pieces in local news outlets criticizing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s handling of schools during the pandemic. Port said Cuomo has done his best under the circumstances to make a plan to safely open schools and “bring people together.”

Ra praised Cuomo’s transparency with the people and for holding daily briefings but cited  the number of nursing home deaths in the state and said many were due to the governor’s executive order to admit elderly residents who had tested positive for the virus.

“I think the nursing home order was a disaster that led to many deaths, and [Cuomo’s] transparency has been very lacking in that aspect,” Ra said. “On the economic side, we need some transparency so the Legislature can be an equal partner in trying to work on the budgetary situation.”

“The governor was blindsided just like the rest of us,” Port said. “Trump didn’t want the information to get out. Governor Cuomo admitted the mistakes he made, but he came in and acted decisively. It wasn’t the Andrew Cuomo show … he was planning and working with plenty of other people.”

Ra said he does not model his conduct on President Donald Trump, but called the way national officials from both parties interact with each other “unfortunate.”

“I don’t share the way [Trump] conducts himself,” Ra said. “I don’t prefer to conduct myself in terms of attacking people, but unfortunately we have gotten to a point on both sides where things have gotten very personal.  It’s not conducive for good policy discussions.”

Port had a stronger stance on the job Trump has done over the past four years.

“I am appalled by what the president has done to the Republican Party,” Port said, adding  that Republicans have supported “an open racist, narcissistic sociopathic, who opened this country to [the coronavirus], and whose international relations are even worse.”

Both candidates called for a healthy two-party system to aid in rebuilding the nation’s economy. While more federal aid is being discussed in Washington, Port said the public should begin to brace for “apocalypse mode” if New York does not receive further federal aid, cutting 20 percent across the board.

“Safety will probably get cut last because if we don’t have a safe county, there’s nothing to come back to,” Port said. “We’re going to have to start shrinking into this apocalypse thinking if we don’t get this federal money.”

Ra said he remains optimistic that a federal relief package will be passed and a potential package will have to include a combination of an undisclosed amount of federal funding and some revenue from tax increase proposals or sports betting.

“Just like 2008 and 2009, the decisions we make are going to have a long-term impact and we have to make sure we make decisions in the short-term that are still sustainable. Otherwise, you’re going to be kicking the can down that road in terms of a budget deficit.”

Nassau County’s newly proposed $3.3 billion budget calls for the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, which has overseen the county’s finances for the past two decades, to restructure $360 million in debt from the county and the finance authority, according to a county news release.

Of the debt, $240 million comes from finance authority bonds while the remaining $120 million comes from county bonds.  The county, according to the news release, will save $285 million in 2021 and $150 million in 2022 by refinancing the debt.

On the topics of systemic racism, bail reform and defunding the police, Ra said he has been and will continue to be a supporter of the police, and will not apologize for it.  He did, however, underscore the importance of continuous training for officials.

“I think when we talk about [police reform], it has to be done in a deliberative and collaborative way,” Ra said. “We have to have both sides come together and address issues. I can’t speak for what experiences an African-American individual has here, but I think the county cops do a great job, regardless of race, religion, creed, etc.”

Port called systemic racism in Nassau the county’s “dirty little secret” and called acts of police brutality throughout the nation a “moral cancer that we must absolutely cut out from our society.”

“The Black Lives Matter movement is an important moment in the country,” Port said. “It isn’t just that black lives matter, that black lives should matter. America has been divided for so long.”

Both candidates said they expect a fair election in their district and implored people to vote however they please.  Both also said they will respect the results of the election, regardless of the outcome.

Ra, a native of Franklin Square and current Garden City resident, was first elected to serve the district in 2010, beating Democratic foe Patrick Nicolosi by more than 3,000 votes.

Port, a lawyer, and retired Army lieutenant colonel is running in the 19th District for the fourth time.  He lost the first three races, but this time, he said, is different because of the district’s demographic changes and the importance of the election.

Port served in the U.S. Army and Army Reserve for 28 years and achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel. He is a founding member of the law firm Port and Sava, which practices divorce and commercial law. He has also done legal work for veterans in the area.

Ra has beaten Port three times, in 2012, 2014 and 2016. In the most recent of those elections, Ra received 61 percent of the vote to Port’s 38 percent. In 2014, the gap was wider, with Ra receiving 69 percent of the vote to Port’s 31, according to Ballotpedia.

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