Suozzi challengers go after congressman in forum

From bottom left, third district Democratic candidates Michael Weinstock of Great Neck, Melanie D'Arrigo of Port Washington and U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi of Glen Cove at the League of Women Voters of Huntington's online candidate forum. Lisa Scott, president of the Suffolk County League of Women Voters (top), moderated the forum. (Screenshot from YouTube)

Two North Shore-based Democratic challengers for U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi’s (D-Glen Cove) seat critiqued the congressman’s legislative work during an online candidates’ forum.

The forum was presented by Five Towns College and hosted by the League of Women Voters of Huntington, and was posted on YouTube on Tuesday. The 3rd District that Suozzi represents includes Manhasset, Roslyn, Port Washington, Great Neck and Floral Park, among other areas.

Michael Weinstock of Great Neck, a former firefighter and sex crimes prosecutor, and Melanie D’Arrigo of Port Washington, a health care strategist and former Democratic campaign manager, are facing off against Suozzi, the former mayor of Glen Cove and a former Nassau County executive elected to the House of Representatives in 2016 and 2018. The winner of the June 23 primary will face Republican nominee George Santos of Queens in November.

Suozzi cited the Long island Sound and air traffic noise as issues specific to the district, but noted that like most other areas, the district was trying to continue in light of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The coronavirus is a unique issue for us if only because we represent three of the six hardest hit counties in the United States of America,” Suozzi said. “We have to get the funding to our state, despite the protestations of people like [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell, who are saying that our state should file for bankruptcy instead and they don’t want to do a ‘blue state bailout.'”

The congressman also cited a need to provide affordable health care and prescription drug coverage and “racial justice” in light of the death of George Floyd.

“We have one of the most segregated places here, on Long Island,” Suozzi said.

Weinstock cited the educational system as the “crown jewel” of Long Island, and said that it would be a “top priority” of his.

“I intend to make education my top priority going into Congress,” Weinstock said. “I’m going to do everything I can to make college more affordable.”

The Great Neck resident also said that taxes would be on his agenda, and that Suozzi was part of the reason why.

“If you ask people about their biggest challenge, of course it’s staying in the area, because these taxes are so darn high,” Weinstock said. “Taxes are very, very high, in large part because when Mr. Suozzi was county executive, he raised property taxes by 23 percent. So I will do anything I can to focus on education and I’ll do my best to bring back tax dollars to New York because so many families here are struggling and it’s time to even the playing field.”

Suozzi said in a rebuttal that county taxes were 15 percent of tax totals, with “the rest composed of school taxes.”

D’Arrigo said that wealth inequality was a major issue that affected other areas, including health care.

“On the campaign trail, I hear story after story of folks in our district who can’t afford their medical bills or medicine, and it’s time that Congress changed that,” D’Arrigo said.

She added that she agreed with Suozzi about airplane noise, and that it was “time to bring in some accountability” with hearings with the Federal Aviation Administration. D’Arrigo also brought up the Bethpage plume, and asked the other candidates on the call to not take campaign money from companies that polluted.

“I would love for all the candidates on this call to commit to stop taking money from Long Island’s biggest polluters and the fossil fuel industry,” D’Arrigo said. “That is an issue that continues to plague Long Island and it is an issue that has been around for a very, very long time. It has to make us all wonder, why haven’t we done anything about it?”

D’Arrigo later said that the CARES Act, which Suozzi assisted in creating, was “wholly mishandled.”

“[The act] prioritized corporations over people,” D’Arrigo said. “What we needed to see are reoccurring stimulus payments to individuals, what we needed to see was a credit freeze, what we needed to see was not just a freeze on mortgage and rent payments but a policy that would ensure that folks could pay at the end of their loan or an arrears if they were paying rent.”

The Port resident also said she agreed with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s assertion that the state’s congressional delegation “did not fight hard enough for New York” during the coronavirus pandemic.

“In the four coronavirus bills that have been passed, there is no state aid,” D’Arrigo said. “There’s a fifth one that might have it … we may have an opportunity to borrow money, but the Congress did not fight for New York.”

Suozzi countered by saying that $150 billion in state aid had been passed in the CARES Act by “unanimous bipartisan consent,” and that he had gotten all New York and New Jersey representatives to sign a letter asking House Speaker Pelosi (D-California) and McConnell to create a fund to distribute money to states based upon rate of infection.

“New York will get from that bill almost $21 billion, most of that money coming from the idea that I specifically proposed to every Democrat and Republican in New York and New Jersey,” Suozzi said.

Both D’Arrigo and Weinstock also went after the congressman for allegedly taking money from political action committees and corporations that could affect votes.

“There’s an awful lot of PAC money that goes undisclosed,” Weinstock said. “That should stop immediately.”

Suozzi said in response that he had pursued campaign finance reform for over 30 years, and that he had been endorsed by End Citizens United.

The congressman in his final statement said that he had been working through actions, not words.

“I’ve been working throughout my entire career, and certainly my time in Congress, to serve the people I represent to the best of my ability,” Suozzi said. “I’m going to continue do so.”

The last day to apply for an absentee ballot for the June 23 Democratic primary is June 16, and the last day to postmark such a ballot is June 22.

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Rose Weldon

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