With just a month left before East End residents hit voting booths on November 4, incumbent U.S. Congressman Tim Bishop, a Democrat, finds himself in a race for his seat in the House of Representatives against a 28-year-old attorney and Iraqi war veteran, Republican Lee Zeldin who has thrown his hat — and divergent opinions — into the political ring.
This week, both candidates took some time to discuss a wide range of issues as they look towards squaring off in a League of Women Voters of the Hamptons sponsored debate in Hamptons Bays on October 16 at 7 p.m.
With brokers on Wall Street and residents on Main Street watching news on the nation’s uncertain economy with trepidation, Bishop and Zeldin present differing opinions on the cause, and ultimate solution to what has emerged as one of the central questions this political season.
Bishop, a 12th generation Southampton Town resident and former provost at Southampton College, sees a number of issues driving an unstable economy — an economy he says is a result of eight years of failed economic policies under president George W. Bush’s administration.
“That was exacerbated by a serious meltdown in the housing market, which has now brought rise to serious freezing of the credit market,” explained Bishop on Tuesday. “We have people losing jobs, the cost of everything is going up. We have diminished credit markets and a spike in foreclosures. So I see at the very least four severe, but interrelated problems.”
Bishop says the government must be an active part of a solution to mitigate these problems, with the recently passed $700 billion bailout bill as just a piece of the solution.
“I am very hopeful that once it starts to move, once it starts to work through the financial system it will have beneficial results,” he said.
Bishop also calls for a second economic stimulus package to compliment the package passed by Congress last February. The House of Representatives did pass a $66 billion stimulus package two weeks ago with some bi-partisan support, noted Bishop, although the bill was stalled in the Senate. He said it went a long way towards helping those who will feel this economic pinch the most by, in part, extending unemployment limits and providing monies to states for infrastructure, which in turn would create employment opportunities.
While Zeldin, a Shirley resident, acknowledges the country is in the midst of a financial crisis, he disagrees that the $700 billion bailout plan, in either incarnation, is the solution the American people need to get through the predicament.
“I don’t believe Main Street should have to bail out Wall Street,” said Zeldin. “Seven hundred billion, not to mention all the added pork, made it a bill I truly lost sleep over when it passed.”
Zeldin did argue that private capital, rather than taxpayer dollars, should have been injected into Wall Street.
He added that he sees himself disagreeing with a number of Washington insiders when it comes to the subject, noting not just Democrats, but Republicans, including president Bush and presidential candidate John McCain have disagreed, supporting the bail out instead.
“I see things, unfortunately, in the short term, getting worse before they get better,” said Zeldin. “We are going into a winter where people are going to be shocked by high heating costs in [comparison to what will amount to] a small mortgage payment. So for many of us living paycheck to paycheck, it will be a rough winter.”
Ultimately, Zeldin believes government needs to curb wasteful spending before it will truly help the American people, calling for an earmark moratorium until the system is fixed to where it no longer represents quid pro quo between politicians and lobbyists. He would also like to see untaxed income that leaves the country through money wiring services taxed and given back to the communities it originates from to bring down the costs of school and property taxes.
Â Zeldin sees that issue tied directly to what he called the government’s failed immigration policies. For the last two years, H-2B visas have been a source of contention for local business reliant on the federal program for legal, seasonal workers from overseas. In recent years, the program has been limited, leaving many without a seasonal workforce.
Zeldin said more H-2B visas should be granted, but added there also needs to be accountability enforced when it comes to immigration policies.
“When I started my race in Amagansett in January of 2008, I talked to someone with a small business that was going under because he refused to pay employees off the books, which would have allowed him to compete with those not paying taxes for their workers or workman’s compensation,” said Zeldin. “That is a real problem.”
Bishop, who has worked with local business leaders in trying to find a solution to the H-2B crisis, acknowledged he and other members of Congress from areas dependent on seasonal tourism were unsuccessful in their fight to fix the situation.
“We will go back at it this winter,” he said. “Unfortunately, the H-2B visa problem got caught up in the larger issue of the immigration debate.”
Bishop still supports the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill, which would have provided a path to citizenship or legal status for a number of illegal immigrants currently working or living in the United States.
“It’s a good bill,” said Bishop. “I believe we need to somehow summon the wisdom and political will to act on that. But at minimum, we have to fix the H-2B visa problems and the agricultural visa issues. Talk to vineyard owners and small vegetable farmers on the North Fork. Eighty eight percent say they can accommodate no loss in their immigrant work force.”
Zeldin said he does not support McCain-Kennedy, and would rather see those immigrants in the United States assimilate into the country, rather than the country assimilate to them.
Bishop sees his work on a number of issues including Federal Aviation Administration legislation to mandate altitude limits for helicopters, work with the Army Corps of Engineers for a Fire Island to Montauk coastal erosion study, and tax initiatives to prevent farmers from having to sell their land in the face of looming estate taxes as just a few he is tackling in his sixth year as a congressman.
“I think my opponent is offering a lot more of the same,” said Bishop. “I offer the same level of commitment I have for the last six years and I believe with my experience and I believe with a majority in the house, the senate and, I am fairly certain, the White House, I will be in a position to influence policy decisions.”
If elected, Zeldin has a number of initiatives he would like to explore, including pushing the East End to the forefront of environmental sustainability, he said. But ultimately, he sees his values as what should ultimately give him an edge over Bishop come November.
“Adding my voice to congress is adding an independent voice who understands no leader in any party is right serving this congressional district by voting with his party 99 percent of the time,” said Zeldin, attacking a predisposition by Bishop, he said, towards simply voting his party line. “What we need is to send a bulldog to Washington that is going to fight for us, stand up for us across party lines … we need to be more fiscally responsible in how we tax and spend.”