Labate's focus: national debt, 'Obamacare'
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Ask Stephen Labate's allies about him and they talk about his determination.
The Deer Park financial adviser and Army reservist became politically active in 2009, resolving not just to be a support worker for conservative candidates but to become a candidate himself. And not just for a small-time office, but for Congress.
"People told him: Why don't you run for the state or county legislature," said Steve Flanagan, head of the Islip-based Conservative Society for Action, a tea party group. "He had no interest in any of that because he knows that most of our problems today are coming from Washington and that's where he thought he could have an impact."
Labate is the Republican candidate for the 3rd Congressional District, running against Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), a six-term incumbent. The district, redrawn through the decennial redistricting process, covers northwest Suffolk and northern Nassau counties, and a sliver of northeast Queens.
Labate, 44, is the first tea party member to run for a key office on Long Island with the nomination of a major party. He says the nation's debt has him and many other constituents "scared."
"I'm frightened for their future," Labate said of his 6-year-old twins in a recent debate. "I'm frightened for the future of millions of American children who are right now being straddled by billions and billions of dollars of debt due to the incredible amount of spending -- the outlandish spending of my opponent as well as the current administration."
Labate got involved with the tea party protests over the federal Affordable Care Act and in Islip Town elections, friends said. In each scenario, he was persistent, reliable and willing to do "grunt work."
"He'd put together material, informational brochures, leaflets, fliers, things like that," Flanagan said. "And his contributions were: I'll be there everyday. I'll hold up signs. I'll be loud."
Frank Tantone, Islip Republican Committee chairman, said that during town board races in 2009 Labate "was handing out literature, coming to events, going to train stations to campaign. . . . I was very impressed with his persistence."
Labate wanted to run against Israel in 2010, but lost the GOP nomination to John Gomez. But Labate continued to help the party, Tantone said. That effort helped him win the GOP nomination for Congress this year.
Labate grew up in the Ozone Park section of Queens. He earned a degree from St. John's University, joining the Army Reserve while in school. He began a career in financial services, eventually working as a retirement planner. He left his job earlier this year to campaign full-time.
Labate has been activated for military duty three times since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and served a stint in Iraq. He is married with twins, a boy and a girl.
On the stump, Labate's main issues are the national debt and "Obamacare," the Republicans' name for President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.
He wants the health care law repealed and says recent legislation regulating banks and Wall Street is hurting job creation. He has signed the "Grover Norquist pledge" to oppose any tax increases, even if offset by spending cuts.
"I did because I do not believe you can raise taxes in this type of economic environment," Labate said, according to a transcript of a recent News 12 Long Island debate. "What we need is to give money back to our small business owners and to Americans."
Labate bristles at Israel's claim that he'd support the budget offered by GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, that Democrats say, would turn Medicare into a voucher program.
"I never have said that I support the Paul Ryan [budget]," Labate said. "I said it was a good start because people are talking [about the budget] . . . . But I don't have sufficient details about how it impacts seniors. If it impacts seniors negatively, I would not support it. Case closed."
Labate also criticized Israel's recent short sale of his Dix Hills home in which the loan servicer allowed the congressman him to sell it for $93,000 less than he owed on it. Labate says Israel received special treatment.
Israel, who is going through a divorce, said he didn't get preferential treatment, and that he got clearance from House Ethics officials before going through with the sale.
Labate has tried to use the issue to say that voters are tired of career politicians. He thinks his outsider status serves him well.
"People like my background," he says. "They like my story. They like the fact that I've never held office."
Stephen Labate Bio
Home: Deer Park
Education: Bachelor's degree from St. John's University
Career: Worked in financial services and is a certified retirement counselor. Has served in the U.S. Army Reserve since college and is a lieutenant colonel.
Family: Married with two children