First district Congressional candidates Bridget Fleming (D) and Nick Lalota...

First district Congressional candidates Bridget Fleming (D) and Nick Lalota (R) take part in a debate at the Newsday Studio in Melville on Wednesday night, Oct. 19, 2022. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Republican Nicholas LaLota and Democrat Bridget Fleming clashed over inflation, school safety and abortion during a NewsdayTV debate for the open seat in the 1st Congressional District in Suffolk County.

LaLota, 43, of Amityville, chief of staff to the Republican presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature, and Bridget Fleming, 62, of Noyac, a Suffolk County legislator, fielded questions before a live audience for more than 30 minutes Wednesday night in the NewsdayTV studios in Melville.

The debate, which featured questions from Long Island residents and Newsday's political team, was moderated by Newsday Associate Editor Joye Brown.

A video of the debate can be seen online at newsday.com/tv.

The sprawling 1st District runs from the Nassau County border along the North Shore, through the East End.

The seat is held by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who is challenging Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul in the Nov. 8 election. Zeldin is resigning from Congress this year.

LaLota blamed inflation on “massive overspending” by Democratic President Joe Biden and on Democratic officials such as Fleming for failing to ease the strain on local residents by reducing government spending.

“Governments spend, spend, spend and that leads to taxing, taxing, taxing,” said LaLota, a former Suffolk County elections commissioner.

Fleming said hard economic times are the result of the “global pandemic that shut down the economy.”

“Look, times are difficult,” Fleming said. “We are coming off of a very difficult time in global history and inflation is a global problem, but it is very serious here at home. We need folks who are going to work across the aisle as I have throughout my career to ensure that we have the solutions.”

Fleming and LaLota disagreed sharply on Biden’s college loan forgiveness program that will cancel up to $10,000 in federal student loan debt for individuals who meet income requirements.

LaLota accused Biden of offering a "bribe" to voters with his plan, calling it “terribly un-American” because it uses public funds to pay private debts.

Fleming said the Biden program will provide a generation of Americans with help in reducing “crushing economic debt,” although she said it should be more targeted to the needy.

LaLota and Fleming also clashed over the issue of abortion.

LaLota said he opposes abortion in the second and third trimester of pregnancy except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the woman is threatened.

LaLota said he opposed government funding of abortions, and would insist that parents be notified when daughters under age 18 seek abortions.

“What is her barrier on abortion? Is she OK with that 40th week abortion?” LaLota said of Fleming.

Fleming said LaLota's "political position basically abandons women and gives up on 50 years of fundamental freedom that women have counted on.”

LaLota's opposition to abortion in the last two trimesters “has no basis in medical care,” Fleming said. “It puts women’s lives in danger.” 

Turning to the gun control issue, LaLota said he would support fortifying schools against mass shootings, if school boards agree, and seek to bolster local police forces to react to shootings.

“I learned in the military, bad guys are cowards and they want to attack a soft target,” said LaLota, a former U.S. Navy officer.

Fleming, a former sex crimes prosecutor, criticized the Republican Party for blocking federal universal background checks for firearms purchases.

“There are many common sense solutions … that these folks will not support because they are in the grips of the NRA,” Fleming said, referring to the National Rifle Association.

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