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Candidates for 2nd Congressional district spar in virtual debate

Jacqueline Gordon and Andrew Garbarino, contenders for the

Jacqueline Gordon and Andrew Garbarino, contenders for the Second Congressional district. Credit: James Escher

Candidates for the 2nd Congressional District seat had sharp exchanges during a virtual debate that centered on law enforcement, access to health care, and other hot-button issues.

Democrat Jackie Gordon, a former Babylon Town councilwoman, pitched herself as a protector of the Affordable Care Act, which congressional Republicans want to repeal. Republican state Assemb. Andrew Garbarino (R-Bayport) sought to emphasize his relationship with law enforcement unions and support for police.

Harry Burger, the Green Party candidate, expressed support for the Green New Deal environmental policy, along with universal health care and other progressive causes.

The candidates are vying to replace Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who is retiring after a 28-year career in Congress.

The 2nd District stretches along the South Shore of Nassau and Suffolk Counties, and King's departure has prompted national interest in the race, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to both sides, including from powerful outside groups.

The League of Women Voters of Nassau County sponsored the candidates forum, which was recorded on Oct. 15 and published on YouTube.

Garbarino, 36, an attorney from Bayport who works in a law practice in Sayville, pitched himself as the small business owner from "Main Street in Sayville."

"I went to school here, I worked at the local hardware store, I went to the local church, I'm a part of the local rotary club. I know what's important to Long Island families," Garbarino said.

Gordon, 55, of Copiague, introduced herself as a "combat veteran, retired school counselor, public servant," as well as a "single mom and an immigrant." Gordon retired from the U.S. Army Reserves in 2014 with the rank of lieutenant colonel. She is also a former public school teacher and guidance counselor.

Burger, 37 of Deer Park, said he opposes corporate donations and would focus on legislation that protects the environment. Citing recent hurricanes on the East Coast, as well as wildfires in California, Burger said a Green New Deal was an "aggressive plan" needed "to bring us to near-zero greenhouse emissions by 2030."

Throughout the campaign, Gabarino has tried to paint Democrats as broadly wanting to "defund the police." But Gordon said explicitly: "I do not support defunding the police."

"I am the only person in this forum with law enforcement experience," Gordon countered. She continued, "I'm a mom. I live here in the community, and I want to be protected and defended by law enforcement, unlike my opponent who drives a wedge between law enforcement and the community and then hammers it in so there is a divide."

On the subject of the Affordable Care Act, Garbarino said: "There are some good parts" and "some things that can be redone."

Gordon said, "I think that we need to protect and preserve the Affordable Care Act, because it's saved millions of lives."

Asked about systemic racism, Gordon said, "I do believe there are systemic structures that are racist." She cited Newsday's Long Island Divided series, a 2019 investigation that uncovered evidence of unequal treatment of minorities who were prospective homebuyers.

Garbarino said he did "not think we’re a racist country, but I think there’s room for improvement."

Garbarino said law enforcement officers on Long Island are among the "best in the country" and "go through so much training." He said local police departments' training should be adapted and taught "as a requirement for everybody else in the country."

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