Republican George Santos faces off against Democrat Robert Zimmerman at Newsday studios in Melville. Credit: Newsday

Republican George Santos and Democrat Robert Zimmerman, who are running for Congress in the Third District, squared off on issues such as same-sex marriage, gun safety, inflation, reproductive rights and the results of the 2020 election in a NewsdayTV debate taped Monday night. 

Zimmerman, founder and owner of a public relations firm, and Santos, an economist who has worked at several large financial institutions, are competing to replace Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), who is not seeking reelection.

The district, which was redrawn this year, extends from northeast Queens and across Nassau County’s North Shore, dipping south along the Nassau-Suffolk border to Massapequa Park.

The candidates fielded questions before a live audience for about 30 minutes from Newsday's political reporting team and Long Island residents.

What to know

Republican George Santos and Democrat Robert Zimmerman squared off on issues such as same-sex marriage and inflation, reproductive rights and the results of the 2020 election in a NewsdayTV debate taped Monday night. 

Zimmerman criticized Santos as an "extremist," saying he denies the 2020 election of Democratic President Joe Biden and supports a federal abortion ban. 

Santos accused Zimmerman of perpetuating "mistruths" about him, and of "misleading the American people."

The discussion was moderated by Newsday Associate Editor and columnist Joye Brown.

A video of the debate can be viewed online at newsday.com/dist3.

Zimmerman, 68, of Great Neck, criticized Santos as an "extremist," saying he denies the 2020 election of Democratic President Joe Biden and supports a federal abortion ban. 

Santos, 34, of Whitestone, Queens, accused Zimmerman of perpetuating "mistruths" about him, and of "misleading the American people."

Santos called Zimmerman "a rubber stamp" for the Biden administration's agenda and Democratic policies that Santos said have driven up the national debt and the cost of living for residents of the Third District. 

"My opponent is going to say things that are misleading, that he cannot corroborate," Santos said. "I have no record. I have never held elected office. So again, I have never put out an opinion that I would have to defend out here." 

Both candidates are openly gay, and in response to a question about congressional legislation to codify same-sex marriage after the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down Roe v. Wade, Zimmerman attacked Santos for not advocating for the rights of the LGBTQ community.

"Both George Santos and I are gay but that's not the point," Zimmerman said. "The point is who's going to be out there and be a leader and defending the rights of the community." 

Santos did not answer the question about whether he would vote to codify same-sex marriage, saying: "I'm not going to spend time setting the record with my opponent. I'm not going to waste your time and distract from the issues at hand that matter to the people." 

On the issue of reproductive rights, Santos said he "would not use his time in the federal government on an issue that has been deferred and sent back to the states."

Zimmerman said the issue "was not just a distraction" to be "easily dismissed."

He continued: "It's not a distraction, it's our moral obligation."

Zimmerman said he wanted to get unserialized "ghost guns" out of circulation, and called for an assault weapons ban and limiting the number of bullets in firearm magazines.

"And certainly I stand very strongly for stronger background checks," Zimmerman said.

Santos said more gun laws would result in taking "a legal weapon from a law-abiding citizen."

He continued: "Criminals don't follow our gun laws."

In response to a question about a legislative effort to overhaul the way Congress certifies presidential elections, Zimmerman accused Santos of having been at Trump's "Save America" rally on the Ellipse on Jan. 6, 2021, and supporting the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen. 

Santos responded that Zimmerman was misleading "around the things I did or did not do or the locations I have been or been not." 

The candidates also clashed over property taxes and rising inflation. 

Zimmerman said he would advocate to repeal the $10,000 cap on the federal deduction for state and local taxes and support a gas tax holiday.

"I'm going to build a bipartisan coalition to restore the state and local tax deduction," Zimmerman said. "That's an imperative."

In a rebuttal, Santos criticized Democratic policies in Washington and Albany.

"Why is it that under one-party rule, both in Washington, D.C., and in the state of New York, taxes are backbreaking and costing every American on Long Island a record cost of living?" Santos asked.

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