Changing the subject
There was one thing that Perry Gershon didn’t really want to dwell on during his Tuesday night town hall: impeachment.
The event was the first in a series of town halls planned by the Democratic hopeful in the 1st Congressional District and was scheduled well before the latest round of impeachment news. This one was in the heart of Rep. Lee Zeldin’s territory at the Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community Library. Gershon had sent out a statement earlier in the day supporting an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump. In the library’s basement auditorium, decorated only with a giant American flag, Gershon was asked a yes-or-no question: Would you vote to impeach the president?
"I don’t know enough today to say I would impeach him,” the East Hampton resident said. “I support an impeachment inquiry into the president of the United States, and that's what [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi came out for a couple of hours ago.”
After persistent comments on the issue, Gershon suggested they move on, saying a whistleblower’s claims against Trump warrant a House inquiry, and that it would still be possible to legislate on non-impeachment issues.
It was a careful needle-threading for Gershon, whose district swings but has more GOP registrants than Democrats, as of February numbers. Generally, Gershon described himself as “in the middle” and a fan of moderation.
“I took some somewhat-left points of view to get the nomination last time and that wasn't the right way to go,” he said about his losing 2018 bid for the office. “I’m about bringing people together."
On the controversial matter of impeachment, other Democrats in so-called purple districts are taking things even more cautiously, with New York Reps. Max Rose of Staten Island and Anthony Brindisi of upstate not endorsing impeachment at all even in the wake of allegations that Trump linked U.S. aid to Ukraine to that country’s cooperation in investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.
The Gershon town hall, attended by approximately 50 people, demonstrated some of the strong and conflicting feelings about impeachment, with attendees murmuring and crosstalking. One attendee said impeachment tends to “destroy our country” and "whether you voted for the president or not he was elected to govern for four years."
“Legally,” someone interjected.
Other questions elicited less back-and-forth, even one in which Gershon was asked who he supported for the Democratic presidential nominee. He said “anyone but Trump” and namechecked Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren as people he liked. About Mayor Pete, he noted somewhat ruefully, “He inspires people the way I wish I could.”
— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano
Yang by the record
And then there was one.
With the exit of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Mayor Bill de Blasio from the 2020 race, businessman Andrew Yang is now the only New Yorker seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.
The 44-year-old lives in Manhattan, according to voting records, along with his wife and two sons. But he can more recently be found on the campaign trail and debate stage, speaking about the threat of automation and his idea to give $1,000 a month to every American adult aged 18-64.
Yang was born in Schenectady to Taiwanese immigrant parents. His ties to downstate include Columbia Law School and a leadership tour at a test-prep company in Manhattan bought by Kaplan in 2009.
In 2011, he started an NYC-based nonprofit, Venture for America, placing fellows in young companies in cities that aren’t necessarily typical destinations for college graduates.
He is open about being new to politics, and he did not vote in the 2016 presidential primary, the hot 2012 and 2000 general and primary elections, or midterm elections in 2010, 2006, or 2002, according to recent New York City Board of Elections records obtained by The Point. (He has told The Washington Post that he would’ve gone for Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary.)
And some of his policy positions are unorthodox, such as a new domestic infrastructure force called the “Legion of Builders and Destroyers” whose head would “have the ability to overrule local regulations and ordinances to ensure that projects are started and completed promptly and effectively.”
But his own 2020 bid has outlasted more experienced rivals, garnering multiple percentage points in polls.
He has gained traction through new media such as podcasts and cultivated a fervent “Yang gang” online. He has spent some $1.3 million on Facebook ads, more than former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s digital-savvy presidential campaign (though less than the frontrunners). One ad notes cheekily, “It’s all fun and games until Yang passes you in the polls.”
What’s next for the New Yorker? Though as of Wednesday afternoon he hadn’t signed onto an Indivisible pledge to support the Democratic nominee, his campaign says he has indicated on “multiple occasions” that he would support the nominee.
He’s still in the running on his own. He’s perceived serious enough by the National Republican Congressional Committee to be included in Facebook attack ads, and has already qualified for the next Democratic debate.
— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano
Under the microscope
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Cleaning up Suffolk’s water
The plan proposed this week by the Suffolk County Water Authority to install more treatment systems to get 1,4-dioxane out of drinking water — at a cost of $75 million to $600 million, depending on how many wells are treated — highlighted a couple problems.
The first is that more state funding for water treatment technology is going to be needed. In the last few years, the state budget has included a total of $3 billion for clean water initiatives in general over five years with a promise — but not an allocation — for another $500 million next year.
“It’s not enough. We’ll be going back this year and asking for more,” Citizens Campaign for the Environment executive director Adrienne Esposito told The Point. “Increased funding means quicker implementation of filtration systems.”
The second issue is potentially dicier. Water authority officials said they likely will seek a rate increase to treat 1,4-dioxane, as well as perfluorinated compounds. But clean water advocates have been pushing for several years for a fee on water to attack nitrogen pollution, a cause which has not been warmly received by Suffolk County Water Authority leaders. The plan embraced by the advocates calls for a public referendum asking voters whether they are willing to pay a fee to get nitrogen out of groundwater and drinking water.
The water authority’s plan, environmentalists admit, makes the referendum push a little more difficult because voters might be more reluctant to approve a new nitrogen fee on top of a 1,4-dioxane fee.
One clean water advocate even wondered whether the water authority was trying to “intentionally crowd out” any other attempts to add a water fee.
Esposito said a fee on water could be allocated to fight both emerging contaminants like 1,4-dioxane and nitrogen since the public expects water that is clean, safe and free of both potential carcinogens and nitrogen.
“We can tackle both things and the water districts need to understand both things need to be tackled,” she said. “We can’t pit one pollution source against another pollution source, that’s not good public health policy.”
But some might think it’s good politics. And that’s never water under the bridge.
— Michael Dobie @mwdobie