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Oct 20, 2008 6:01 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Bishop and Zeldin face off in Montauk debate

Oct 20, 2008 6:01 PM

Democratic Congressman Tim Bishop and Iraq veteran and attorney Lee Zeldin, a Republican and Bishop’s opponent for the 1st congressional district, squared off in a debate Sunday afternoon that spotlighted energy, the recent approval of a $700 billion bail-out plan for Wall Street and supporting troops in Iraq.

The debate was sponsored by the Concerned Citizens of Montauk and moderated by Peter Lowenstein, vice president of the organization. Despite the election being less than two weeks away, the debate was sparsely attended by about 25 people.

Mr. Lowenstein started by asking the candidates to ask a question of each other, and both agreed on the same question: How do you stand on offshore drilling?

Mr. Zeldin earlier this month accused his opponent of shifting his positions on the issue. Mr. Bishop denied the charge, and elaborated on his position during the debate. Mr. Zeldin, 28, supports a 25-mile limit in which drilling would be banned offshore, while the 58-year-old Mr. Bishop—in his third term as Congressman—said he supports a 51-mile limit. Current law allows for a three-mile limit.

“If gas reserves were available on the Napeague strip, drilling 51 miles offshore is preferable to the 3-mile limit as currently permitted,” Mr. Bishop said, urging his opponent to think of drilling in local terms as opposed to thinking only about offshore drilling elsewhere, including Alaska. Mr. Zeldin supports drilling in Alaska.

Both candidates said they opposed the Broadwater facility, a liquefied natural gas transfer station that was proposed to be constructed 9 miles off Wading River in Long Island Sound. The proposal was shot down by the state’s Department of State in April.

During the informal hour-long debate, a questioner in the audience asked how energy reserves could be made available more quickly. Mr. Bishop said he would approve the release of 10 percent of the nation’s Strategic Oil Reserve and would support a move in Congress to release it “right away.” He said such a measure has passed the House, but not the Senate.

Mr. Zeldin, of Shirley, said he favors the federal government providing incentives to convert houses to solar heat. “The best way to reduce our reliance on oil is to make it easy for people to go to alternative sources,” he said.

The candidates agreed that nuclear power should be considered an alternative source of energy, but not in Long Island, where evacuation from a nuclear power accident would be difficult due to the shape of the island, with traffic confined to major east-west routes.

“Part of the site for a nuclear power plant has to include a safe evacuation, and Long Island doesn’t fit that,” Bishop said.

In answer to a question from the audience, Mr. Zeldin said he did not support Mr. Bishop’s vote in favor of the economic bailout plan. “I don’t believe Main Street should have to bail out Wall Street, said Mr. Zeldin. “I am running against Mr. Bishop, the president, [Speaker of the House] Nancy Pelosi, all of Washington on this issue,” he said, arguing that private capital should be invested in Wall Street. “I’d rather see ‘yellow jumpsuits’ for the presidents and CEOs of failing corporations instead of ‘golden parachutes.’”

Mr. Bishop said the vote was not a bailout of Wall Street but an effort to bring stability and liquidity to the credit markets, and to the financial market, so people can have jobs and borrow money. “It’s about protecting Main Street,” he said. “Our nation’s leaders must do everything within their power to ensure that Americans’ jobs and hard-earned money are not lost.”

Mr. Zeldin claimed that Mr. Bishop had voted twice, in December 2007, and June 2008, against funding for equipment and supplies for troops. The candidate said troops in the Middle East need more support from the federal government.

“It’s a personal issue for me,” he said. “Anyone who volunteers to serve and is handed a weapon and uniform and sent overseas, shouldn’t have to find out once they get over there that their congressman back home is voting against the ammunition in their weapon,” he said.

In response, Mr. Bishop said he has always voted to fund the troops, but refuses to give President George W. Bush a blank check. Mr. Bishop said he has voted to fund the war so long as a phased “draw-down” of U.S. troops was included in the legislation. “There’s not a soul in Washington who wouldn’t equip our troops,” he said.

“If you agree with [Bishop] on the issues, you should be voting for him on November 4,” Mr. Zeldin told the audience. If you agree with me on the issues, you should be voting for me.”

Mr. Bishop said he would continue to do his job with “civility and honesty.” He told the audience that he has been honored to serve them for the past three terms, and that if elected to a fourth, he promised “the same degree of hard work and the same degree of effectiveness that I believe I have delivered for the past six years.”

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