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Mar 11, 2008 10:48 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Candidates argue over hiring hall issue

Mar 11, 2008 10:48 AM

Immigration reform has surfaced in recent weeks as a key issue in the Republican campaign to unseat sitting U.S. Representative Tim Bishop of Southampton.

In the past two weeks, Lee Zeldin, the GOP candidate for Mr. Bishop's 1st Congressional District Seat, has released a web video and published statements on his web site challenging Mr. Bishop's stance on illegal immigration and calling for reform to national policy.

Last week, Mr. Zeldin identified hiring halls as a dividing point between he and Mr. Bishop and criticized the congressman's endorsement of a hiring hall for day laborers in Southampton Village.

Mr. Bishop defended his stance, stating that he believes hiring halls can help organize day laborers and improve public safety.

Mr. Zeldin, however, charged that hiring halls promote the hiring of undocumented workers who take jobs away from legal residents. He followed up on the message in the web video released this week, saying, "I'm passionately against folks that come here illegally over the Huachuca Mountains of Arizona and expect to milk the system for all it's worth."

Hiring halls "insult our honest workers," Mr. Zeldin said.

"Us having a hiring hall in Southampton is legitimizing [undocumented workers'] conduct and sharing an utter lack of concern for our rule of law," Mr. Zeldin said last week. "We don't need the image or future of Southampton to be tarnished with illegal aliens."

While cautioning that hiring halls "are in no way a permanent solution" to immigration concerns, Mr. Bishop said they are a "good way to keep job seekers off the streets while the federal government attempts to resolve the root problems" of illegal immigration.

"Unfortunately, comprehensive immigration reform is often undermined by heated rhetoric, which turns up the temperature of the debate but does not produce solutions," Mr. Bishop said in a prepared statement. "Most recently, I have been working with both my Democratic and Republican colleagues in Congress to iron out the details of reforms that could solve the current national shortage of temporary worker visas, which is threatening small businesses on Long Island."

As both campaigns gear up for the election, Mr. Bishop has a decisive financial edge on Mr. Zeldin with $750,000 cash on hand, according to the National Election Commission. Mr. Zeldin's campaign, according to campaign manager Marcus Povinelli, has about $50,000 in the war chest. Mr. Zeldin has said that he will need as much as $2 million to take on Mr. Bishop, who is in his third term as congressman.

Mr. Zeldin, a Shirley resident, earned the unofficial nomination of Republican Party bosses in February. The party's official nominating convention is in May. Speaking about whether the National Republican Congressional Committee is targeting Mr. Zeldin's campaign for a cash infusion, Ken Spain, spokesman for the NRCC, said it was too early to make a decision. He went on to say, "We're paying close attention to Tim Bishop's actions" and added the NRCC believes "Mr. Zeldin has the potential to make this race competitive."

Hiring halls are not new to Long Island. The communities of Freeport, Glen Cove and Huntington all have hiring halls. Mr. Zeldin named Latin American immigrants as the most common users of hiring halls.

There is currently no hiring hall in Southampton, but Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot, a Republican, said the undocumented worker issue in Southampton Town is of "tremendous concern."

Southampton Town officials successfully blocked a proposal by Southampton Village officials last year for the creation of a hiring site on a park that is public land. The lot is next to a 7-Eleven convenience store. A common complaint of Southampton Town officials is that Latino day laborers who gather near the 7-Eleven each morning looking for work create traffic problems.

"Do I believe something needs to be done? Absolutely," Ms. Kabot said. "I have no opposition for a not-for-profit or a church that wants to organize a hiring hall as a site. But I will have no part of a hiring hall on government property that is built with taxpayer money."

Traditionally, Mr. Bishop has endorsed the concept of hiring halls that are not paid for with public funds but instead are operated by non-profit agencies. An earlier proposal, involving a non-profit agency that wanted to put a trailer near the Southampton train station for use as a hiring hall, never got off the ground.

Echoing Ms. Kabot's view, Mr. Zeldin said opportunities offered by hiring halls to undocumented workers undermine "labor unions and other hard-working, blue-collar, middle-class Long Islanders."

Will Jenkins, a spokesman for Mr. Bishop, accused Mr. Zeldin of trying to "score political points" by exploiting a controversial issue on Long Island.

"He's running an amazingly negative campaign," Mr. Jenkins said. "I think, on this, it's regrettable that he seems to be using this as a wedge issue instead of trying to seek reasonable solutions, because that's what's undermining the immigration issue as a whole—when it's used to score political points."

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