L. t R.: New York State Assmblyman Andrew Garbarino (R-Sayville) and former Babylon Town Councilwoman Jackie Gordon (D-Copiague). Photos courtesy of New York State Assembly and Olivia Vecchio

With Election Day fast approaching, a competitive race for an open Long Island congressional seat long-held by Republicans is shaping up to be a closely watched match-up.

New York State Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino (R-Sayville) and former Babylon Town Councilwoman Jackie Gordon (D-Copiague) are vying to replace retiring 14-term U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who represents New York’s 2nd Congressional District. 

“Pete King is a giant in the Congress and running to succeed him is truly a humbling experience,” said Garbarino. Gordon echoed the sentiment, saying, “I’m humbled by the tremendous grassroots support we’ve received across the district.”

King, who historically won re-election by large margins, won by just over 6 percent of the vote in 2018, setting the scene for a competitive race to succeed him that Cook Political Report, an independent and nonpartisan election tracker, now labels as a “Republican Toss Up.” The district covers the South Shore of eastern Nassau County and western Suffolk County — territory ranging from Levittown and Massapequa to Islip and Ronkonkoma. 

Garbarino, an attorney and four-term state assemblyman whose district includes Bohemia, Patchogue and Islip, won the congressional GOP primary with nearly 64 percent of the vote against state Assemblyman Mike LiPetri (R-Massapequa). On the Democratic side, Gordon, a combat veteran, retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, educator, and Babylon Town Councilwoman from 2007 through this year, won almost 73 percent of the vote in her respective primary against perennial candidate Patricia Maher. 

In terms of fundraising, Gordon has outpaced Garbarino, as her campaign had more than $1.1 million cash on hand to Garbarino’s $104,100 by the end of June, according to Federal Election Commission data. In total, Gordon had received more than $1.7 million in receipts to Garbarino’s $488,566 by that same June 30 recording. 

Both candidates have secured significant endorsements. Garbarino is backed by King, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Long Island officials including Town of Hempstead Supervisor Don Clavin, and several Nassau County legislators. Gordon’s endorsements have ranged from Suffolk County legislators to those on the national stage such as President Barack Obama and Vice Presidential Nominee Kamala Harris. 

But on the issues, while the candidates agree on the importance of working to better the lives of Long Islanders, there are fundamental disagreements about the solutions and which agenda items should take priority. Interviews with both candidates, which are outlined by topic below, reveal those stark points of contention. 

COMPETING PRIORITIES

Responding to the question of “big-ticket” issues heading into the election, the candidates diverged on what takes priority. 

Gordon said the pandemic has revealed the importance of bolstering both the economy and health care for Long Islanders, while ensuring that residents are given tax relief rather than large corporations. 

“Not only do we need to protect the Affordable Care Act, but we need to expand access to health care, protect people with pre-existing conditions, and lower the cost of prescription drugs,” Gordon said. “We need to rebuild the economy so that it works for everyone; that means providing support to small businesses, reducing student loan debt, and expanding access to skills training and apprenticeship programs.” 

Garbarino said the biggest issue on the Island right now is restoring the state and local tax (SALT) deduction for homeowners, an issue Gordon agrees on. President Donald Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which placed a cap on the state and local tax deduction, in 2017.

Other high priority issues for Garbarino include securing federal funding for law enforcement, “combating MS-13 and other violent gangs,” and advocating for a new infrastructure bill. 

“There hasn’t been an in-depth infrastructure bill passed in Washington in a long time and that has caused New York State and local municipalities to pump the brakes on major infrastructure improvement plans,” Garbarino said. “These improvements would make the lives of every constituent in New York better and we need to get one passed.” 

POLICE AND PROTESTS

Both candidates expressed support for the peaceful protests that have taken place across the country and on LI as the national conversation around racial injustice continues. However, both Gordon and Garbarino made clear that they do not support calls to defund the police. 

A Black woman and former military police officer, Gordon said she understands “the effects that systemic racism has on our communities, and I also know from experience what good policing looks like.” On that front, Gordon expressed support for community policing, and noted the work she has done with police in her past. 

“As a Babylon Town Councilwoman, I worked closely with Suffolk County Police Department’s First Precinct on community policing programs,” Gordon said. “And as a guidance counselor for over two decades, I worked closely with local police to keep students safe and root out gang violence in our communities.” 

Garbarino in recent months has voted in favor of state Assembly bills that mandate police-worn body cameras and require officers to provide medical and mental health attention. He has also voted against bills that would require the disclosure of law enforcement disciplinary records or prohibit police officers from using racial and ethnic profiling, according to the state Assembly. 

In a press release from July 10, Garbarino said laws like those he voted against and others to institute bail reform showed the Democratic-led legislature had “turned its back on our law enforcement and imposed rules that make them vulnerable in the course of their work.” 

Calling the killing of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police officers in late May a “tragedy,” Garbarino said those officers need to be held accountable but that “we can’t vilify every police officer for the actions of a few.”

COVID-19 RECOVERY

On the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, both candidates agreed on the need for federal assistance without raising taxes, and each has worked in the community over the last few months to help those facing hardship. 

Garbarino said he has worked to secure thousands of pieces of PPE for healthcare workers and first responders while making sure to check in on constituents throughout the pandemic. In the Assembly, he also co-sponsored a bill that will “repurpose existing funds in New York to create grants for Chambers of Commerce to advertise small businesses.” 

Garbarino said he is also working in the Assembly through the Health Committee to question the state’s handling of coronavirus patients in nursing homes, while he continues to advocate for federal funding and decreased taxes. 

“The pandemic should be treated similarly to a natural disaster, where the federal government should come in and help the localities that were hardest hit,” Garbarino said. 

Meanwhile, Gordon said she has volunteered with her campaign team at local food banks and supply drives, as she continues to notice that “the need for assistance has not gone away,” despite the low case numbers on the island. 

Along with advocating for tax relief and a Congressional infrastructure package, Gordon said she would call for an investment into a medical supply chain on Long Island to ensure residents’ health and safety moving forward. 

“We have the facilities and the research and development talent to make that happen in our district,” Gordon said. “And it’s important for both public health and national security that we make PPE domestically.” 

EYE ON THE ENVIRONMENT

On the environment, candidates noted the importance of protecting the Great South Bay, located between the South Shore and Fire Island, as an important part of their environmental agendas. 

But Gordon said she is the “only pro-environment candidate in this race,” criticizing Garbarino for his prior Assembly votes “against protecting freshwater wetlands, against setting standards for clean drinking water and against critical environmental protection standards.” But in 2018 and 2019, Garbarino was rated 84 and 72 out of 100 respectively on his environmental votes by the New York based nonprofit EPL-Environmental Advocates. 

While Gordon said she does not support the proposed Green New Deal, she is in favor of other measures including the investment in clear energy jobs. 

“Contamination of our drinking water, rising sea levels, and pollution of the Great South Bay all threaten our way of life here on the South Shore,” Gordon said. “We need to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, invest in clean energy jobs and stem the tide of environmental deregulation coming out of Washington.” 

Garbarino said protecting waterways like the Great South Bay will require “eliminating waste” and cleaning smaller water sources, while also placing much of the pressure on the federal government to enact change. 

“I will also fight to ensure the federal government does its part in protecting our local gem by contributing its fair share,” Garbarino said. “That means increasing federal funding for the EPA, allocating more funds to preserve our waterways, and voting against offshore drilling.” 

FINAL PITCHES

While certainly both candidates expressed confidence in their respective campaigns, each laid out different reasons for why they best resonate with the voters.  

For Garbarino, he said he has lived and worked in the community throughout his life and is hoping his children become “fourth-generation Long Islanders.” 

“I grew up in Sayville and chose to stay here on Long Island’s South Shore for many of the same reasons as lots of residents in NY-2 — local communities with thriving downtowns, long-standing family-owned businesses, strong schools, and safe neighborhoods,” Garbarino said. “In Congress, I will fight every day to preserve our way of life making our communities safer, and even better places to live, work, and raise a family.”  

Gordon, who was born in the nation of Jamaica and grew up in Queens, now lives in Copiague with her son while her daughter is a captain in the U.S. Air Force. Gordon said her journey and ability to relate to residents is the driving force behind her campaign. 

“When veterans learn that I’m a veteran, they know that we share the same language and we share the same experiences. They know that I’m going to understand what they’ve gone through,” Gordon said. “When an immigrant sees another immigrant, when a single mother sees another single mother, when a member of organized labor sees another union member, the story remains the same. Voters in this district are looking for a representative who lives like them and will take their interests to Washington.”

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