Editorial I: Gary Port for state Assembly, 19th District

The Island Now
Gary B. Port is running for state assembly for the third time. (Photo courtesy of Gary B. Port)

Two years ago we endorsed state Assemblyman Ed Ra for re-election in the 19th Assembly District, citing his effective advocacy for this district as well as his willingness to work across the aisle with Democrats and to break with Republican orthodoxy on some issues.

This year we are endorsing Ra’s Democratic opponent, attorney Gary Port.

What happened? COVID-19 and President Trump. And Ra’s response to them.

The truth is that the impact of COVID-19 – and Trump’s mishandling of it – dominate every race for state Assembly and state Senate in New York for good reason.

The biggest issue facing all state legislators is the $14.5 billion that the COVID-19 pandemic is costing New York.

The virus, both candidates acknowledged in a virtual debate hosted by Blank Slate Media last week, will severely impact not only the state’s finances but those of every county and municipality in New York.

If the federal government comes up with a stimulus package that helps states and local municipalities, New York will still probably face a large shortfall that will be “bad,” Ra correctly predicted at the debate.

But if it does not, the impact will be “apocalyptic” for New York, Port correctly warned.

Port and Ra disagreed, however, on the reasons for this dire state.

Port was clear in placing blame where blame belongs – with Trump’s epic failure in responding to the pandemic.

This, he said, began with Trump failing to alert the public to the threat posed by the virus.

We will add that it was followed by Trump downplaying its impact, failing to launch a national program of testing, tracing and production of needed equipment, his embrace of phony cures and discouraging the wearing of masks and social distancing in words and action.

These are the reasons the United States, with 4 percent of the world’s population, has 20 percent of the deaths caused by COVID-19, with 220,000, and more than eight million people infected. And the country now is in the midst of a third wave of infections.

Ra, on the other hand, ignored Trump’s failure and instead stressed his role in the first stimulus package and how in the beginning he worked well with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Both sides, Ra said, are responsible for a lack of agreement on a second stimulus –  ignoring the opposition of Senate Republicans to including the needed aid to state and local governments in the package.

In fact, Ra was more critical of Cuomo over the handling of COVID-19’s impact on New York than Trump.

He did praise Cuomo’s leadership in holding daily briefings and helping people “looking for some reassurance.” But he criticized Cuomo for a lack of transparency and said his policy on nursing homes was a “disaster.” Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes is a fair topic of debate, but nothing about Trump?

Ra went on to say that he doesn’t approve of the way Trump often conducts himself in terms of attacking other people, but “unfortunately we have gotten to a point on both sides where things have gotten very personal.”

This simply ignores reality.

If Ra really believes this to be true, he does not have the judgment to serve in the Assembly at this time. If he is saying this because he fears the political consequences of opposing the candidate of his own party, he doesn’t have the political courage to do what is needed.

As president, Trump has waged war on the rule of law, our intelligence agencies, our military, free elections and a free and independent press. He has succeeded in doing this with the help of Republican officials who have stood by silently or assigned blame to both sides.

We don’t need another Republican legislator to ignore this truth.

Port, who has run unsuccessfully against Ra three times before, also offers a strong background as a former assistant district attorney, champion of social justice and service in the Army from which he retired in 2015 with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

He called Black Lives Matter “an important moment” in the country’s history, addressing systematic racism against Blacks that goes beyond unfair treatment at the hands of police to housing, education, zoning and beyond.

He also offered an interesting way to address bad police – the adoption of a code of ethics by police similar to that used by the military to encourage good police to report bad police.

Ra stressed his support for police and said “when we talk about reform, it has to be done in a deliberate and collaborative way.” This is also not the time to sidestep the unfair treatment of Blacks and people of color in this country.

Ra also said recent changes to bail reform had improved the system, but judges still needed greater discretion in imposing bail – a position echoed by Port.

In the past, Ra has been a voice of moderation and reason in addressing issues before the Legislature – the kind of Republican needed to resurrect the party across the state. He has also represented Long Island well.

But in an era dominated by Trump and COVID-19, Ra appears out of step with what is needed, while Port better speaks to the issues that will have the greatest impact on the next Legislature.

We give our endorsement for the 19th Assembly District to Gary Port.


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