Suozzi, DeBono clash for first time at Port Washington debate

Luke Torrance
Republican candidate for Congrees Dan DeBono shakes hands with a resident after a debate Tuesday at the Amsterdam at Harborside in Port Washington. (Photo by Luke Torrance)

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and his challenger, Republican Dan DeBono, clashed over immigration, tax cuts and the environment Tuesday at their first debate.

DeBono had criticized Suozzi for not debating him earlier in the race for the 3rd Congressional District, and both candidates wasted no time attacking each other in the event at Amsterdam at Harborside in Port Washington.

“We can all make promises,” Suozzi said in response to a question about fixing the budget. “I’m a Democrat, he’s a Republican, and the Republicans have blown a hole in the deficit with this enormous tax cut.”

DeBono, meanwhile, slammed Suozzi for taking money “from corporate interests” and said the country would be harmed by allowing amnesty for illegal immigrants.

“There’s too much immigration,” he said. “We need to put working-class and middle-class Americans first.”

Suozzi said that he would support a path to citizenship for “Dreamers”: illegal immigrants who moved to the county before age 16, have no criminal record and a high school degree. He said that “90 percent of Americans support these young kids” and said he would be willing to make a deal increasing border security if “Dreamers” became citizens.

Suozzi touted his background in politics, as the former mayor of Glen Cove and Nassau County executive. DeBono played up his outsider status, saying this was his first major run for office and mentioned his service to the country as a former Navy SEAL.

The duo did agree in some areas. Both said that too much money was going to people at the top and both were against the tax cuts passed by Republicans and President Donald Trump. DeBono did say that Trump had helped the economy grow, while Suozzi called the tax cuts a “sugar jolt” to the wealthiest Americans while increasing the deficit. Suozzi said he would support a carbon tax, while DeBono said residents already paid too many taxes.

Their exchanges served as a stark contrast to the other two debates, which lacked the hostile back-and-forth. The candidates for state Assembly, incumbent Democrat Tony D’Urso and Republican challenger Byron Divins, generally got along and agreed on many policies. Only one candidate for the state Senate — Democrat Anna Kaplan,  a member of the North Hempstead Town Board — showed up.

State Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Flower Hill) could not make the debate, as she was attending an award ceremony honoring her daughter at Cornell University.

“It’s a balancing act between politics and family, and sometimes family has to win,” said Town of North Hempstead Councilman Angelo Ferrara, who read a statement on Phillips’ behalf. “But she very much wanted to be here.”

Ferrara touted Phillips’ accomplishments in securing school security funding, money for a shuttle bus to the Amsterdam, tax credits and protections for Long Island drinking water.

“Some people get into politics for the power or glory or the money, and other people get into it to make life better for the residents they serve,” he said. “She truly works for the people.”

After the statement is was all Kaplan, as Ferrara did not answer questions on Phillips’ behalf or respond to her opponent’s attacks. Kaplan said that as an immigrant, she would stand up for fellow immigrants, and said that Phillips was not strong enough on gun control, handling corruption and protecting the environment.

Kaplan said she would support the New York Health Act, which would provide health care to every state resident, and also supported increased funding for public transportation (residents of the Amsterdam are currently petitioning for a Nassau bus route on West Shore Road).

There was little criticism directed toward either state Assembly candidate. Both D’Urso and Divins touted their immigrant backgrounds and their love of the United States. Both agreed that state protections should be put in place to keep abortion legal in New York. And both supported the New York Health Act.

Just about the only difference was on gun control. Both said they supported the Second Amendment. But while D’Urso said he supported “every piece of [gun control] legislation that’s come before me,” Divins said that further regulations were unnecessary.

“We have to enforce the laws that we have now,” he said. “I don’t think we need more.”

Reach reporter Luke Torrance by email at, by phone at 516-307-1045, ext. 214, or follow him on Twitter @LukeATorrance.

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