Incumbent state Assemblywoman Gina Sillitti (D-Port Washington) and Republican candidate Vibhuti Jha touted the respect they have for each other despite their opposing views on how the Supreme Court voted on women’s reproductive rights.
The two running to represent the state Assembly’s 16th District spoke on the importance of having civilized discourse with individuals from opposing party lines during a forum moderated by the League of Women Voters Port Washington-Manhasset.
“It is very important to have a civilized conversation and not call each other extreme or violent,” Jha said. “So I’m a lucky man.”
Sillitti said that there is a “mutual respect” between her and Jha, noting that both individuals have “very different views” on a handful of issues.
Sillitti described herself as “unapologetically pro-choice” and would vote in favor of the state’s Equality Amendment, which guarantees a constitutional right to reproductive healthcare for every New Yorker.
“This came about particularly with Roe v. Wade being overturned, 50 years of precedent, 50 years of protecting a woman’s right to choose was ended abruptly,” she said. “New York fought back with measures to protect a woman, protect doctors from retaliation, from criminality, but also the Equality Amendment.”
Jha said he believed the Supreme Court made the correct decision by allowing each state to determine what they should do in regard to abortion, touting the need for freedom and choice for each locality.
“I think the Supreme Court took a wise decision,” he said. “It may have angered a group of people, but this is a wonderful country with states having the right to choose what they want to do. It is as much unfair for Texas to impose its conditionalities on New York as it is for New York to impose its conditionalities on Wisconsin or Tennessee.”
Jha said parents cannot afford to have their children be faced with unnecessary stress and must get involved to find more ways to prioritize the mental health and well-being of their kids and others throughout the state.
“This is not a two-minute question or a two-minute answer, but I want to say children need mental support,” Jha said. “Putting them under undue pressure on their sexuality, on what they’re taught it must stop.”
Sillitti said she is a supporter of several pieces of legislation that place more mental health professionals in schools throughout the state. The stress children endured throughout the coronavirus pandemic, she said, has underscored the need for more action.
“These kids before COVID were already on the edge,” Sillitti said. “They were barely getting the services that they needed to get by and then COVID came. We sent them home and we put them in a room and they couldn’t get the services that they needed.”
Jha said he has noticed political polarization increase throughout the nation since Sept. 11, 2001 and said he does not “belong to any extreme.”
“There is a need for law and order, discipline, but that’s when things happen,” Jha said. “Life needs discipline and then things happen. Today, we are looking at extremism in the country because we are restricting freedom of speech.”
Sillitti said she believes the right to vote is under attack from extremists, citing the insurrection on Jan. 6 as an example of many people who did not believe in a free and fair election.
“I believe voting in New York should be easier, not harder,” she said. “I believe that people should be able to go to the voting booth without fear of being attacked or vilified or intimidated. Misinformation is feeding the extremism.”
Sillitti has served as the representative for District 16 since Jan. 1, 2021, after defeating Ragini Srivastava in 2020. Her current term is up on Jan. 1, 2023.
She is running on the Democratic Party and Working Families Party lines. Her previous positions in the Town of North Hempstead include deputy commissioner of the Department of Community Services, deputy chief of staff and director of legislative affairs.
Jha is representing the Republican and Conservative parties. A specialist in business turnaround and a former banker, he hopes to flip District 16 next month.
According to the New York State Board of Elections, between July 19 and Oct. 3, Sillitti raised $40,986 while Jha raised $34,035. Contributors’ names, the amounts and the types of contributors were among the information that was made available.
Assembly District 16 comprises Great Neck, Manhasset, Port Washington, Herricks, Mineola, Baxter Estates, parts of East Williston, Old Westbury, Roslyn Estates, Roslyn, Albertson, Williston Park and New Hyde Park.