Zimmerman, Santos spar on issues facing 3rd District in Newsday forum

Zimmerman, Santos spar on issues facing 3rd District in Newsday forum
Robert Zimmerman (left) and George Santos (right) are running in the 3rd Congressional District election. (Photos courtesy of both candidates)

Democratic Congressional candidate Robert Zimmerman bashed George Santos for his stance on a handful of issues facing the 3rd District, while the Republican dismissed his opponent’s claims during a Newsday interview on Tuesday.

Zimmerman, 67, criticized Santos, 34, for his support of a nationwide ban on abortions, for defending the rioters outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 and for his political affiliations with individuals such as Congressmembers Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz. 

“This election for Congress is a test between the mainstream values that define my life that I represent and the values that George Santos represents, from the extremist perspective,” Zimmerman said.”This is a very clear decision between the two of us.”

Santos, on multiple occasions during the forum, said Zimmerman was misleading viewers in an attempt to make the debate about him, rather than the constituents of the 3rd Congressional District. Santos said the race is “personal” to him and that his goal is to “defend the American Dream.”

“Robert Zimmerman [will] make this debate about him and I,” Santos continued. “I want to make it about all of you in the room because this race is not about the two of us, It’s about you.”

Both candidates, who would become the first openly gay member of Congress from Long Island and Queens, if elected, discussed the repeal of Roe v. Wade and how they would vote on the matter. Zimmerman said he would vote to codify the law along with his goal to defend same-sex marriage and the LGBTQ+ community.

“I’m committed because I understand what it is like growing up as an isolated gay kid in the ‘70s,” he said. “I’m not going to allow a new generation of LGBTQ+ to be forced back in the closet through ‘Don’t Say Gay’ legislation.”

Santos did not directly answer the question, dismissing Zimmerman’s claims of him defending the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ legislation and his relationship with Republican officials who do not advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. Santos said he did not want to “distract” the audience and viewers from the “real issues at hand,” such as public safety and affordable housing.

In terms of public safety on the federal level and what can be done to address crime throughout New York, Santos said it is imperative to ensure criminals are incarcerated for their acts and criticized Democratic officials for “coddling” those who break the law.

“The North Shore has become a target for all of the crime that’s coming in from the city of New York and Congress… should have the moral obligation to secure federal dollars to fund our law enforcement officers, to make sure that they’re well-equipped and prepared to fend off violent criminals,” Santos said.

Zimmerman said he will continue to advocate for modifications to the state’s bail reform laws to give judges more discretion when it comes to reviewing a defendant’s past. The Democrat also said he would support Red Flag laws, background checks for firearms and other federally-funded intervention programs.

“I’m for an assault weapons ban,” Zimmerman said. “I stand very strongly for limiting the number of bullets in the magazine and certainly stand very strongly for stronger background checks.”

Santos noted the hundreds of gun laws already in place on the federal and state level, acknowledging that gun violence continues to persist.

“Every time we create a gun law, we take away a legal weapon from a law-abiding citizen,” he said. “Not from a criminal, criminals don’t follow laws.”

Santos said affordable housing is a problem throughout the nation and that updating public housing to respectable conditions and treating their tenants with respect should be a top priority. He said that taking care of the American public before taking care of other nations is also something that a congressman advocates for.

“We need to come together to understand that we need to put first our American people and make sure that we take care of our own before we start extending help to millions of people trying to pour into our country,” Santos said. “We need to make sure that they come first.”

Zimmerman said he has a “strong record” of border security and called Santos’ connection between that and affordable housing a “desperate try.” Zimmerman touted the need to have a commitment to workforce housing and also to revitalize downtown areas throughout the 3rd District.

“Everywhere I go throughout Nassau County and Queens, there’s a recognition of the need to bring back what they call workforce housing or affordable housing,” Zimmerman said. “So young people can live at home, where they grew up, contribute to their communities and get jobs locally, near their families.”

Santos, on multiple occasions, called a vote for Zimmerman a vote for another “rubber stamp” for the Biden agenda and that 3rd District constituents should cast their vote for him instead. Zimmerman said his leadership and his endorsements from a myriad of politicians and organizations reinforce he is the choice to represent the district.

Zimmerman is co-president of ZE Creative Communications on Bond Street in Great Neck, a public relations firm he started 33 years ago with Ron Edelson and a Democratic national committeeman.

Zimmerman previously worked as a congressional aide on Capitol Hill for Congressmen Lester Wolff, James Scheuer and Gary Ackerman. His advocacy also led to his being nominated by President Bill Clinton to serve on the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Presidential Commission on the Arts and by President Barack Obama to serve on the National Council on the Humanities.

Notable endorsements for Zimmerman include Gov. Kathy Hochul, U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng, former Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, state Assemblyman Charles Lavine, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and former New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton.

Santos, who ran against Suozzi in 2020, was named a “Young Gun” candidate in the National Republican Congressional Committee’s Young Guns program earlier this year, his campaign said. The Republican was recently endorsed by Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena and the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association.

Both are running to fill the seat of U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), who ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor earlier this year.

New district maps were submitted recently by a court-appointed special master and have been viewed as more neutral compared to ones that were previously rejected by the state Appeals Court.

While the 3rd Congressional District under the new proposal does not extend as far west as the Bronx or Westchester, it does stretch to more southern parts of Nassau County such as Hicksville and Massapequa. The new lines do exclude the parts of the district that now stretch into Suffolk County, mainly Huntington and Smithtown.

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