Democrats debate
LEFT: Liuba Grechen Shirley speaks about issues that are important to her. RIGHT: Presiding officer of the Legislator DuWayne Gregory discussing his agenda.


Democrats debate


SUFFOLK COUNTY—Registered Democrats across Long Island will be heading to the polls on Tuesday, June 26 for the Democratic primary. DuWayne Gregory and Liuba Grechen Shirley participated in a debate, which was held at Sayville Congregational Church on Thursday, May 31 before a crowd of South Shore residents. Later this month, the winner will go up against longtime Republican congressman Peter King for New York’s 2nd Congressional District on Election Day. 

Suffolk County communities in the 2nd District include Bayport, Blue Point, Sayville, West Sayville, Bohemia, Oakdale, Ronkonkoma, Brentwood, Bay Shore, Brightwaters, Islip, Central Islip, West Islip, East Islip, Islip Terrace and Great River. 

Bayport-Blue Point Indivisible sponsored last week’s debate, where both candidates agreed that whoever becomes the Democratic nominee will have the other’s full support. 

DuWayne Gregory

Like any good primary these days, there has to be an “establishment candidate” and an “outsider candidate.” Gregory, an Amityville resident, was elected to the Suffolk County Legislator in 2008 and is now serving as the presiding officer of the Legislature.  

When asked why he has the best chance of unseating King, Gregory said he would continue to stand up for working-class families and protect Long Island’s drinking water. He also cited his on-time fiscally sound budgets and recently enacted campaign finance reforms that “establish a local public financing of elections.” On numerous occasions, Gregory accused “dark money” of influencing elections in ways that don’t benefit the majority of residents. He also said King has “adopted the Trump agenda.”

“Unfortunately, it’s an agenda that’s hateful and harmful to the working class on Long Island,” Gregory added. He also referred to the GOP tax plan as the “Trump tax scam,” and said he would fight to repeal the bill and restore the state and local tax deductions that the bill does away with. 

In 2016, Gregory unsuccessfully ran against King, 181,506 to 110,938, for the same post. 

Gregory, whose mother worked for Planned Parenthood in the 1970s, said there is a “war on women” under the “Trump agenda.” He prided himself in standing up for paid family leave, and said he would work to strengthen equal pay laws and pass national paid family and sick leave. He also recalled a recent conversation with a group of millennials who, he said, didn’t want to “be renters forever” and hope to own their own homes one day. The biggest obstacle to this, according to Gregory, is student loan debt. He then expressed solidarity with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plans for tuition-free college. 

In regards to the opioid crisis, Gregory said it’s a problem that we “can’t arrest our way out of,” adding that the issue is often used as a “political football” by Republicans who, he says, express an interest in the subject but do little to rectify it. Gregory also said drug laws largely affect minorities, particularly black Americans, adding his opinion that “once slavery ended, mass incarceration began.” Gregory, a 1st lieutenant in the United States Army, said our country should stand up for the values that it fights for overseas and not be passive towards an “apartheid-like state.”

Gregory said enacting common-sense gun control is difficult due to the “power of the NRA.” However, he also said the Democrats’ message when it comes to gun control is flawed. Gregory then explained that his wife’s friend’s daughter was killed during the Sandy Hook shooting. “People aren’t moved by statistics. They’re moved by emotion,” he said, adding that this applies to addressing climate change, too. 

“If it’s all doom and gloom,” he said, in regards to Democrats’ pleas to combat climate change, “you’re going to lose people.” Gregory then said the United States has taken a “backseat” to climate change, especially with President Trump announcing, one year ago, that the U.S. would cease participation in the Paris climate agreement. “We’re on Long Island,” Gregory added. “We’re going to be affected. So we need to take a lead.” 

When asked if Democrats should “run on impeachment” when it comes to the November elections as well as the 2020 elections, Gregory said, “People don’t want to talk about impeachment, they want to talk about the issues.” He also agreed with his political opponent, Grechen Shirley, that the most important goal for Democrats should be to take back the House come Election Day. 

Liuba Grechen Shirley

Grechen Shirley, the perceived “outsider” candidate, grew up in the same Amityville house where she currently lives with her family. She says she only recently decided to run for public office after the latest presidential election. Grechen Shirley also pointed out that King has been in office since she was 12 years old. “That’s a long time,” she said. She noted that one of the reasons she’s running is her belief that health care is a “human right.” She also took aim at King’s vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, as well as Trump’s recent abortion rule that cuts federal funding to doctors who perform the procedure. 

Student loan debt is another concern for Grechen Shirley, who said students should be able to refinance their loans at a lower rate. She told the audience that she, in fact, still pays $1,000 a month in student loan debt, something she says the government shouldn’t be making a profit on. Grechen Shirley also said students should be able to discharge their student loans after declaring bankruptcy and advocated for universal college. “Not just four-year colleges, but trade schools as well,” she added. 

When asked how she would pay for this, Grechen Shirley said that reversing the “tax scam” could cover free public college. 

As for the opioid crisis, Grechen Shirley said: “We all know someone who is affected,” adding that the U.S. needs to keep treating addiction as a health problem rather than a criminal issue. This, she believes, is one of the reasons we need a universal health care system. Grechen Shirley said drug laws disproportionately affect marginalized communities, and therefore, marijuana should be legalized. She also said we should do away with private prisons (most of which are located in the southern and western portions of the country) and stressed the importance of community policing. 

On immigration, like pretty much all the issues, Grechen Shirley sees eye to eye with Gregory. They both criticized the Trump administration for, as they see it, treating the immigration issue as if it were a gang issue. She also said that separating migrant families at the border (something the U.N., earlier this week, urged the U.S. to stop doing) constitutes torture. 

Grechen Shirley recently made national headlines when the Federal Election Commission approved her request to use campaign funds to cover childcare expenses while she is out campaigning. She hopes this will encourage more working moms and dads to run for public office. “There’s a reason why more than half of all representatives are millionaires,” she said, adding that it’s easy to campaign when you don’t have to worry about taking time off from work. 

Before running for the 2nd Congressional District, Grechen Shirley worked in economic development throughout the world, including Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. She said she understands why some people are weary of globalization, but that we also shouldn’t shy away from technology. “There’s a place for it,” she said, adding that there are many jobs in renewable energy. There just aren’t enough trained people to fill them. 

In regards to the environment, Grechen Shirley said climate change is about both our health and our economy. “People here [on Long Island] are going to see the change,” she said in regards to warming temperatures and rising sea levels. She also pointed out that flood insurance premiums are going up, which is just another financial strain that should be eased if residents are going to continue living here.