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Gary Port challenges Ed Ra for Assembly District 19 seat

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The race for the 19th Assembly District began mid-August when challenger Gary Port announced his candidacy to run against incumbent Edward Ra, who is running for a sixth term.

The Herald asked Ra and Port questions focusing on issues vital to the residents of the 19th A.D., which encompasses West Hempstead, Glen Head and parts of Franklin Square.

Herald: With many businesses still struggling from the effects of the pandemic, what changes would you make to support business owners?

Gary Port: The state has a new loan program called the New York Forward Loan Fund, which has supported small businesses during the pandemic. NYFLF aims to assist businesses with 20 employees or fewer. That covers about 90 percent of businesses in the state, so it’s a big program. It needs as much funding and support as it can get, so I would increase funding for it, and I’d make the application process easier so that small businesses can get approved as quickly as possible. We also need to make sure that we keep the program running for as long as we need to. At the federal level, the Paycheck Protection Program, which provided millions of Americans with vital stimulus checks, has already expired because Senate Republicans didn’t want to extend it. The program was a lifeline for thousands of Long Islanders, but the GOP would rather let small businesses go out of business than give them a modest sum of money. We can’t do that at the state level. I would extend the program for as long as it takes to get every small business back on its feet.

Ed Ra: Our local small businesses have been hit hard by this pandemic and I have worked with my colleagues in the Assembly Republican Conference to propose measures to help our small businesses get back on their feet and help promote our local downtowns. I have introduced legislation which would allow local business groups and nonprofits to access funds that have been previously appropriated to promote state programs such as START-UP New York. These entities could apply for grants to promote local business districts and the importance of local sales tax revenue, which will benefit our counties who have lost significant sales tax revenue as a result of Covid-19 shutdowns. We also proposed a “Small Business Emergency Recovery Act,” which would result in an investment of $890 million in our small businesses by redirecting economic development funds including tax credits that largely benefit major corporations and repurposing them for small business relief. There are also pending rent relief measures we could take to aid both commercial tenants and commercial landlords as many of them locally are small businesses themselves. Lastly, I would change the regulatory and enforcement approach that has been taken. When shutdowns first occurred in March the focus was on what was “essential,” but guidance was unclear and at times inconsistent. With continuing restrictions, there must be an emphasis on what can be done safely and enforcement of health and safety protocols should be about worker and customer safety, not a “got ya” approach for businesses who have suffered great losses.

Herald: What adjustments would you push for in the state’s bail reform law?

Port: The bail reform is only a big topic because the Republicans are lying about it. Ed Ra and the Nassau GOP are trying to get the public to bail with imprisonment after conviction. If an individual is held for bail, that does not mean they are guilty. They have not even been tried yet. Bail exists just to secure a person for trial. But the bail system is unfair — the poor and working class can’t afford bail while the upper middle class and rich get to go home. The poor, meanwhile, rot in jail awaiting trial, and if they are acquitted, they get nothing back for the wreckage of their lives. The GOP push the false narrative that a person at liberty while awaiting trial is “a revolving door.” They want to imprison people on suspicion of committing a crime. This is contrary to the American system of innocent until proven guilty. The Republicans want it to be guilty until proven innocent, if you are poor. It is definitely true that there are violent offenders out there, and we need to keep a close watch on them in order to protect our communities. However, they are a miniscule percentage of the people being held without trial. The vast majority are nonviolent, and are not getting justice. I would keep bail in place for violent felonies, but keep it abolished for everything else.

Ra: The changes made in this year’s state budget were a start, but they barely addressed the low-hanging fruit. For instance, last year in consultation with New York City Special Narcotics Prosecutor, I drafted legislation to make the most serious narcotics offenses bail eligible again as the bail reform act had left only the most serious charge of “Operating as a Major Drug Trafficker” as bail eligible. We proposed adding first- and second-degree possession and sale offenses to the list of “qualifying offenses.” These are serious A-I and A-II felonies and are used in cases where drug rings are moving large quantities of narcotics like fentanyl and heroin. Only the first-degree charges were added back under the changes made that took effect in August. In addition to specific charges, the biggest thing that remains lacking is true judicial discretion. If the goal is to reduce the level to which a defendant’s financial situation is the main determining factor in their ability to await trial free from jail, I think the best way to do that is to allow judges to evaluate the defendant in front of them based on the seriousness of the offense whether they are likely to return to future court appearances or pose a danger to the community if they are freed. I also think more must be done with the discovery reforms to give judges additional tools to protect crime witnesses and victims.

Herald: Jet noise has been an ongoing issue for Nassau County residents on the South Shore. What can be done at the state assembly level to address this issue?

Port: I live on the South Shore, and I constantly get woken up in the middle of the night by planes taking off from JFK Airport. The noise pollution poses a serious health risk, particularly for the elderly. State Assemblywoman Judy Griffin has done some excellent work on the issue. Her district is adjacent to ours, which covers Malverne and a good portion of West Hempstead. She introduced a bill last year, which would have authorized the state’s Department of Transportation and the Department of Environmental Conservation to conduct a joint study on how the JFK and LaGuardia runways impact the health of nearby residents. The bill passed the Assembly and the Senate, but was vetoed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Why he would veto common-sense legislation like that is beyond me. But she’ll introduce it again next session, and if I’m up there with her, I’ll be a primary sponsor of it. I’ll pressure the governor to sign it this time. We’ll get the study done, look at its results and move forward from there. I’ll introduce bills, based on the recommendations of the study, that will be designed to keep air traffic away from the South Shore.

Ra: This has been an issue for many years now and while regulating our airspace is primarily under the jurisdiction of the federal government, we have had some legislative successes. I wrote the bill that resulted in a federal Part 150 study being conducted on the LaGuardia and JFK airports. While this data has been helpful further federal action is needed to reduce the aircraft noise threshold from 65 DNL to 55 DNL which is what is used in much of the world and would better reflect the impact air traffic has on the south shore of Nassau County. I also worked with advocates to draft legislation being carried by State Assemblyman Ron Kim, my colleague from Queens, which would allow a different metric known as CNEL to be utilized. This standard gives larger weight to overnight flights could better trigger action to mitigate the noise concerns over Long Island and is used in California. In addition, in June, the Assembly once again passed a bill I co-sponsored that would direct the New York State Department of Health to conduct a study on the health impacts of JFK and LaGuardia Airports. Although the governor vetoed similar legislation last year, we are hopeful that the governor will look more favorably upon it if the Senate passes it before the end of the year. This has been a major priority of Plane Sense 4 Long Island, which has brought together federal, state and local officials and concerned community members to work on airplane noise issues.