In the crowded confines of this house of worship the tone was respectful, perhaps in deference to Rev. Charles Coverdale, who told the assembled: “We would appreciate you listening and not shouting while the speakers are speaking.”
His assistant pastor, Cynthia Liggon, reminded the audience of several hundred people: “We ask that a spirit of openness, compassion and good will be amongst us…as we seek the common good for all humanity.”
And so the rancor that has so bitterly divided the nation was kept briefly at bay as these two candidates for Congress, who couldn’t be farther apart politically, stood about six feet from each other at their respective podiums, no doubt longing to blast each other into smithereens but knowing they dare not.
Their differences were obvious. The outcome won’t be clear until November—and maybe not even then, considering that their first race in 2010 took five weeks to decide.
The two candidates offered a study in contrasts. The clean-shaven Randy Atschuler, 41, was all smiles; the gray-bearded Tim Bishop, 62, was tight-lipped. Both men looked like they could be corporate executives on Wall Street, pretending to get along as they posed together for the annual report, with the subtext being Altschuler dying to tell Bishop he’s just bought the company and is forcing the older man into early retirement.
Both politicians traded shots over the controversial budget plan proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Gov. Mitt Romney’s vice presidencial nominee. It’s formally called “The Path to Prosperity,” but liberal critics like The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and others have dubbed it “the road to ruin,” because it would slash food stamps, cut college Pell grants, close national parks, privatize Medicare and slice Medicaid while eliminating mortgage interest deductions, among other initiatives, to avoid raising taxes on the wealthy.
“One of the reasons I support the Ryan plan is because it is the only plan!” said Altschuler at the debate.
“I do not support the Ryan budget,” countered Bishop. “I think that if the Ryan budget were ever to take on the force of law in this country it would impose enormous pain on people all across this country.”
The debate left audience members with a clear impression of the very different visions these two candidates have of America—and what their policies represent.
Dan Farrell, the president of the Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees, has endorsed Altschuler, despite what the Ryan budget might do to Medicaid payments to the elderly in nursing homes like the John J. Foley facility, where his union has 200 workers—and which Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, plans to sell to a private operator.
Altschuler “stepped up to support us in the fight for Foley, and Bishop didn’t,” Farrell tells the Press, adding that Altschuler told the union leader that he would not necessarily toe the party line. “I asked Randy point-blank,”
Farrell says. “If it means going against the party, then he can do that, and I’m confident he will do the right thing.” As for Bishop, the public employees union leader says, “It’s been the same old rhetoric over and over.”
But he’s taking a different side in the State Senate race, backing Legis. Montano. His union presented the Democrat with a check for $10,000 at a recent fundraiser held at the fancy Southward Ho Country Club in Bay Shore.
“He didn’t vote to sell Foley,” explains Farrell about his supporting Montano. “If he does move on to Albany, then we have a friend in Albany!”