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Fleming, Maertz Face Off in Primary Debate

Democratic State Senate candidates argue why they are best positioned to challenge incumbent GOP Sen. LaValle.

Belonging to the same party, Democrats Bridget Fleming and found much they could agree on as they debated in Southampton on Wednesday night, but where they disagreed was on who would make a better New York State senator — and who is better suited to challenge longtime incumbent Kenneth P. LaValle, R-Port Jefferson, in the general election.

The debate — hosted by the League of Woman Voters of the Hamptons at — comes in advance of a primary election, in which only registered Democrats may vote, on Sept. 13.

Susan Wilson, of the League, moderated, and Bill Sutton, the managing editor of , and Carol Mellor, a past president of the League, posed questions.

Fleming, of Noyac, is a Southampton Town councilwoman and a matrimonial and family law attorney, who formerly worked as a prosecutor in Manhattan.

Meartz, of Rocky Point, is a litigation attorney who has served on local civic and youth council boards. She ran against LaValle two years ago as well.

Campaign Finance, Electability

The candidates agreed that they favor public financing of elections; however, they disagreed on whether the amount of money a candidate can fundraise is an indicator of who will win.

Fleming said she does not like fundraising, but is better at it than Maertz.

According to Fleming's campaign staff, she has raised $77,000 to Maertz's $6,000.

"In order to be viable, you have to be able to be able to raise money," she said, though she noted that she voted in favor of a Southampton Town Board resolution to urge Congress to pass an amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision that allows unlimited spending on elections.

But Maertz rebutted that if fundraising predetermines who will win an election, then they should both give up now. "There is no way either one of us is going to outraise Ken LaValle last year."

"We elect people to office because they're going to be good senators," she said.

Maertz lost to LaValle by a 2-1 ratio in 2010, but she pointed out Wednesday night that she was a late entry into the race — having stepped in to replace now-Deputy County Executive Regina Calcaterra, who was kicked off the ballot due to a challenge over residency issues. She also noted that 2010 was a midterm election, and a difficult year for Democratic candidates.

Maertz said that, despite an uphill battle, of LaValle's 17 races for re-election she was among the top-four challengers. And if she wins the primary, she will also be the first person to challenge LaValle at the polls twice. With more time to campaign, and many more Democrats coming out in 2012 to vote in the presidential election, Maertz predicted that she could be victorious this time.

Same-Sex Marriage; Constituents' Wishes

When the question of whether they would have voted in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage last year — unlike LaValle, who joined the entire Long Island delegation in voting against it — the candidates once again found common ground.

"The only thing I regret is that I wasn't elected that year to be able to cast the historic vote," Maertz said. She also noted that she is endorsed by the GLBT Democrats of Long Island.

Fleming cited a personal example, of when her sister was in an accident that ultimately turned out to be fatal, and her partner was initially denied the right to visit her in the hospital.

However, the conversation spun into a back-and-forth on when it is appropriate to follow the wishes of the majority of constituents.

"When it comes to civil rights, it doesn't matter what the constituents think," Maertz said. Regardless of what the polls say, she said she would have voted in favor of equal treatment.

Fleming seized on the comment. "I do care what the constituents say," she said. "Sometimes you have to adjust, and make sure you are serving your constituency."

Maertz tossed up a red card, allowing her a rebuttal. "I strongly disagree on that ..." she said. "You vote for what is right. You treat every one of your constituents as equals."

Fleming retorted, "You have to take into account, at some level, what the constituents say. They're the ones that put you in office."

MTA Payroll Tax

Both candidates agreed that they would like to see the state-imposed MTA payroll tax . While the tax was recently by a state judge, that could be reversed on appeal.

An audience member submitted a question asking how the candidates would ensure the East End could recoup the money already paid to the MTA by businesses and municipalities.

Fleming noted that as a Southampton Town councilwoman, she joined in voting to sue the state to block the tax, arguing that it is a specialized local tax that either needs local approval or a two-thirds vote of the state Legislature. She said it is unclear at this point if money paid to the MTA so far will be returned, including half a million dollars that Southampton Town Hall paid out to the MTA.

"They owe us $500,000, as far as I'm concerned," Fleming said.

Shinnecock Casino

Maertz and Fleming shared the sentiment that they were thrilled the , which is based in Southampton, as a Native American tribe in 2010.

The new recognition enables the tribe to open a gaming facility, but Maertz and Fleming agreed that they do not want to see a Shinnecock casino open on the East End of Long Island.

"I would certainly work with the Shinnecock Nation to find a suitable location," Maertz said.

Fleming said that the Shinnecocks are focusing their efforts on areas outside of the First Senate District. "It's long deserved, and I would congratulate them on that, but not here," she said.

Making New York Friendly for Business

Fleming said that power costs deter businesses from moving to New York, and said when contracts come up in 2013, the state needs to negotiate to lower costs.

"Our electricity rates on Long Island are astronomically higher than anywhere else in the United States," Fleming said, with the exception of Hawaii.

Maertz agreed that energy costs are too high, and lauded a . "They work the system to ensure a monopoly," she said.

She also pitched tax incentives for companies that create jobs, and urged biotech and manufacturing jobs on Long Island.

Fleming said 5,700 jobs have been lost on Long Island since 2010, when the Republicans took control of the State Senate. She said that as a councilwoman she has done her part to ensure youth are job trained for the future, including a Farmers Market in Flanders operated by teenagers, and sustainability building training through the United Way.

Education

Meartz said she is in favor of performance-based budgeting, but said that teacher evaluations must be a fair reflection of the performance. For instance, she said that a teacher with a class that has many students that are not native speakers of English should not be judged the same as a teacher with a class with full English literacy.

Fleming said the state must fix the school aide formula, to ensure that Long Island is not subsiding Upstate districts.

 

Wednesday's primary debate was on Fleming's home turf, but on Thursday the candidates will debate at 7:30 p.m. in Maertz's hometown at .

George Lynch September 03, 2012 at 12:51 AM
Bridget Fleming was out in the arena fighting for good government and working to bring it to Southampton while Jennifer Maertz was sitting at home nursing what you call her "substance." There is no comparison between these two candidates in terms of what each has contributed to the community. You are laughably wrong to suggest that Fleming only "talks a good game" and merely gives "lip service" to her goals. I'll take Fleming's proven record of solid accomplishments any day over Maertz's vaguely expressed but unrealized beliefs.
knowitall September 03, 2012 at 12:53 AM
Yes, Bridget created a farmer's market! let's elect her!
George Lynch September 03, 2012 at 01:27 AM
Bridget Fleming has a long list of achievements besides the farmers' market. Just to name a few, there's partnering with United Way's YouthBuild to renovate blighted housing and teach building trades to young people; sponsoring a law to require removal of dangerous utility poles resulting in more Southampton jobs; helping to bring Southampton out of defict and restore its credit rating; securing health insurance benefits for fire and ambulance volunteers; working sucessfully to acquire open space and establish a Waterfron Protection Program; securing adequate finance staff to manage public money properly; supporting prudent borrowing without mortgaging the town's future; and fighting for the beach access Southampton's people have traditionally enjoyed.
Mary Beth September 03, 2012 at 02:00 PM
There is nothing "vaguely expressed" about Ms. Maertz's beliefs and I would like to give her a chance to see them realized. I understand that Mr. Lynch works for the Fleming campaign, but I would like to see Democrats building each other up in primaries because, in the end, in order to beat LaValle the democrat insiders need more than the typical in-party sniping. Many local democrats worked very hard to see Ms. Fleming get re-elected to the board and within a matter of months she announced that she would run for a senate seat, leaving an opening for yet another republican on the town board when there is so much that needs to be accomplished. The problem with most politicians is that they always want more. The are always looking for the next big opportunity. I don't want candidates who use a part-time gig that pays something like $65,000 a year to use it as a stepping stone. I believe Ms. Maertz can do better.
GavinQuik September 14, 2012 at 01:32 AM
Poor George, carrying the torch alone. Hope the support for Maertz shows at the polls. George, if you are not on flemmings payroll, you should be. You are tireless in your efforts to campaign on her behalf.

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