October 31, 2012

Tim Bishop Versus Randy Altschuler

The Independent Endorses . . .

We believed Congressman Tim Bishop to be an honest, hard working public servant, and endorsed him three straight times. We wanted very much to believe he was an environmentalist, a tireless worker, someone who would deliver for his constituents here on the East End. We cast him in the same mold as Fred Thiele, Jay Schneiderman, Ken LaValle and the like, someone who wouldn't allow party or politics to get in the way of getting the job done. He played the part well.

Recent events have forced us to take a harder look. He may well be the subject of a House Ethics probe after Politico reported he tied a request for a favor from a constituent with a campaign contribution, which D.C. insiders said was clearly an ethics violation. For a 10-year incumbent to pretend otherwise is disingenuous.

It's what transpired in the days following the Politico story that casts a pall over Bishop's reputation but more important, his fitness to hold public office. Eric Semler asked Bishop to expedite the process for obtaining a fireworks permit. After the story broke Semler was quoted as saying, "I didn't know he was running for reelection; after the fact, after I got the permit, I did receive a request for a donation."

What Semler didn't know was Politico was in possession of an email Molly Bishop, the congressman's daughter, sent to Semler just two days after he contacted Bishop – informing Semler her father was in a tough election race and suggesting the maximum allowable donation. The e-mail was sent to him before Bishop helped secure the permit, which was pushed through despite a piping plover nest just yards from where the fireworks were ignited. We later uncovered that Semler did business with Robert X. Sillerman, Bishop's so called "rabbi," top campaign contributor, and friend who paid the college tuitions for both of Bishop's daughters.

It's possible Bishop didn't think he was doing anything wrong. But the Tim Bishop we thought we knew would have moved aggressively to clear his name – not take part in a cover-up. (Sillerman, by the way, refused a request for comment.)

Bishop funneled $600,000 of campaign contributions to his daughter Molly, a trend he began at Southampton College, where he hired 10 relatives even while the college accumulated $30 million in debt. Sillerman, perhaps not coincidentally, served as chancellor at the college.

An independent, non-partisan, Washington D.C. based watchdog group labeled Bishop "one of the most corrupt members of Congress." That's a serious charge. Rather than tackle the charge head-on Bishop bristles when the matter is brought up, stating his family is off limits during the election campaign. The truth is, his family – especially his daughter – has become a campaign issue, and the congressman has only himself to blame.

Bishop has run a 100 percent negative campaign against his opponent, Randy Altschuler, hammering the "outsourcing" issue because he knows the loss of American jobs is a hot button. But he can't explain away the 40,000 jobs Long Island has lost on his watch, nor the billions of dollars of bailout money that found its way overseas. One would assume a 10-year incumbent would campaign on his accomplishments, but they have been few and far between. He has not authored a single piece of legislation that became law – in 10 years!

Instead of taking actions that would help his constituents, Bishop has been a predictable lackey for the Obama administration. He votes for his party's initiatives almost all the time, including Obamacare, despite originally promising constituents he wouldn't.

Randy Altschuler was a champion of outsourcing a decade ago, when he co-founded OfficeTiger -- we get that. He also created 750 U.S. jobs, by the way. He is by no means the perfect candidate. He doesn't have deep roots hereabouts, as Bishop does. That in itself doesn't mean he won't do an effective job in Washington, though – Robert F. Kennedy and Hillary Clinton choose to make New York their home before running for public office, and they served us well.

Altschuler is extremely smart, well educated and sincere. He isn't beholden to anyone, and will be in the majority party of the House of Representatives should he win. He has worked hard to become a success in the private sector, and his business acumen – and Bishop's lack thereof – is essential if we are to rebuild the Suffolk County job environment.

Altschuler's anti-abortion stance is troubling for us, but we must keep it in context of the bigger picture when choosing between the two candidates.

Tim Bishop knows that ultimately the House Board of Ethics will level a slap on the wrist at best – witness the Charlie Rangel fiasco – and then he will glibly minimize the whole sordid affair and go on playing the role we so desperately want him to fill. But the stench will remain and the charge of corruption will linger. Our loyalty to him is measured by what he's done for us during his lengthy stay in Washington, and the answer is: not nearly enough to warrant another term.

We deserve better. The Independent endorses Randy Altschuler.

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