An intellectual who says he wants to rekindle the ideals of the U.S. Constitution is challenging the Republican incumbent in a primary election for the U.S. House of Representatives seat in the 3rd Congressional District, which comprises a large portion of Nassau County.
Robert Previdi, a political author and former bank administrator from Manhasset, lost by a large margin when he opposed Congressman Peter T. King in a primary two years ago, but he was not discouraged. "I think it's right," he said of his decision to run again, "I think maybe people will come to their senses." He added that primaries are essential to democracy because they allow the American people, rather than a political party to choose the candidate. Previdi also unsuccessfully ran against King in '92 and '94.
An avid reader and analyst of American political science, Previdi, 62, believes that America has strayed from the document that is the foundation of the country, and the founding fathers who orchestrated it. "I'd like to see us get back to the Constitution - what it means," he said during a recent interview, noting that this document defines the common good.
In addition to getting back to the Constitution, Previdi noted that the two major issues he would focus on as congressman are cancer and the role of Congress versus that of the president. Noting that cancer is one of the biggest threats to America, and that the country does not spend enough on researching it, he said, "We need basic research and clinical tests, and we need it badly." He also is concerned that the country is moving toward a more presidential form of government than that outlined by the Constitution, because, he believes, Congress is relinquishing too much power to the president. He cited President Bill Clinton's use of military force in Iraq as an example of this. (Previdi's opposition stems from the following: as outlined by the Constitution, he noted, the declaration of war is the responsibility of Congress.) He also voiced opposition to the line-item veto and the balanced budget amendment, both of which, he said, are unconstitutional. Although it is important to balance the budget, he noted, it is more important for the federal government to protect the American people's money through spending tax dollars wisely, such as on cancer research, rather than wasting it on popular programs.
Previdi has no financial backing from any group or party, and said he desires only the support of the people of the 3rd Congressional District. His campaign, on which he has spent a few thousand dollars has consisted of direct mail, walking the district, and follow-up communication with voters. "Do you know, if I were ever to get elected, do you realize, I don't owe anything to anybody? What a threat I would be?" he said.
The man he is challenging also prides himself on being independent.
King, 54, who is currently serving his third term in the U.S. House of Representatives, was elected and re-elected despite facing opponents that had spent more than $2.5 million and outspent him more than 2-1, according to his campaign literature. The literature also notes that King has each time received a greater number of votes than any candidate in Long Island's five congressional races, and in 1996, won with 56 percent of the vote.
During a recent interview, King, who describes himself as a Conservative Reagan Republican, cited such accomplishments as the winning of funds in 1993 for the first ever federal breast cancer study on Long Island, and the annual renewal of those funds. He also cited a $70 million project he started to restore Long Island's south shore beaches. "It's more important than ever that we have someone in Congress that can fight for New York and fight for Long Island, and I strongly believe that I'm the one who can do the job," he said.
King added that, within the last three years, he has fought to stop taxpayer funding of Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam, which at one time had $30 million in government contracts to provide security in public housing projects. He said that by proposing legislation to end the contracts with Farrakhan's security companies, he brought attention to the issue, which pressured local officials to end the contracts. "There was a fear that if you took on Farrakhan, that you would be called a racist," he said, adding that it is time for Americans to stand up for what they believe in.
As part of his goal to help the American middle class, King is also working to remove what he calls the marriage tax penalty. "My vision is geared toward restoring and protecting the American middle class," he said, noting that middle-class families have been forgotten during the last 25-30 years. "These people are the backbone of the country."
King also supported the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 and the 1997 Balanced Budget Plan, which he believes will preserve Medicare for at least 10 years. He added that through his work with the Republican majority Congress in achieving a balanced budget, he has helped make possible a $500 tax credit per child for families.
He disagrees with Previdi's belief that Congress in recent years has relinquished too much power to the president. "Congress is driving the agenda," he said. "Congress has probably never been more powerful than it has in the past three years." On President Clinton's role in Iraq, he said, "He hasn't done enough in Iraq." He feels that the president should have launched air attacks in Iraq last November and December, after Saddam Hussein refused to cooperate with U.S. weapons inspectors.
Foreign policy is of major concern to the congressman, a member of the Congressional International Relations Committee who has been involved in attempts to further the peace process in Ireland. His vision with regard to foreign policy, he said, is the following, "As the world's only superpower, that the U.S. maintains a strong national defense to maintain our legitimate interests around the world." He added that when he traveled with President Clinton to Ireland and Northern Ireland in December of 1995, he realized the profound moral influence that America can have.
Previdi criticized King's role in the Ireland peace process, noting that he was infringing on the role of the State Department.
King is also pushing for legislation making English America's official language. Previdi criticized this as well, noting that, rather than this, better education about the nation's heritage would inspire pride in America. "The issue is not the English language. The issue is the Constitution and what it means," he said. "If you're proud to be an American, what language are you going to speak?"
Previdi also believes King's stance on the current presidential sex scandal is not tough enough. Citing the scandal, and noting that the country needs to return to the ideals of honesty and integrity which the founding fathers included in the Constitution, he said, "If we don't bring ourselves back, the country is gone."
King said he wants a thorough investigation of all evidence in the case by prosecutor Kenneth Starr. Indicating the significance of the possibility of presidential impeachment, he added, "It's much more than Bill Clinton we're talking about here. Whatever we do now is going to be a precedent for the future."
King has been campaigning on Long Island during weekends by meeting with constituents. Also as part of his campaign platform, he is insisting that healthcare management organizations pay for breast cancer treatment and is trying to end racial quotas.
If elected to Congress, Previdi said, he would not only work on legislation, but would serve as a leader by speaking in schools and communities. Noting that he senses dissatisfaction among many voters he has met while campaigning, he said, "Somebody could get them excited about being alive. I'm excited to be an American, I really am, and how horrible it must be to live without that pride."
Born in the Bronx to poor Italian immigrants, Previdi, 62, was educated by the New York City public school system. After graduating from Hunter College, he rose through the ranks of advertising and marketing, and then banking, eventually serving as director of communications for Citicorp bank. Twenty-five years after graduating from college, he went back to graduate school to earn his Master's degree in political science. He is the author of a book about the Defense Department Reorganization Act of 1986 and several other articles for political journals. He has lived in Manhasset for over 25 years, and he and his wife have two sons.
King, also a lifelong resident of New York, has lived in Nassau County for over 25 years. He and his wife reside in Seaford. They have a son and a daughter. King has been honored by numerous community organizations throughout Nassau County. Prior to serving in Congress, he was elected to three consecutive terms as comptroller of Nassau County, and was cited as a prudent fiscal watchdog by the Government Finance Officers Association.
The winner of the Republican primary will face Democrat Kevin Langberg of Plainview in the Nov. 4 general election. There are approximately 167,000 Republicans and 103,000 Democrats in the 3rd Congressional District.