Nora Bredes and Lorna Salzman, friends and allies in the successful fight to stop the Long Island Lighting Company's nuclear plant at Shoreham, have become political opponents in this year's race to represent the First Congressional District. The future of the reactors at Brookhaven National Laboratory divides them.
Ms. Salzman declared herself a write-in candidate for Congress on the Peconic Green Party last week, although she admitted she might end up helping re-elect U.S. Representative Michael P. Forbes, the Republican incumbent.
"My perception is that whoever gets elected moves to the center - certainly that is true of Clinton - and Mike Forbes's record is mixed. It's not the worst, by the way," said the East Quogue resident.
She and other members of the Peconic Green Party, which is allied with Ralph Nader's Presidential campaign, attempted to disrupt a debate Friday night in Hampton Bays between Ms. Bredes, a two-term Suffolk Legislator from Stony Brook, and Congressman Forbes, a Congressional freshman from Quogue.
In front of a Cablevision camera and more than 150 persons, a spokesman for the Greens announced that Ms. Salzman, who had been a founder of the Shoreham Opponents Coalition, was a write-in candidate and loudly criticized the Democratic and Republican nominees for not being tough on the lab, which activists blame for radioactive and chemical contamination of groundwater and the Peconic Bays.
Ms. Bredes, who lost the Green Party's cross-endorsement by a slim margin when she declined to support a campaign to close down Brook haven's reactors, called the Greens her "friends and colleagues" and wished Ms. Salzman "good luck" in her campaign.
For Task Force
She reminded the representatives of the Greens that, as a Legislator, she had voted to create the county task force investigating the lab. She added, however, that in addition to its being a Federal Superfund site the lab gave Long Islanders thousands of jobs and did "creative and healing work."
Later in the evening, when asked directly whether she favored shutting the reactors, she said, "There are medical uses that can't be replaced by other technologies. There are ramifications beyond closing a Shoreham nuclear-power plant." She called the answer "a difficult decision" that "shouldn't be made in the heat of a campaign."
Turning the spotlight on her Republican-Conservative opponent, Ms. Bredes charged it would be impossible to clean up the site with Republicans in power, who are, she said, bent on loosening environmental regulations and cutting Superfund appropriations.
Mr. Forbes, on the other hand, blamed trial lawyers representing corporate polluters for delaying Superfund cleanups nationwide and said he had asked Carol Browner, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, to personally direct the work at Brookhaven, which he said could be covered in a $3.7-billion E.P.A. budget next year.
When he was asked later in the debate whether he would favor shutting down the Brookhaven reactors, Mr. Forbes dodged the question. Instead, he replied to Ms. Bredes's earlier charge that he accepted campaign contributions from lobbyists for special interests, such as Superfund polluters and the National Rifle Association, asserting that she had accepted "large dollars" from "top brass" at the lab.
There was a good deal of noisy reaction, both applauding and booing, to Mr. Forbes's allegations. Ms. Bredes did not respond, saying afterward she didn't catch Mr. Forbes's remark.
A July 15 report to the State Board of Elections from Nora Bredes for Congress, her campaign fund, listed donations in June of $1,000 each from Martin Blume, a physicist who was deputy director at the lab until last week, when he stepped down to return to research, and from Mark Sakitt, B.N.L.'s assistant director for planning and policy, and from his wife, Rita, a Suffolk Community College professor.
By telephone on Tuesday night, however, Ms. Bredes said she had accepted "many individual contributions because that's what you do as a challenger."
"These are people at my church who happen to work at the lab, an old friend who was an opponent of Shoreham with me who teaches at Suffolk Community College. These are friends of mine who work at Stony Brook," she responded.
During the debate, the Congressman also charged Ms. Bredes, if elected, would enter "the revolving door" that has taken George Hochbrueckner, Thomas Downey, and Bill Carney from seats in the House to offices as lobbyists for the lab. This she also denied.
The debate on Friday was sponsored by the Hampton Bays Civic Association and the Hamptons Chapter of the League of Women Voters. Legislator Bredes and Congressman Forbes each answered a variety of questions - on the shortcomings of managed health care, cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and education, abortion, defense spending, assault weapons, and mandate relief - each with an arsenal of statistics, and Ms. Bredes with accounts of Mr. Forbes's voting record.
Later, Ms. Salzman attacked from the other flank. She said her former ally "could not be impartial on" the international worker safety components of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade because she was "compromised . . . by her husband's connections."
Interviewed by telephone, Ms. Bredes called Ms. Salzman's allegations "total baloney."
"My husband and I have been working our whole life together on environmental issues. I value his opinion and his conscience," she said. Of closing the reactors, she repeated that it was "not a decision that should be made at the convenience of a campaign and it has nothing to do with my husband's work."
Ms. Bredes is married to Jack Huttner, a public relations executive with clients in biotechnology. She worked for her husband's firm for a time, and her campaign finances report shows a $250 donation from an administrator of the New York Biotechnology Association and similar small contributions from other members of the scientific community.
She said she was "hurt" by Ms. Salzman's criticisms, saying they had been friends for many years. Ms. Salzman countered that her campaign was "not directed against Nora as much as it is against the type of single-issue politics that's been practiced in this country, and it's unfortunate that Nora represents that."
Ms. Salzman persisted this week in calling Ms. Bredes, who has been endorsed by major labor, environmental, and women's groups, a proponent of "bland, single-issue politics." The charge is similar to Mr. Nader's attacks on the national two-party system.