DiMasi Talks Up Science

Elaine DiMasi Durell Godfrey

With just a few weeks until the June 26 primary election, candidates for the Democratic Party’s nomination to challenge Representative Lee Zeldin are crisscrossing New York’s First Congressional District, appealing to voters and potential volunteers with a message they hope will resonate. 

On Monday, that effort brought Elaine DiMasi to East Hampton, where she spoke with and answered questions from a few dozen residents at the Elizabeth Dow store on Gingerbread Lane. 

Ms. DiMasi, a physicist who spent 21 years at Brookhaven National Laboratory, laid out a vision for a district powered by a clean-energy economy.

“We need to find the right way to bottle the sun and wind that’s coming into the district for free,” she said. “We have research on batteries, on solar materials, and on smart-grid technology. . . . At the universities and the laboratory we have a technology incubator, but there aren’t enough occupants and companies in it. We do not have a technology corridor for small-scale manufacturing, for prototyping, but we should, because we could be building almost everything that’s needed for the offshore wind within our district. . . . We can be programming the electrical grid to manage all these distributed sources of power from the different wind farm areas and the different solar areas. And we have to expand our trade schools.” 

Fresh from graduate school, the Pennsylvania native came to Long Island in 1996 to work at the laboratory. “I was incredibly excited, and I just kept my nose to that grindstone for the first 10 years or so,” she told the gathering. “Then, the Tea Party got into Congress and started throwing sand in the gears.” 

Congressional dysfunction, she said, has manifested in difficulty passing budgets, and even led to a government shutdown. Brookhaven National Laboratory is the largest source of federal funding for the district, she said, bringing in a half-billion dollars annually. 

“If the government shuts down for 10 days, you have to spend $10 million out of carryover funds that were saved from last year,” she said. “If that’s all you have and it shuts down for the 11th day, you fire four people. So if Congress can’t do what it needs to do, the leadership of laboratories, agencies, and all other kind of institutions like that all across the country have to drop what they’re doing and figure out who they’re going to furlough. It’s no wonder that morale starts to go down . . . and then it starts being harder to ask for more funding for more discoveries. You could see that happening when the Tea Party was in power.” 

When Donald Trump was elected president, “I said to myself, I could stay here and keep my job and watch the bottom fall out of it. Or, I could do what I saw the environmental scientists do: In their spare time, before the presidential election, they logged on to government servers and downloaded climate data from federal sites, and they safeguarded it on private servers,” anticipating an administration potentially hostile to science. 

“I know what’s possible,” Ms. DiMasi said. “As a scientist, that’s always what my job has been about. We do something that seemed impossible five years ago. It wasn’t impossible, it was just really hard, and we had to figure it out. We need that in Congress.”