Nancy Goroff, a chemistry professor at Stony Brook University, would seem an unlikely candidate for Congress.
A graduate of Harvard University who later received her doctorate at UCLA and did post-doctoral studies at both the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, she has been on the faculty of Long Island’s top public university for more than 20 years, where she has overseen research on solar applications for various types of carbon materials.
But Dr. Goroff, 52, who was born and raised in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, said her family was “always politically engaged.” Her mother was active in local campaigns and her uncle found himself on former President Richard Nixon’s enemies list for, among other things, fighting to improve the water quality of Lake Michigan.
“Some of my earliest memories are of Watergate,” she said. “And the first campaign I worked on was the Anderson presidential campaign in 1980 when I was 12 years old.” The campaign of John Anderson, a moderate Republican who ran against President Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan as an independent, taught her that third-party candidates were probably not a good idea, she said.
A longtime member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, which advocates for the reliance on sound scientific data in shaping public policy, Dr. Goroff said she has personally lobbied members of Congress about topics ranging from clean energy policy to climate change.
She said she decided to take that advocacy a step further and throw her hat into the ring to challenge powerful Republican U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin after watching the Trump administration turn environmental policy on its head and turn its back on the scientists who could provide guidance on important issues such as climate change.
“They have no shame,” she said, adding that the current administration is willing to do things in the open that past administrations, no matter how pro-business they were, would have only tried to do secretly.
“Zeldin has been there cheering Trump on the whole way, talking about what a wonderful leader he is,” she said.
She said the incumbent has voted for measures that require federal agencies to no longer take climate change into consideration when considering policy and has stood by as the president has removed scientific experts from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, and other departments and replaced them with industry representatives. “They have done everything they can to sideline the experts and prevent the introduction of facts,” she said.
Dr. Goroff said that attitude has played a role in the severity of the coronavirus pandemic across the United States. “The fact that they have ignored science has made this pandemic so much worse than it is in other developed nations, except maybe Brazil and other places where autocrats are in power,” she said. Meanwhile, she said Mr. Zeldin takes credit for obtaining medical supplies for Long Island while supporting the Trump policies that have allowed the virus to spread.
Although she has no political experience, Dr. Goroff said she has held several leadership positions at Stony Brook, including as chairwoman of the chemistry department from January 2017 to May 2019, as interim dean of the Graduate School in 2016, and as associate provost from September 2013 to May 2016.
“I have a track record of accomplishments,” she said. “I’ve run a multimillion-dollar department and helped students make their lives better through education at Stony Brook.”
Dr. Goroff lives in Stony Brook and is a member of Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook, the president of the nonprofit Gallery North in Setauket, and a member of the board of Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development.
In her spare time, she said she enjoys swimming, kayaking, sailing and hiking with her family. She also said she enjoys “practicing chemistry at home by baking.”