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1st Congressional District

By Sara-Megan Walsh

A Nesconset man was arrested for allegedly making a terroristic threat against a campaign worker at  U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin’s (R-Shirley) headquarters last July 6, according to Suffolk County police.

Nesconset resident Martin Astrof, 75, was arrested for allegedly threatening one of U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin’s campaign workers. Photo from SCPD

Martin Astrof was arrested Friday after he allegedly threatened to kill one of Zeldin’s supporters and supporters of President Donald Trump (R).  Astrof went to Zeldin’s campaign headquarters on Terry Road in Smithtown and became irate with a campaign worker, identified by Zeldin’s office as Donato Panico,  at approximately 11:15 a.m., police said. After allegedly threatening to kill Panico and other supporters, Astrof backed his car up in an aggressive manner nearly striking the worker, according to police.

“Donato Panic is an exceptional citizen who has dedicated his life to serving our law enforcement and nation’s veterans,” Zeldin said in a statement. “He should never have been targeted like this today for his support of a political candidate.”

Astrof, 75,  allegedly fled the scene and was arrested a short time later in front of his home in Nesconset. He was charged with one felony-count of making a terrorist threat and one count of second-degree reckless endangerment.

“In the United States of America, political scores are settled at the ballot box, not by trying to kill your political opponents,” Zeldin said. “It is unacceptable to resort to actions to kill or seriously harm political opponents or otherwise incite those violent actions by others. It must stop now.”

The congressman said he himself has received several death threats, and his wife and children have been targeted as well since the last presidential election in 2016.

Astrof was arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip July 7 and released after posting bail in the amount of $25,000 bond. A temporary order of protection was issued by Suffolk County police.

 

U.S. Congressman Lee Zeldin's campaign kickoff event was held June 28 in Smithtown

More than 350 supporters attended U.S. Congressman Lee Zeldin’s (R-Shirley) campaign kickoff event at the Smithtown Elks Club last week, but full media coverage of the guest speakers may be hard to come by.

Two members of the local press were kicked out of Zeldin’s June 28 event after an attendee in their vicinity vocally decried one of his controversial featured speakers, former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

“I asked, ‘Why do I have to leave?’ There was no reason given,”said Pat Biancaniello, editor of the site Smithtown Matters and one of the journalists removed from the event.

Chris Boyle, communications director for Zeldin’s 2018 campaign for Congress, said that a protester made an outburst that created a disturbance in the middle of the rally, causing the congressman’s security team to react.

“[I]n an effort to escort all those involved out of a crowded and loud rally, three people, including the protester, were identified as being involved in the outburst and were escorted out,” Boyle said in a statement.

I asked, ‘Why do I have to leave?’ There was no reason given.”

– Pat Biancaniello

Setauket resident Susan Perretti, the woman identified as having created the disturbance at the event, said she had RSVP’d she would be attending with two friends in hopes of getting an opportunity to directly address her congressman unfiltered, saying town hall-style events tend to only allow for prescreened questions. When two friends were denied entry, she proceeded to head inside.

Perretti, a member of the North Country Peace Group advocacy organization, said once inside she had a hard time keeping quiet while hearing comments made by several former advisers to President Donald Trump (R) and what she called “hate” speech from attendees.

“Then when Sean Spicer came out, I just started saying, ‘It’s enough — it’s enough,’” she said.

When Zeldin’s security team approached her, Perretti said she was asked to leave or she would be arrested. Upon asking why, Perretti said she was informed that she was trespassing before being escorted off the premises peacefully.

Biancaniello said she and Dave Ambro, editor of The Smithtown News, were standing in close proximity to Perretti when the commotion began. The editor of The Smithtown News took a photo of Perretti’s outburst, according to those in attendance, before he was the first journalist to be escorted out.

Then when Sean Spicer came out, I just started saying, ‘It’s enough — it’s enough.'”

— Susan Perretti

Ambro declined to comment on the event.

State Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) said he was close enough to see Zeldin’s security team approach both Perretti and the reporters, but he could not hear the conversation over the rally and it was unclear what was unfolding.

“There was a list of people who were known troublemakers [the security team] was on the lookout for who were known to be trying to get in,” Fitzpatrick said, “Two were discovered trying to find their way inside to disrupt the event.”

However, the assemblyman said the reporters kicked out were not associated with the protester.

“I did not witness any problem whatsoever by David or Pat,” he said. “From what I could see, there was no reason for them to be asked to be removed. They were not part of the disruption. When the commotion started, they were obviously paying attention to it as reporters would.”

Biancaniello said she was the second journalist to be forced out by Zeldin’s security team. She alleged she identified herself as a member of the press, was openly wearing a media badge provided by Zeldin’s team and that her camera was hit by a guard when she attempted to take a photo.

When asked to leave, the two other people, later identified as the editor of the longtime anti-Zeldin Smithtown News and a left leaning local blogger, did not display those credentials they were provided …”

– Chris Boyle

“I think it was people were intentionally singled out,” the Smithtown Matters editor said.

Zeldin’s staff said the press failed to appropriately identify themselves to the security team.

“When asked to leave, the two other people, later identified as the editor of the longtime anti-Zeldin Smithtown News and a left leaning local blogger, did not display those credentials they were provided almost as if they wanted to get thrown out to write about it afterwards,” Zeldin’s communications director said. “Following the outburst, they did not contact any members of our team until hours after the event ended.”

Biancaniello said she had called and emailed Zeldin’s office immediately following the event without response. After making her story public in a Facebook post at approximately 8:30 p.m., Biancaniello said she was informed several local residents contacted Zeldin’s office and she eventually received an emailed reply asking why she never properly identified herself as being with the press despite alleging she was wearing her press badge.

The Smithtown Matters editor said she has grave concerns about the precedent the event may set for media coverage of the upcoming race for the 1st Congressional District.

“What does it say when only the people given admission again were the people who you think will cover it positively?” she said. “That’s not where the world needs to be today. We have enough people coming after journalists and the integrity of the media in general.”

Perry Gershon thanks volunteers and supporters at his Setauket office June 26 after securing the Democratic Party nomination for Congress in New York’s 1st District. Photo by Alex Petroski

The stage is finally set for what will likely be a fierce campaign leading up to the November midterm elections.

Perry Gershon, a largely self-funded first-time candidate for political office, who spent years as a commercial mortgage lender and a small business owner, defeated four other Democrats aiming to take down incumbent 1st District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) June 26.

Kate Browning speaks to supporters as she waits for election results to come in June 26 in Patchogue. Photo by Rita J. Egan

More than 20,300 1st District voters turned out to vote in the primary, which was open to only those registered as members of the party, as per New York State law. Gershon secured 7,226 votes, beating former Suffolk County Legislator Kate Browning, his closest competitor, by about 1,000 votes. Vivian Viloria-Fisher, another former legislator, finished third with 3,314 votes. In 2016, about 12,600 registered Democrats went to the polls on primary day to choose between Anna Throne-Holst and Dave Calone.

“The voters showed that we’re tired of what’s going on in Washington,” Gershon said to a room full of supporters and volunteers at his campaign headquarters in Setauket when it became clear his lead would hold up. He thanked his family and those who worked to help him win the nomination, as well as the other four candidates, who he said ran a clean race with an eye on unifying post-primary all along. “Our elected leaders are not responsive to what people are looking for. People want a new breed, and that’s what I stand for.”

Zeldin, who has been quiet about his potential challengers, wasted no time getting the campaign started on Twitter once Gershon became the presumed victor.

“Park Ave Perry may have bought himself the Democratic Party nomination in NY-1, but our Congressional seat is not for sale,” the incumbent wrote. “NY-1 isn’t electing a far left, Pelosi-loving, NYC Democrat who registered in our district very recently just to run for Congress.”

In an interview after his win, Gershon said he intends to make his campaign about health care, the environment and creating high-wage jobs in the 1st District.

Perry Gershon supporters anxiously await election results at his campaign headquarters in Setauket June 26. Photo by Alex Petroski

“I’m really excited, I feel like people believed in me and I’m so happy for it,” he said.

Many of those believers were people who readily admitted they’d never gotten much involved in politics in the past.

“I’ve seen a lot of people, like at my school, very few people who cared about politics beforehand but after the March for Our Lives, after the result of the Never Again movement, and even after what’s happening at the border right now, far more young people are getting involved,” said Scott Egnor, a Ward Melville High School student who helped organize the youth-led local gun control protests in March. He cited Gershon’s desire to ban assault-style weapons and strengthen background checks as the driving force behind his motivation to volunteer for his campaign. “Even at the office, he still wears his March for Our Lives hat, and I think that spoke to me a lot.”

Browning said in an interview from her watch party in Patchogue she’s not sure what her next move might be in politics, but vowed to support Gershon’s efforts to flip the seat in November.

“It’s about taking out Lee Zeldin, and we all need to regroup and support [Gershon],” she said.

All five candidates told TBR News Media in May they intended to support the primary winner.

Reporting contributed by Rita J. Egan.

Perry Gershon. Photo by Kyle Barr

As the five-headed Democratic Primary to select a challenger for 1st District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) nears, six Stony Brook University faculty members, some with ties to Brookhaven National Lab, have authored a letter endorsing their preferred winner.

The signers of the letter are throwing their public support behind Perry Gershon, a first-time candidate for political office from the private sector, who made a career as a commercial mortgage lender and small business owner, citing his belief that “facts trump opinions.” The group also supports Gershon’s broader dedication to protecting the environment.

The endorsement came with a disclaimer that the signees being affiliated with SBU are for identification purposes only and do not imply institutional support for any political candidate. Other notable endorsements in the race thus far include Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski’s (D-Cutchogue) stated support for Kate Browning, a former legislator herself; and Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) backing Vivian Viloria-Fisher, another Suffolk legislature alumna. Notably, the group of six from SBU’s STEM department did not endorse BNL scientist Elaine DiMasi, who is also among the five candidates in the race.

The full letter from the SBU professors supporting Gershon is below, lightly edited for grammar and style.

Endorsement of Perry Gershon for Congress by faculty and researchers in science, technology, engineering and math at Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Laboratory

An open letter to the community:

As faculty and researchers at Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Laboratory  involved in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teaching and research, we believe it is of vital importance that you vote for Perry Gershon as your next U.S. Representative in Congress in New York’s 1st Congressional District June 26 in the Democratic Primary.

For all of us, at both the university and the lab in Brookhaven, mid-western Suffolk has been our home for many years, just as the South Fork in eastern Suffolk has been Perry’s home for over 20 years. CD1 covers both — we share the same aquifer and the same need for clean water. What happens here locally, in our country, and in the world, matters deeply to all of us.

We need Perry in Congress because he believes that facts trump opinions. Perry grew up in an academic family. His parents are both medical researchers at Columbia University. While a student at Yale, Perry was involved in original research as co-investigator on multiple published papers with faculty. He understands at his core that investigation and evidence must win out over demagoguery.

Perry believes in the overwhelming evidence of climate change and its profound effects at every scale, from Long Island to the entire Earth. Unlike President Donald Trump (R) and Zeldin, Perry would stay in the Paris Climate Accord and work to help America meet its goals. Perry holds that expanding markets for innovative clean technologies generates jobs and economic growth. Research at SBU, BNL, and Suffolk incubators can be at the forefront of turning CD1’s economy into one that supports good-paying, middle-class jobs that offer our young people the opportunity to stay on Long Island.

Perry knows that Environmental Protection Agency regulations, based on scientific study, are made to help and protect every one of us. Yet under Trump (R), EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt (R) and Zeldin, expert scientists are no longer even allowed to provide advice to the EPA, because recipients of EPA grants, who are the most knowledgeable experts, are forbidden from serving on EPA’s scientific advisory committees — the bodies that make sure regulations to protect public health and environmental values are based on sound science.

Perry knows that Department of the Interior decisions should benefit the country, not benefit any corporation that wants to exploit our natural resources for its bottom line. We do not need or want offshore oil drilling destroying our pristine coastline and threatening our tourist industry. While Zeldin feigns opposition, his support of Trump has allowed Zinke to move forward to expedite drilling permits.

Perry stands for the Democratic values that we all share: seeking truth and diversity of opinion. Unlike Trump and Zeldin, Perry actually listens. He actively seeks input and advice. His main goal is to solve problems in ways that benefit the greatest number of people.

On June 26, the Democratic Primary will choose the candidate who will oppose Zeldin in November. We firmly believe Perry Gershon has the intellect, the skills, the fortitude, and the resources to beat Zeldin — a powerful combination that is not matched by any of the other primary candidates.

We ask you to support Perry Gershon, to take back Congress by removing the man who has become Trump’s mouthpiece and enabler — Lee Zeldin. On June 26, please stand with us in returning truth to our government’s decision making.

Sincerely,

Dr. Douglas Futuyma, Distinguished Professor, Ecology and Evolution, SBU

Dr. Nancy Goroff, Chair Department of Chemistry, SBU

Dr. Stephen Baines, Associate Professor, Ecology and Evolution, SBU

Dr. Barry McCoy, Distinguished Professor, CN Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics, SBU

Dr. Lorna Role, Distinguished Professor and Chair, Neurobiology and Behavior, SBU

Dr. Gene Sprouse, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Physics and Astronomy, SBU

This post was updated June 19 to remove Dr. Jeff Keister as a signer and add Dr. Stephen Baines.

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Last week we had the five Democrats vying for a spot on the ballot to represent New York’s 1st Congressional District against U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) at TBR News Media’s Setauket office for a debate-style discussion. Traditionally, this is an exercise we do every fall for each of the various races for local political offices. We write about the discussions and endorse a candidate, and we do not traditionally do this for primaries. However, this particular race at this particular time in national politics felt like an important moment to fully embrace. We are witnessing a presidential administration that both sides can at least agree on calling, if nothing else, virtually unprecedented.

This is noteworthy here and now because the district is represented by a congressman who is taking an enormous political risk by routinely doubling and tripling down on even the most unprecedented behaviors and policies that have been displayed and put forth by President Donald Trump (R). A byproduct of being a chief congressional defender of this president is that a political campaign through a long hot summer with a Democrat stockpiled with endless juicy campaign content like: “Trump and Zeldin wanted to take your health care away and let Paul Ryan raise your taxes,” awaits.

Full disclosure: We have not yet had Zeldin at our office for an extended, far-ranging discussion, as we do periodically, in 2018. A memorable quote from his last visit was, “I’m no one’s proxy.”

We intend to invite the congressman in for a discussion again in the near future, ahead of a one-on-one debate with the primary winner this fall. In the meantime, his two Twitter accounts should be examined —
@RepLeeZeldin and @LeeZeldin — and conclusions drawn. For a congressman who has been roundly criticized for declining to hold what his critics would define as the proper number of in-person, no-holds-barred town halls, his statements on Twitter can sometimes be the best we’ve got.

What he chooses to discuss on Twitter, and how it is received, has become of interest to us. A calculation Zeldin is likely to be making currently, if retweets and likes are to be believed is rabble-rousing about Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Russia and general identity politics sells.

While our organization is not endorsing a primary candidate, we will offer a few thoughts that registered NY-1 Democrats should know come June 26. They will have their choice of five, clear-headed, issue-driven candidates who are decidedly left of Hillary Clinton (D) and a few strides to the right of Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) on the political spectrum, but not much. They each offer unique and interesting political challenges for Zeldin, especially should he choose to embrace Trumpism and identity politics as his campaign motif.

Kate Browning lives two miles from the incumbent on the South Shore, and insisted she knows what it takes to make a dent in Zeldin’s base, in addition to touting her experience in the Suffolk County Legislature.

Elaine DiMasi is a scientist from Brookhaven National Lab, who we imagine would be difficult to debate on a topic like, say, “clean coal.”

Perry Gershon can ironically sell a similar background to Trump: a political outsider from the private sector — commercial lending and a small business owner — running on change, with the most money of any of the candidates, which largely comes from his own pocket.

David Pechefsky boasts legitimate domestic policy experience as a longtime New York City Council staffer, though he has not personally held political office. He also possesses a legitimate foreign policy background, having served as an adviser to foreign governments.

Vivian Viloria-Fisher has a solid blend of track record, depth of experience, name recognition from her years in the county Legislature and laser focus on the few issues we could easily see being the deciding factors come November: health care (especially regarding reproductive/women’s health care rights), gun control and immigration.

We will continue tracking this race through November and will update you with the primary results come the end of June. We hope you will reach out to us with your thoughts and feelings about the challengers and the race, too.

Zeldin celebrates his 2016 election night victory in Patchogue. File photo by Alex Petroski

The race for the right to challenge New York’s 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in November will be a five-way battle.

The candidates got enough signatures from voters to qualify to be placed on the ballot for the June 26 Democratic primary ahead of the April 12 deadline. June’s winner will face the two-time incumbent congressman and fervent supporter of President Donald Trump (R) in the general election Nov. 6. New York’s primaries are only open to registered members of the applicable political party.

Kate Browning

Kate Browning. Photo from SCDC

Browning is the former 3rd District Suffolk County legislator, a position she held beginning in 2005 before
being term limited out of office. She was born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland, before moving to Germany at 19 years old and eventually landing in Shirley with her husband Steve in 1989. The mother of three was a bus driver in the William Floyd School District prior to taking office.

“Our district deserves a representative that is going to fight for working families in Suffolk County,” Browning says in a section of her website entitled “Why I’m running,” while also touting her ability to work across the
political aisle. “I’ve focused on quality of life issues, rehabilitating foreclosed zombie homes and selling them to first-time home buyers, keeping them away from speculators and absentee landlords. And I’ve secured funding for clean water infrastructure to protect our drinking water and our shorelines.”

Elaine DiMasi

Elaine DiMasi. Photo from SCDC

DiMasi, a political newcomer, was a federal contractor for more than 20 years in addition to more than two decades of experience as a project manager and physicist at Brookhaven National Lab. She describes herself as a lifelong environmentalist with firsthand knowledge about the potential to jump-start the local economy while safeguarding the environment through the establishment of clean energy jobs.

“I dare to believe in a government that cares for all its people equally, is responsive to them and their concerns,” she says on her campaign website. “An American future that values equality for its people that opens doors of opportunity for all. An America that leads by example through its laws and practices to ensure the dignity, well-being, and freedom of all people.”

Perry Gershon

Perry Gershon. Photo from SCDC

Gershon wastes no time in his personal bio on his campaign website declaring he is a businessman, and not a career politician, having spent more than 25 years in commercial real estate finance. The first-time runner for office says his decision to leave the private sector and seek political office is a byproduct of outrage at the state of politics in Washington, D.C. He points to his entrepreneurial spirit and ability to build consensus among diverse parties as evidence of his qualifications to represent NY1.

“I’m fed up,” he says on his campaign website as to why he’s running. “It’s time Long Island had a strong voice to fight for high-paying jobs, affordable health care, high-quality education and clean air and water. Rather than stand by as Donald Trump and Washington politicians try to divide us, we can rebuild the middle class.”

Gershon and his wife Lisa have two sons and live on the South Fork.

David Pechefsky

David Pechefsky. Photo from SCDC

Pechefsky has extensive experience in government despite never holding elected office. The 1986 valedictorian at Patchogue-Medford High School has held various positions in government and politics during the last 20 years, including as a longtime staffer for the New York City Council, as well as a consultant for the National Democratic Institute from 2010-13. There, he worked to establish a legislative budget office to serve the Congress of Liberia. He also managed a U.S. government-funded program to strengthen the parliament of Somalia. He’s on leave from his current job as a senior adviser with Generation Citizen, a national nonprofit with the goal of fostering civic engagement.

“I am running for Congress because we need to put in place policies that make our economy work for everyone, not just the wealthy,” he says on his website. “I’ve spent my career working in government here in America and as an adviser to governments around the world and know how government can and should work to make things better for all us.”

Vivian Viloria-Fisher

Vivian Viloria Fisher. Photo from SCDC

Viloria-Fisher was also a Suffolk County legislator, serving the 5th District 13 years beginning in 1999. She was born in the Dominican Republic before moving to New York with her family as a child. She also worked as a Spanish teacher in Three Village school district for 12 years.

“As your representative, I will: fight for a national living wage; support job growth in sustainable energy and medical research industries; reinstate tax deductions for workers and students,” she says on her website, among other legislative priorities.

She touts her work on expanding public transportation services, creating a Welfare-to-Work commission in the county and her support for marriage equality prior to its legalization in New York among her proudest accomplishments.

Check TBR News Media in print and online for coverage of both the primary and general election in the coming weeks and months. All information about the candidates is from the Suffolk County Democratic Committee website or the candidates’ campaign sites.

Lee Zeldin meets with constituents in East Patchogue. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding and Alex Petroski

Hundreds of concerned constituents on both sides of the aisle gathered inside the Hagerman Fire Department in East Patchogue March 3, set up at scattered round tables, waiting to hear their names called to meet with U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley).

In another room, the congressman was holding mobile office hours and meeting with five to six people at a time, grouped according to the topics they wanted to discuss, to hear the issues of the people he represents, which ranged from health care and what’s to come of the Affordable Care Act, abortion and the congressman’s stance to defund Planned Parenthood, immigration, the environment, and tax reform.

Constituent questions are sorted for Lee Zeldin’s mobile office hours. Photo by Kevin Redding

Despite demands from various local groups to host an in-person town hall in recent weeks, Zeldin has committed to these individualized and small-group meetings to avoid what he’s called the “liberal obstruction” of town halls that have taken place around the United States.

Tehmina Tirmizi, a student at Stony Brook University, said she hoped to talk to Zeldin about the rhetoric of President Donald Trump (R) and his administration, which, she feels, supports bigotry and fear of minorities.

“[They] incite hatred, anger, stress, depression and a lot of people have been hurt and are hurting inside and they should be keeping the peace,” she said. “They can’t just say something, have people react to it and then go and hide somewhere. I’d love to see Zeldin make a statement and come out against [the rhetoric] and he has yet to do that.”

Wading River resident Jim Lupis was there on behalf of a pro-life group to encourage Zeldin to defund Planned Parenthood.

“Taxpayer’s money shouldn’t be used to perform abortions, and murdering innocent children should be totally illegal,” Lupis said. “Zeldin has a strong voting record against Planned Parenthood and I want to speak to him about staying the course and defunding such an evil thing.”

Eastport resident Penny Mintz said, on top of being concerned about Citizens United and “the takeover of the wholesale purchase of government by big corporations,” she wanted to talk about the elimination of consumer protections, environment and healthcare.

“I have no hope of actually speaking to him … I’m only here so that he knows there are all these people who care enough and are watching him, and he can’t abandon us for corporate interests.”

—Penny Mintz

“I have no hope of actually speaking to him … I’m only here so that he knows there are all these people who care enough and are watching him, and he can’t abandon us for corporate interests,” Mintz said. “I wish he would back down from Trump and the policies the president is imposing.”

Just a few tables away, Hampton Bays resident Mark Raschke said he wanted to meet Zeldin, give him support, tell him he voted for him, and let him know he liked the way he supported Trump. Port Jefferson Station resident and military veteran Ed Bednarek wants to know where his congressman feels the country is going to go under the Trump administration, and when “the liberals are going to stop fighting and start getting on board and work with us as a team,” also calling for veterans to take priority over immigrants.

Ira Silverberg, of Bellport, said he wanted to challenge the congressman on a voting record that is “not protecting the environment of Long Island as well as he says it is.”

When asked how he felt about the mobile office hours in comparison to an in-person town hall meeting, Silverberg said “this format has disenfranchised 85 percent of the people who have shown up and is too controlling and inadequate to deal with the needs of the diverse, concerned community.”

For Cindy Morris, from Stony Brook, who wished to speak with Zeldin about the civil liberties she felt had been under attack as of late, she said the mobile office hours format “does not work.”

“We are all just talking amongst ourselves … [Zeldin’s] staff isn’t even circulating and coming out to talk to us,” Morris said. “I look at this room and I see diversity, so this is an opportunity for him to really meet with his constituency and not just meet with the people who pay for him to win elections. We aren’t protesters, we’re passionate citizens.”

Anna Hayward, a Stony Brook University professor, echoed Morris’s feelings.

“In a town hall format, he could hear our issues but we can also hear other people’s issues…we’re a very respectful, educated, and well-mannered community and I don’t think he needs to worry about people screaming at him and attacking him,” she said.

Zeldin supporters line the street waiting for a chance to speak to the congressman. Photo by Kevin Redding

Conversely, Nancy Beltran of Holtsville stands by Zeldin’s decision to not hold such a public forum.

“There’s no risk of chanting and screaming and bullying in a group setting so it avoids all of that, he’s doing the right thing by trying to hear the people without all that noise,” Beltran said.

Outside the fire department, dozens of people — supporters of Zeldin on one side holding up signs that read “Thank You Lee Zeldin for doing what we elected you to do” and opponents of Zeldin on the other with signs that read “Lee Let’s Talk” — stood to voice their concerns.

“I’m very passionate about supporting Lee Zeldin…he’s a stand up guy, he listens to people, educates himself and is not just a go-with-the-political-winds [leader],” Patchogue resident Heather Martwello said.

Mary Casey, who stood in opposition of Zeldin, questioned his moral courage in not wanting to hold a town hall meeting.

“His reported reason is that it just descends into screaming and yelling and it’s useless but I think it’s because he wants to maintain that aura of being right and if you have people screaming at you, you can’t be in control,” she said.

Zeldin’s aversion to holding a traditional in-person town hall has left many in his district angered, despite mobile office hours and an hour-long telephone town hall in February.

A group called Project Free Knowledge hosted an event called The People’s Town Hall March 4 in at the Performing Arts Studio in Port Jefferson, which featured a Zeldin impersonator, repeated potshots at the congressman and a foil called The People’s Candidate. The show was meant to serve as political satire, though one of the organizers behind the production said the group intended to deliver a serious message through the performance.

“… [Lee Zeldin] needs to prescreen people’s questions, he’s incredibly controlling about the conditions in which it happens, and it’s clear he doesn’t want a general town hall with community moderators because he’s not actually prepared to stand accountable for the things that he’s doing.”

—Anna Sitzmann

Anna Sitzmann, a member of the Project Free Knowledge team and a participant in the performance, said the group’s mission was to be both informative to those in attendance while also being critical of Zeldin.

Sitzmann said this was the first time the group has branched out into “political theater,” a phrase she said she’s often heard Zeldin use to describe activist demonstrations. She added the group met with Zeldin about three weeks ago and asked him to host a community-moderated, live town hall, which he declined. Sitzmann said that’s when the group decided to put on their own town hall.

“Zeldin has certainly met with constituents personally, but as we made reference to, he won’t do it for more than half an hour, he needs to prescreen people’s questions, he’s incredibly controlling about the conditions in which it happens, and it’s clear he doesn’t want a general town hall with community moderators because he’s not actually prepared to stand accountable for the things that he’s doing,” Sitzmann said in an interview after the performance. She added Zeldin was invited to attend the event but she received an “unbelievably disrespectful response.”

A spokeswoman for the congressman, Jennifer DiSiena, responded to Sitzmann’s claim in an email, saying she’s not sure what Sitzmann was referring to and called the performance “unbelievably disrespectful.” DiSiena took issue with much of the content of the show.

“Congressman Zeldin will meet with any constituent interested in a productive, substantive exchange of ideas,” she said. “He has even met with the protesters involved in setting up that Mock Town Hall. He is not interested in the type of political theater that this group of liberal obstructionists is interested in promoting. The country faces real challenges and Zeldin will remain focused on working across the aisle to constructively find solutions. Requesting a town hall for the purpose of disrupting the town hall without any sense of decorum or decency is wrong and will not be taken seriously.”

Sitzmann said she’s not concerned about the possibility of the performance adding to an already heated political discourse, which seems to be swallowing whole the district and country alike.

“If I’m stoking the flames of Zeldin’s fire, fine,” she said. “I admit that a lot of people that voted for Lee Zeldin or voted for Donald Trump were upset about things that they ought to have been upset about, but I think the Republican party and especially President Trump have harnessed that anger and misdirected it towards things that don’t deserve the blame, such as minorities and global cooperation, while as a way of hiding the real cause of the problem, which is the kind of economic advantage seeking that both of them partake in.”

Anna Throne-Holst. Photo by Phil Corso
Anna Throne-Holst. Photo by Phil Corso

Freshman Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) has done some admirable things for constituents of the 1st district. A veteran himself, with four years of active duty — including a deployment to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and nine years in the Army Reserves — he has done a lot for Long Island veterans. He was also instrumental in the signing into law of an amendment that bears his name, allowing states to opt out of Common Core without fear that there will be any loss of federal funding as a result. That’s a victory for the nearly unanimous animus we’ve heard candidates express for the program this fall.

Challenger Anna Throne-Holst (D) was elected four times to the Southampton Town Board and, as town supervisor, fixed financial problems, streamlined the budget and put the reallocated funds to use improving quality of life for Southampton residents. And she did this while in the minority, working with Republicans. Now she hopes to bring that skill set to Congress and we’d like to see her do it.

These are both hard-working, dedicated politicians, but one aligns with our values and ideals better. Only Throne-Holst believes in background checks for gun purchasers, revamping the existing Affordable Care Act, protecting a woman’s right to choose and overturning Citizen’s United.

We endorse Anna Throne-Holst to be our next congressperson.           

Congressman Lee Zeldin and challenger Anna Throne-Holst face off in the 1st Congressional District, which many have called a ‘surrogate race’ for the presidential election. Photos by Alex Petroski

By Kevin Redding

A clashing of opinions on almost every issue gave way to a tense debate between an incumbent Republican congressman and a former Southampton Town supervisor as the race for the 1st Congressional District seat enters its final stretch.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who graduated from Albany Law School before serving in the U.S. Army Reserve, was first elected into the House of Representatives in 2014 and seeks to maintain that position Nov. 8. He must first win re-election, however, against Democrat Anna Throne-Holst, whose work in local government has been guided by a “people over politics” platform in an effort to make government work for everyone.

The candidates sat down at the TBR News Media office Oct. 27 to square off on a variety of pressing local and national topics, like the environment, veterans issues, Planned Parenthood and the presidential election.

Zeldin has accomplished plenty in his 21 months representing the district, which encompasses most of central and eastern Suffolk County, and takes pride in his willingness to work with absolutely anyone, regardless of party.

“Everyone is entitled to and wants clean air and clean water, and whatever we can do to advance that is important.”

— Lee Zeldin

He has worked hard to help veterans suffering from PTSD, secured the repeal of the saltwater fishing license fee, and fought to block the federal government’s proposed sale of Plum Island.

Throne-Holst has built and run organizations mostly geared toward educational and essential services for families in need of support, worked at the U.N. Department of Peacemaking, and wants to utilize the work she’s done abroad to fix what she calls “thorny foreign policy decisions that we are dealing with.”

She’s committed to providing a service to families and young people in the community who she said have been sorely underserved. She said Congress is at an all-time low approval rating and has not done enough to deal with the critical issues the country is facing.

Before the candidates focused their discussion on the environment, there were accusations from both sides regarding the Environmental Protection Agency.

“All due respect, I think it’s important to note the things where funding has either been slashed or not put forward,” Throne-Holst said. “When I think about things, like the EPA, that he voted to decrease funding for … and the kind of funding that supports programs that are crucial to our residents here in district one New York, and that have been mired in partisan politics in Washington, that is part of what I think is troubling.”

Zeldin refuted Throne-Holst’s statements.

“My opponent repeatedly states that I voted multiple times to defund the EPA,” he said, demanding specific bill numbers from Throne-Holst. “That is not truthful. When there was a vote to cut EPA funding by 17 percent, I voted against the cut. My opponent didn’t read the bill. There are ways to improve the EPA and strengthen the relationship between the EPA and Congress and the American people.”

Zeldin introduced a Long Island Sound Restoration and Stewardship Act alongside Congressman Steve Israel, and said the health of the Sound would be an important issue if he secured another term.

He talked specifically about his involvement in raising money for the National Estuary Program, which provides grants to states threatened by pollution and overuse, and his proposals in relation to Plum Island.

“Everyone is entitled to and wants clean air and clean water, and whatever we can do to advance that is important,” Zeldin said.

Throne-Holst spoke more broadly about the hazards of climate change, an issue Zeldin has questioned the legitimacy of in the past, and sea-level rise. She said there isn’t a single homeowner or business owner in the region immune to climate change. She said the federal government has a responsibility to lead the way in putting together a climate change resiliency plan, district by district.

The debate turned even more contentious when the focus shifted to their respective stances on Planned Parenthood.

Zeldin, who voted for a bill that would halt funding for the organization for a year, was asked whether or not he believed it should be defunded.

“I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I don’t think it’s a question of a personal experience. I think it’s a question of respecting the civil rights of every American.”

— Anna Throne-Holst

“I respect the position amongst American taxpayers who do not want their dollars to go toward funding abortions,” he said. “I certainly have a sensitivity and respect for both sides of this issue … but the idea that it can be legal for someone to be able to decide to get an abortion in the eighth month or ninth month, that is something that I very strongly disagree with.”

When pressed for clarification on the organization’s funding, Zeldin said “as far as funding abortion services, yeah [it should be halted].”

Throne-Holst called their views on the issue a very clear line in the sand.

“I believe in a woman’s right to choose,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a question of a personal experience. I think it’s a question of respecting the civil rights of every American. The idea that government has any role to play in making that decision for anyone goes against any provision of humanity.”

Zeldin has publicly supported Republican nominee Donald Trump in the race for the White House in the past, though he said we have two flawed options for president, referring to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as well. He offered no defense for Trump’s well-documented controversial statements, including the Access Hollywood leak wherein Trump boasted about sexually assaulting women.

He said he sides with Trump on many issues, like improving foreign, tax and immigration policies and defeating “Islamic Extremism.” He said he agrees with Trump more than he agrees with Clinton.

Throne-Holst accused her opponent of going on CNN numerous times to defend Trump in the past. She said there is no excuse for overlooking the statements Trump has made and “allowing this man to be the supreme leader of this country and be the role model for our children.”

Setauket native David Calone, left, was defeated in the Democratic primary for the 1st Congressional District by Anna Throne-Holst, left, Friday.

This post was updated at 11 a.m. on July 13 to include an official vote count.

After more than a week of waiting, it is now known which Democrat will square off against freshman U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in the race for the 1st Congressional District seat this November.

Former Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst defeated Setauket native David Calone after nearly 1,800 absentee ballots were counted last week. After the June 28 Democratic primary the candidates were separated by just 29 votes. In the end, Throne-Holst was left standing. She defeated Calone 6,479 to 6,162.

“I am deeply grateful to all who placed their trust and support in me, and I am truly humbled by the privilege it has been to get to know, share the concerns, and my message with so many,” Throne-Holst said in a statement through a public relations representative Friday. The Suffolk County Board of Elections confirmed Throne-Holst’s victory but couldn’t give an exact vote count on the absentee ballots as of Friday afternoon.

Throne-Holst, wasted little time turning her attention towards Zeldin Friday.

“Lee Zeldin has shown in every way how out of step and wrong he is, not only for Long Island, but for the country,” she said.

Zeldin’s campaign made a statement after the results of the Democratic primary were known Friday.

“Despite the shameful narrative that the Democrats have been desperately attempting to deceive voters into playing along with, First Congressional District voters are smart enough to sort fact from fiction and reject all of the false, negative and partisan attacks on our Congressman being spun up by the Democrats,” they said. “He looks forward to continuing his work for Long Island and our nation in his second term.”

Throne-Holst commended Calone for his efforts during the campaign.

“I want to congratulate Dave Calone on a spirited race, and I share in the respect and support he garnered in the district, as demonstrated by the very close margin and the strength of his candidacy,” she said.

Though he was disappointed by the narrow margin of defeat, Calone quickly supported his party’s candidate in a statement from his campaign Saturday.

“We were outspent by nearly $1 million and fell short by around 300 votes,” Calone said in an email through a press representative. “That’s a testament to the great Democratic volunteers supporting our campaign across the district. We cannot continue being represented by Congressman Lee Zeldin, one of Donald Trump’s loudest advocates in Washington…I urge people across eastern Long Island to join me in supporting our Democratic nominee, Anna Throne-Holst, to replace him this November.”

Representatives from both parties commented on the primary and November’s general election.

“Long Islanders are ready for a change,” Democratic Congressional Committee Chairman Ben Ray Luján said in a statement. “I congratulate Anna Throne-Holst on her hard-fought win, and know she has the background and wide-ranging experience to bring desperately needed leadership to this district.”

At least one Zeldin supporter was encouraged by the tight race in the primary.

“That was a very expensive and underwhelming Democratic Primary for Anna Throne-Holst with such a poor voter turnout showing an incredible lack of enthusiasm for her,” Brookhaven GOP Chairman Jesse Garcia said in a statement. “The choice is clear; Lee Zeldin understands what is right for New York’s First Congressional District, and knows how to fight and produce results for our values and our families. We look forward to Brookhaven’s own Congressman Lee Zeldin serving another term next January.”

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