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Congress

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Election Day may be over, but the work has just begun.

Political races are not just about the outcomes. Consistent engagement is needed to make actual change once campaigning is over. The momentum we have seen from our community needs to be kept up by members of both political parties, regardless of the 2018 midterm results.

Political engagement starts with voting, but continues with having conversations with elected officials, attending meetings and keeping an eye on meeting agendas. Let the officials know where you stand on critical issues and how you want them to vote while in office to continue to receive your support. Make a call, send an email or set an appointment to meet your state assemblymember, congressional representative or town councilperson at his or her office. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and let your officials know what’s on your mind.

Another key part of civic engagement is having conversations with the people you encounter in everyday life, whether you agree with them or not, and even joining civic associations.

There is no denying that there has been an air of growing divisiveness during the last few years in our country. Conversations across the aisle are needed more than ever.

Those discussions aren’t happening amid disagreements about gun control, health care, taxes and more. Conversations quickly become so heated people who were once friends, or at least cordial acquaintances, avoid each other in supermarkets or delete and block each other on social media rather than talking it through.

We encourage you to take the first steps in saying the chasm forming in this country is unacceptable. Painting swastikas on election signs is unacceptable. Comedians joking about a U.S. congressman with an eye patch saying, “I’m sorry, I know he lost his eye in war, or whatever,” is just not appropriate. Openly promoting racism and encouraging violence goes against fundamental human rights and American principles.

With two years left until the next presidential election, and campaigns warming up already, it’s time to radically change the tone of the nation’s political discourse before it’s too late. People from different political parties can meet up, have intelligent conversations and come to an agreement. Or, simply agree to disagree and respect each other. There used to be a baseline acceptance that differing opinions were just that, and not an indication of evil motives.

Not satisfied with election results or your elected representative? Start demanding political party leaders seek candidates who have fresh, new ideas supported by concrete plans and the knowledge, confidence and energy to get things done, but do it constructively and with an open mind.

Neither party should take anything for granted, nor should President Donald Trump (R). After a turbulent first couple of years, there is serious work that needs to be done to unite our country to get it moving forward, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin celebrates securing his third term in office Nov. 8 in Patchogue, joining hands with one of his daughters and Suffolk County Republican Party Chairman John Jay LaValle. Photo by Kyle Barr

Nationally the Democratic Party experienced a successful night, winning enough Congressional races to flip the House of Representatives from Republican control.

The long-billed blue wave petered out on the North Shore of Long Island however, as two-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) fended off a challenge from first-time candidate Democrat Perry Gershon, an East Hampton resident and commercial real estate lender, winning re-election by securing more than 52 percent of the vote.

“This was the clear contrast of results versus resistance, and results won today,” Zeldin said from the podium at Stereo Garden in Patchogue after results were in Nov. 6. “It’s important we get to people’s business and deliver results.”

As many — if not all — House races did across the country, Zeldin and Gershon’s battle took on a nasty tone, largely focused on their opinions of President Donald Trump (R) and his job performance thus far.

“Our country needs to do much better uniting,” Zeldin said. “We also need to make sure our scores are settled at the ballot box, and that next day we wake up to govern.”

He thanked his opponent for running a tough race.

Onlookers celebrate as results roll in Nov. 8 at Democratic Party campaign headquarters in Hauppauge. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It’s not the outcome we wanted but life goes on,” Gershon said when his fate appeared sealed from IBEW Local 25 Long Island Electricians union headquarters in Hauppauge. “We’re so much better off than we were two years ago. We showed the Democratic Party has a heart here in eastern Suffolk County.”

Both candidates’ respective Suffolk County party chairmen applauded their efforts.

“He worked very hard and developed a grassroots campaign,” Democratic Party Chairman Rich Schaffer said. “We have not heard the last of Perry Gershon.”

John Jay LaValle, Republican Party chairman for the county, dismissed the idea Election Day 2018 was something to be celebrated by Democrats locally.

“There was no blue wave in Suffolk County tonight, in fact the only thing blue tonight was my tie,” he said.

Incumbent 3rd District U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) secured 58 percent of the vote against Republican challenger Dan DeBono to secure another term as well.

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!” Suozzi posted on his campaign Facebook page. “It is an honor to serve.”

Despite LaValle’s assertion, the blue party scored major victories in several statewide battles, enough to flip the New York State Senate to Democratic control, meaning all three houses of the state government are controlled by the same party. Nearly all incumbent state legislators from both parties held serve on the North Shore though.

The 2nd District state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) won re-election to continue his more than 30 years in the Senate, defeating challenger Kathleen Cleary by about 11 percentage points. Flanagan will relinquish his spot as Senate Majority Leader with the Democrats seizing control. He could not be reached for comment by press time Nov. 7.

“I did not win but we made sure that the issues important to us: women’s reproductive health, the Child Victims Act, ERPO, [the New York Health Act] were discussed and now that the [state] Senate has flipped to blue these bills will be passed,” Cleary said in a post on her campaign Facebook page.

State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who has represented the 1st District since the 1970s, easily won another term, besting Democrat Greg Fischer for a second consecutive cycle, this time by 17 percentage points. LaValle could not be reached for comment Nov. 7 either.

“It’s very difficult to unseat a long-term incumbent,” Fischer said. “Like it or not, the system is filled with or based on lots of favors, so there’s always that tendency to reward people for their past performance.”

Democrats Jim Gaughran and Monica Martinez won surprise upsets in nearby Long Island state Senate districts, defeating incumbent Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) and Assemblyman Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue) in their respective races, which were major contributors to the shift of power in New York’s legislative branch.

In the state Assembly, Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) was easily returned to his longtime post representing the 4th District, earning 60 percent of the vote to his challenger Christian Kalinowski’s 40 percent.

“I’m looking forward to getting back to the task at hand, protecting the environment, the quality of life of our community and enhancing it, making sure we have adequate funding for our schools and for the next generation,” Englebright said. “We have a lot to do.”

Englebright’s Assembly colleagues from across the aisle on the North Shore will all be returning to Albany as well.

The 2nd District Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) blew out first-time candidate Democrat Rona Smith to earn a third term, winning about 60 percent of the vote.

Democrat Perry Gershon thanks supporters Nov. 8 in Hauppauge after accepting defeat in his race to represent New York’s 1st Congressional District against incumbent Lee Zeldin. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It’s great to see we won by a nice margin — it validates we’re going on the right direction,” Palumbo said. “I will try to discuss some issues raised by my opponent, including the issue of health care with the 5 percent uninsured rate.”

Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Smithtown) will head to Albany for another term after beating Democrat and first-time candidate David Morrissey handily, 61 percent to 39 percent.

“I’m going to continue to pursue my objective of being a strong voice for mandate relief and strengthening the private sector to make people aware of the need to slow down the growth of taxes,” Fitzpatrick said. “We are losing too many people — too many retirees, too many young people. Too many people in the middle class are looking elsewhere as the cost of living is getting too high.”

Republican for the 12th Assembly District Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) will continue his tenure, as will Democrat Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills), who captured the 10th Assembly District seat in a special election in April.

Though members of Brookhaven Town’s board were not on the ballot this year, voters overwhelmingly passed a back-of-the-ballot proposition that extended officials terms in office from two years to four, and limited officeholders to three terms. A total of 58 percent voted in favor of that measure with 42 percent opposing.

“We felt that this was the right time to put out this proposition, especially with all the talk about the president stimulating turnout,” said Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point).

Reporting contributed by Sara-Megan Walsh, Rita J. Egan and Kyle Barr.

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.

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.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin. Flie photo by Alex Petroski

Even though it feels like Election Day 2016 was sometime last week, the 2018 midterms are right around the corner.

To that end, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) hosted a telephone town hall March 14 to give constituents the opportunity to ask questions and hear where he stands on hot-button issues in New York’s 1st
Congressional District. This was one of several telephone town halls Zeldin has hosted since he was re-elected in 2016, though many of his constituents have been rabidly calling for him to host in-person town halls for more than a year, in addition to the three-in-one day town halls he hosted in April 2017, on what some felt was short notice.

“While in D.C. these telephone town halls allow me to reach out to the greatest number of constituents at once, allowing me to listen to your concerns and answer your questions,” he said on the call. “Listening to your questions and insight is such an important part of my job.”

Zeldin fielded about 10 questions during the 60-minute call on a wide array of topics. Below are some of the highlights, with questions bolded and lightly edited for grammar and clarity.

Michael: “I did vote for [President Donald] Trump (R)], but I was very disturbed when he said what he said as far as due process and our Second Amendment rights, taking guns away from people that may be perceived as not having any business having them. I wanted to be assured that you would do your part to remind our president that due process does not come second.”

“I totally agree with you, due process is incredibly important,” Zeldin said, though he offered some qualifiers that sounded as though there was at least some common ground between his position and what Trump said during a televised listening session with survivors of the February shooting in Parkland, Florida. Trump suggested that those who display signs they might be harmful to themselves or others should have guns seized immediately, prior to a crime being committed, due process be damned. He has since backed off from that sentiment.

“It’s important that we’re doing what we need to do, smart policy to keep people safe,” Zeldin said. “There were so many balls that were dropped in Parkland, at different levels of government … People who are
saying Nikolas Cruz shouldn’t have had access to a particular kind of firearm, I’ll say, a guy who shows — I don’t care if he’s 19 or 89 — anyone who is showing all of those threats and indicators, they should not have access to any firearm.”

Zeldin also reiterated his support for the Second Amendment and citizens’ right to bear arms. He also in response to a later question said he thought it was great that high school students locally and nationally are
educating themselves on issues and making their opinions known.

Nora: “In regard to the opioid epidemic, I realize that lots of funding keeps on being funneled toward this crisis, and I see that police are arresting more and more of the drug dealers. I’m not seeing in the hospital setting that the people themselves who are taking the drugs or addicted are getting the help they need. Are there any plans to build facilities for people to get the help they need before they die?”

Zeldin responded to Nora, who said she is a nurse at Stony Brook University Hospital, by saying in a discussion he was involved in with several generals discussing the future of foreign diplomacy, he relayed to them that opioid addiction is nearing the level of a national security threat. The congressman touted previously passed legislation, specifically the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016, an $8.3 billion plan to fight drug addiction in the United States, with a significant amount of funding for prevention and treatment, and added that the bill needed repeated funding annually.

He mentioned a need to improve the quality of treatment facilities or sober homes, as well as legislation that would help to prevent the practice of “doctor shopping,” or seeking prescriptions for pain medications to feed opioid addiction. However, he fairly quickly pivoted to border security.

“When we talk about border security or people entering our country, what often gets lost in that is this is also illegal substances as well,” he said.

Frank: “Nationally there needs to be some support of President Trump in stopping illegal immigration, and what I was concerned about locally is my understanding is that there are many areas on Long Island that support sanctuary status — it’s a blatant disregard for federal law and something needs to be done about this.”

“I’m with you,” Zeldin said. He went on to name a number of examples of illegal immigrants committing violent crimes in cities around the United States as evidence the practice of protecting illegal immigrants from federal prosecution simply for that reason needing to be ended. “The sanctuary city policies we see across the country are so wrong. The federal government is responsible for creating immigration law in this country, and where you have local politicians pandering for votes and refusing to assist … you’re putting our law enforcement officers at risk. I have colleagues that celebrate illegal immigration.”

The full recording of the town hall can be heard on Zeldin’s website, www.zeldin.house.gov.

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In the wake of a political battle that characterized 2017, it appears solutions for potentially improved and more affordable health care may be on the horizon.

While federal lawmakers bicker over the Affordable Care Act, three corporations are teaming up to resolve the issue for their employees. If the companies are successful in creating an effective health care system, it’s possible their idea could benefit all Americans.

Online retailer Amazon, holding company Berkshire Hathaway and bank JPMorgan Chase issued a press release Jan. 30 announcing plans to start an independent health care company. The statement provided little detail about the joint venture except that “the initial focus of the new company will be on technology solutions that will provide U.S. employees and their families with simplified, high-quality and transparent health care at a reasonable cost.” The hope is that it will balance rising health care costs with enhanced patient satisfaction and outcomes. The release also mentioned a desire to transition away from a profit-based health care system.

After the announcement of the initiative, stock prices of major health insurance companies dropped, and rightfully so. If it expands in the future, the new partnership may create much-needed competition in an arena fraught with overpricing, complicated procedures and an abundance of paperwork. Competition is always a good thing. It prevents medical costs from being controlled by just a handful of insurance providers, and in an important area like one’s health, everyone should have coverage options that will ensure
receiving the highest quality of care possible.

“The ballooning costs of [health care] act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy,” said Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffet.

The joint venture also creates opportunities for other employers to join forces with the giants, or attempt to come up with their own answers to provide better health care options for their workers.

But this isn’t the first time a corporation has become involved in health care. In December, CVS Health bought health insurance giant Aetna for $69 billion with a similar goal — to remake the consumer health care experience and build a health care platform around individuals.

In an era where many Americans fear that one accident or illness will drastically alter their financial future — because they can’t afford health insurance to assist with potentially high medical expenses — the idea that legitimate solutions are being sought is refreshing. What’s even more uplifting is that these companies understand the importance of their employees being able to afford health insurance and, in theory, politics will be held out of the discussion.

Considering all three corporations have enjoyed immense successes in their respective fields, the potential for innovative ideas from the three giants is exciting.

We look forward to seeing if the private sector can produce what elected officials were stuck in the mud trying to accomplish all of 2017.

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As I write this column, Tuesday, I am thinking of the State of the Union address that President Trump is scheduled to give to Congress and the nation in the evening. What does each of us think about the state of the union at this time? Do we know enough about what’s happening in the country to offer a credible picture in this first month of the year 2018?

We know we have problems. Big problems, if you follow the newscasts. We have a Congress that people seem to agree is “broken,” and a president without precedent. We have an economy that is the largest in the world, yet our citizens are divided into those enjoying its fruits and the rest who have been left behind. We have a remarkable health care system that is not accessible for everyone. Our schools are uneven in their teaching, especially in subjects like math and science. We have to deal with racism, bigotry, sexism, ageism and lots of other “isms,” as well as gun violence, drugs, gangs, North Korea, Russia, the Taliban, you name them. It’s enough to addle the mind.

Then I think of the other side of the story, the story of what America means to me. When my grandchildren have their children, they will be sixth generation Americans. We are deeply rooted here in our country but not so much that we have forgotten how we got here and especially why we came. My father’s family arrived in the second half of the 19th century from Riga, the capital city of Latvia set on the Baltic Sea. We don’t know much about them except they were dairy farmers, and they managed to buy property and continue with that life after they landed and settled in Connecticut and upstate New York. My dad, the middle child of nine, left the farm for the big city when he was 14, got a job at the bottom of the ladder in a hardware store, lived in a boarding house in Brooklyn near his older brother, worked hard and for long hours, saved his pennies and ultimately started several hardware stores on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It was about then that I came along, the middle child of three.

We know more about my mother’s side of the family. Her uncle, her mother’s brother, left the army in the Ukraine after a perilous stint at the beginning of the 20th century. He joined his uncle in Corona, Queens, who taught him how to use a sewing machine in a clothing factory. He realized he could earn more if he owned a machine and could hire himself out to the highest bidder, then understood he could do better still if he owned the factory. His four children all graduated from college, his daughters became teachers and his son served as a judge in the District and Criminal Courts of Suffolk County.

My mother’s grandparents and parents, alarmed at the unrest in their homeland in the first decade of the 20th century, followed the family chain, established themselves financially in New York City, and saw to it that their offspring were educated so that they might further contribute to society and share in its benefits.

This is the American Dream. This is the route that countless individuals and families followed for 400 years to reach their goals amid the freedom and security of the United States, Has that dream been achieved by everyone here in America? Certainly not, and the situations where people are chained to the past or even the present are heartbreaking. The national goal is to bring the American Dream to all living within our borders.

Except for Native Americans, we all started out as immigrants, foreigners in a foreign land, and those who came voluntarily — along with those who didn’t — aspired for more. Some came with more skills and resources, some with less. Some had supportive family networks, some arrived alone.

The American siren song still exists. The formula does work. I see it realized by people locally every day. For all the cynicism and the partisanship, whatever the shortcomings and injustices, this is still America.

On the day of the State of the Union, this is what America means to me.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin speaks during an interview at TBR News Media. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Alex Petroski

From the podium at The Emporium in Patchogue Nov. 8, 2016 after his race against Anna Throne Holst (D-Southampton) was officially called and his near-20-point victory was secured, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said he was looking forward to the opportunity to “make America great again.”

Zeldin has become synonymous with President Donald Trump (R) locally, and though he said during an exclusive interview with the Times Beacon Record News Media editorial board he still supports the president, just short of 10 months removed from his re-election, Zeldin also said he is not a “proxy” for Trump, or anyone else. During the 90-minute interview, the congressman preached bipartisanship, addressed the future of health care, discussed Trump’s Twitter account and inflammatory speeches like the one he made in Arizona Aug. 22, criticized the president for his response to the Charlottesville, Virginia, protest and addressed the state of his support for Trump going forward.

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

“I don’t give anyone my proxy.”

Despite being a strong supporter of Trump during their parallel 2016 campaigns, Zeldin had a strong response when asked if the president had his unequivocal support.

“I don’t give anyone my proxy,” Zeldin said, though he did say he supports the president and wants him to be successful. He added if he had to vote for Trump again today, he ultimately would. “It’s not 2020, but if you asked me Aug. 25 of 2017 if I was casting a vote right now and he was running unopposed, yeah. If he was running against someone else and there was a compelling reason to go some other direction, then you factor into it.”

Zeldin pushed back on the perception of a large group of his constituents who believe he is the local embodiment of Trump. He cited several examples in which he has been critical of the president, including when Trump made a Holocaust remembrance statement that made no reference to Jewish people, or when he voted in line with many House Democrats against a bill that would roll back internet privacy protections, which Trump ultimately signed into law.

The congressman also reiterated a statement he has made publicly in the past, that the meeting between Donald Trump Jr., other members of the Trump administration and people with ties to the Russian government alleging they had damaging material on Hillary Clinton in June 2016 should have never taken place.

“If you really wanted to ask yourself, is this guy just going to be or has he been some proxy or some stooge who is refusing to say where he disagrees, you would have to ignore like 20 different examples where it’s not even taking my word for it, this is stuff that I’ve said on national TV,” Zeldin said. He surmised the perception he is too tightly connected to Trump comes from people who can’t wait for the day Trump is no longer in office.

Zeldin added although he disagreed with former President Barack Obama (D) on issues, at no point did he view him as anything other than his president.

“There are people who think nothing has gotten done.”

Zeldin pushed back on the idea that partisan gridlock, which has long characterized the country’s perception of Congress, is getting worse or is being amplified by Trump. He said bills are being passed and bipartisan discussions are being had everyday by members of the House.

“People have this perception that when the House is in session and we’re all on the floor together that it’s an old school Aaron Burr duel taking place amongst all members all the time,” he said. “Where everyone’s basically literally trying to kill each other on the floor.”

Zeldin said he isn’t going to sugarcoat it, or try to make the discussions sound all rosy. He pointed to the over 50 bills passed since Trump has taken office as proof of Republicans and Democrats working together to get things done.

He said these topics tend to get overshadowed by what is broadcasted on TV news.

“People get very discouraged when you put on the news and you’re only coming in contact with bad news,” Zeldin said. “It’s almost like [it’s] not even newsworthy to talk about what got done that day. What’s newsworthy is what may be the biggest, most dramatic confrontation or battle that might be going on. That’s the news everyday.”

He attributed heated political rhetoric and the notion Congress is struggling to work together to the business model of the three major 24-hour cable news stations — CNN, Fox News and MSNBC.

“The information they’re coming in contact with is deliberately targeting them to stir emotion, because that’s how they get traffic,” he said.

The congressman recalled several times when he was slated to do a cable news interview on a particular topic, which the president would be happy to see gain coverage, only to be asked questions about the investigations into Trump’s ties to Russia during the campaign because of a Tweet he sent moments before the interview.

He admitted the president has the power to steer the conversation in the right direction.

“There is no person in the United States of America with more of an ability to drive the conversation,” he said. “I don’t know of the last time we had an individual in the United States of America with a bigger soapbox than the president of the United States.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin calls for funding for two EPA programs relating to the Long Island Sound during a press conference March 13. Photo by Kevin Redding

“He’s willing to sign 50,000 different versions of this bill.”

Common ground exists between Republicans and Democrats on the future of the federal health care law, according to Zeldin, though he said he’s skeptical of the Senate’s ability to reach a majority on a replacement of the Affordable Care Act. At no point during the 90-minute conversation did the congressman use the phrase “repeal and replace,” though he discussed, at length, some of the issues with the individual market and what it would take to repair it in a way that works.

“Beyond partisanship there’s an ideological difference on the insurance piece, and what do you do with the ACA,” Zeldin said. “They just absolutely, genuinely to their core disagree on certain components of what direction [to go in].”

Zeldin was extremely critical of the process that led up to the ultimately failed Senate vote on health care and stressed the need to return to regular order.

The health care vote revealed three Republican senators as willing to oppose the president on major legislation. As a result of that vote and other circumstances in which Republican senators have spoken out against Trump, Zeldin encouraged the use of the president’s “bully pulpit,” like the way he spoke about Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) during his trip to Phoenix Aug. 22.

When asked if the president is doing enough to grow his base of support rather than just appealing to those he already has in his camp, Zeldin was also critical.

“There are opportunities for him to do more to broaden that coalition,” he said.

He also indicated the president is prepared to compromise on a health care bill.

“He’s willing to sign 50,000 different versions of this bill,” Zeldin said.

“There is no moral equivalency.”

The congressman was most critical of the president on his response to the events in Charlottesville. He repeatedly stated there is no moral equivalency between marchers on the side of the KKK and Nazism and those who attended the rally to oppose hate, a point that was contradictory to statements Trump made publicly on the subject. Zeldin said he did agree though with the president’s point that members of the “alt-right” were not the only one’s who arrived at the Virginia rally for the purpose of inciting violence.

“If you are a good person showing up to that march and you realize once you get there that by being associated at all with that march that you are associating yourself in any way, shape, or form with the KKK or Nazism, a good person, immediately, instinctively completely disengages,” Zeldin said.

U.S. Rep Suozzi waves from the field during the game. Photo from Suozzi’s office

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) made his way to the dugout to play in the congressional bipartisan baseball game last Thursday, June 15. The game came one day after House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) was shot by a gunman, along with four others, during a practice just outside of Washington D.C.

Suozzi said the experience was very unique.

“To be one of only 20 players, and a freshman, on the Democrats congressional baseball team was an awesome experience,” he said in a statement. “After the shootings last Wednesday, the game took on a more important meaning, and the experience was truly humbling. Since day one I have talked about bipartisan cooperation and civility. It’s a shame it took a tragedy, but now it’s a part of the national conversation.”

Suozzi said he and his teammates first learned of the shootings at the Republican practice in Arlington, Virginia, around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday morning while the Democrats were practicing at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.

“After the initial shock, confirmation of the events and being instructed by police to shelter in place at the dugout, the entire Democratic team circled together and prayed for our Republican colleagues and the other victims,” he said.

Before Thursday night’s game, both teams kneeled at second base at Nationals Park, where Scalise was supposed to have played, in a show of bipartisan unity. Democrats and Republicans prayed for the victims and their families as well as to come together as one united Congress.

The game raised a record $1.5 million for charity and was attended by nearly 25,000 fans. This was the 80th game of a tradition dating back to 1909. Capitol Police officer David Bailey, who was injured in the attack, threw out the first pitch.

Suozzi said the show of unity was very important.

“I sincerely hope we use this unique opportunity to show the American people that we’re here to try and get things done — together as Americans,” he said.

Suozzi had a hard-hit line drive to the shortstop and a ground ball to the third baseman, leaving him 0 for 2.

“It was still a fantastic experience and I hope I get to play again next year,” he said.

The Democrats won the game 11-2, and following their victory gave this year’s trophy to the Republicans to place in Scalise’s office until he recovers.

“I will continue to pray for Steve, the injured officers and other victims, and for our country,” Suozzi said. “We have important work to do. The people are sick of politics and politicians, and we need to work together on these life and death issues and actually get things done — together.”

Congresman Zeldin addresses the audience at a town hall in Smithtown. Photo from Congressman Zeldin’s office.

By Victoria Espinoza

After calls for more public discussions and town hall meetings from constituents in New York’s 1st Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) held three town halls this past Sunday. Some praised Zeldin for his patience dealing with “organized protestors,” while other attendees were still left wanting more dialogue with their representative.

Cindy Morris, a Stony Brook resident,  attended Zeldin’s third and final town hall of the day at St. Patrick’s Church in Smithtown.

“We’ve [progressive groups] been working very hard asking him to meet with us in a public forum since November,” Morris said in a phone interview. “This was his first attempt and I felt it was important to attend, both to thank him and show this is not an attempt for political theater like he’s claimed, but for real dialogue.”

In a previous interview, Zeldin spokesperson Jennifer DiSiena said requesting a town hall with the purpose of disrupting it is wrong and wouldn’t be taken seriously.

“Congressman Zeldin will meet with any constituent interested in a productive, substantive exchange of ideas,” she said. “He is not interested in the type of political theater that this group of liberal obstructionists is interested in promoting.”

DiSiena was addressing Project Free Knowledge, a group who hosted a “mock” town hall in Port Jefferson in March which featured a Zeldin impersonator and little effort for an impartial discussion. However, Zeldin has referred to different forms of protests by constituents in his district similarly.

But Morris insisted this meeting was nothing like the mock town hall. Unlike the first two town halls held earlier that day, where she said attendees did not have an opportunity for audience interaction, she praised the Smithtown event for being well-organized, giving some audience members a chance to ask a question off the cuff, that hadn’t been screened.

“He’s our congressional representative, and the representative piece of that is the most important part of his title,” she said. “We wanted to give him an opportunity to let him know what our values are, what we’re looking for.”

Morris also said after watching the first two town halls on Facebook Live, she recognized sound bites Zeldin had used repeatedly that day.

“There was certainly some messaging,” she said. “Until he’s willing to have a real conversation with his constituents, I think that’s literally political theater.”

The event was hosted by Catholics for Freedom of Religion, and President Barbara Samuells said she thought the event went very well.

“People were able to do what the event was intended for,” she said in a phone interview. “They were able to come forward in an open environment and ask questions.”

Samuells said the environment was respectful and calm, unlike other town halls she has seen across the country, and a variety of different issues were discussed. She also commended Zeldin on his directness, saying he answered questions honestly.

Residents wrote on Zeldin’s Facebook page praising him for attending the meetings. Bob Voss, of Mastic, recognized the congressman’s effort.

“Thank you once again for making yourself available to your district constituents and the opportunity to express their concerns whether there is agreement or not on an issue,” he said. “Most important is the knowledge, skill and ability to listen as opposed to talk/yell which may have various motivations. In community forums like these and when [they are] done with mutual dignity and respect much can be accomplished other than shouting.”

But others agreed with Morris, saying the conversation was not as direct as they would have liked.

Nicolle Zeman, who attended the Riverhead town hall, wrote on a Facebook page called Let’s Visit Lee Zeldin, which is comprised of people urging Zeldin to hold town halls. Many are harsh critics of the congressman.

“There was lots of rambling, avoiding answering direct questions and self-serving monologues,” she said. Zeman asked Zeldin about President Donald Trump’s (R) possible tax plan to eliminate the head of household filing status, and said Zeldin instead “rambled,” on about tax reform in general, and when she pressed him on the specific elimination he couldn’t say definitively if he would support the elimination or not.

Zeldin was one of Trump’s first supporters on Long Island, however as of late he seems to be putting some space between himself and the commander-in-chief.

“He did say a couple of times that Trump needs to clean up the way he speaks, that he’s no longer a television host, he’s the president,” she said. “He’s trying to find ways to distance himself from Trump but he’s voting for the Trump agenda.”

Morris acknowledged Zeldin is committed to fighting cuts against the Environmental Protection Agency and funding to the Long Island Sound, which is the opposite stance of Trump, however he “stands strongly with him,” on immigration and financial issues.

FiveThirtyEight, a website focusing on poll analysis and politics, gave Zeldin a 96 percent score for how often he votes in line with the president’s position on house bills. But in the most recent house bill to repeal an FCC rule stopping internet service providers from sharing data of customer’s activities, Zeldin voted no — the opposite of Trump’s position. The bill had almost unanimous Republican support.

Morris also said Zeldin’s staff was helpful after the events, approaching them and getting their contact information to keep them informed.

“They asked us if we would stop protesting, we used the hashtag #WhereIsZeldin, and they said we found him here, there’s no more reason to use it,” Morris said. “But I told them we wouldn’t stop after a one hour moment.”

After the town halls Zeldin said he enjoyed meeting with the people of his district that day.

“It was such a pleasure to meet with so many great constituents at today’s town halls to hear concerns and answer questions,” he said. “At the community forums, we were able to cover a breadth of very important issues, including health care, the environment, foreign policy, economic growth, several local issues, and so much more. I am willing to work with absolutely anyone to move our country forward, no matter what your ideological background is, and I welcome any opportunity to engage in substantive, productive dialogue.”

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