Codger Column: Going after Lee Z.

Congressman Lee Zeldin
Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley)

Because he thinks he has been poorly represented in Congress and the actions of the federal government have enormous impact on the future of the Island, Codger made the journey to the Dark Side last week to check out the Democrats who want Lee Zeldin’s job.

They turned out to be an entertaining lot, at the least preferable to the elusive Republican incumbent; none of them would welcome short-term renters legally sneaking guns into Bucks’ games, the Mashomack Preserve or the Fire Department’s Chicken BBQ.

This Zeldin, of course, is a proud co-conspirator of the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act that would allow licensed gun owners from any state to bring their weapons to any other state, regardless of local laws.

As Zeldin explained, it was a “common sense measure on behalf of law-abiding Americans everywhere looking to responsibly exercise their constitutional right to protect themselves, their families and property.”

Common sense?

That a touron from, say, Vermont or Arizona, can pack heat here?

At first, Codger thought he had been wrong about Zeldin, that the lawyer from Shirley was secretly a brilliant satirist. This bill, which has already passed the House, could only be a prank against the NRA, like, um, the state of Iowa granting gun licenses to blind people. That would be funny, too, right?

Codger digresses.

So there he was in St. Michael’s Lutheran church in Amagansett last week, listening to Democratic job seekers who need petitions signed before the April 12 filing deadline so they can be on the primary ballot on June 26. To help himself sort them out, Codger arranged the six candidates into three groups — the well known, the unknown and the interesting dark horses.

The least known, bartender Brendon Henry, 36, didn’t even show up. In his place, campaign worker Kyle Cranston disclosed that Brendon knew everybody, that everybody loved Brendon and that his knowledge of working people had been enhanced by offering a sympathetic shoulder to so many of them in their cups.

His fellow unknown, Perry Gershon, 55, who lends money to commercial real estate businesses, has lent $400,000 to his own campaign, part of the million dollars he has already raised. Gershon sees Zeldin as a Trumpish “extremist” and equates Trump rallies with Hitler rallies. That seemed too much.

Codger found the two dark horses wonkishly attractive. Elaine DiMasi, 48, who calls herself a “scientist for Congress,” is a physicist who worked for more than 20 years at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. She said that Zeldin “doesn’t understand the environment,” which may be factual and that “facts have final say,” which sounds overly optimistic these days.

David Pechefsky, 49, is a former New York City Council staffer with particular expertise in housing and transportation, and has been a consultant to various African governments.

He impressed Codger as the most intensely earnest of the candidates, yet Codger wondered how his message of fairness, inclusion and the need to give young people authentic hope would play in a district that gave Zeldin 58.22 of the vote in 2016, while giving Trump 52.77.

Both of the best known contenders were women, immigrants and former Suffolk County legislators. They were the most polished campaigners of the evening.
Codger had seen Kate Browning, 57, before at a recent Shelter Island meet and greet.

Funny and forceful, she emphasized her blue-collar, outsider roots almost to the edge of divisiveness; she grew up Catholic in Belfast during “the troubles,” and once here, organized a school bus drivers’ union.

When the incumbent legislator refused to support the union, she successfully went after his job.

She has claimed that Zeldin was a schoolboy passenger whom she didn’t need to kick off her bus “but I’m going to kick him out of Congress.” Browning seems to be the favorite of the national Democratic establishment as one of 12 congressional candidates picked to share the proceeds of a recent $900,000 fund-raiser, with more to come.

For Codger, the most engaging of the candidates was Vivian Viloria-Fisher, 69, a retired school teacher who arrived here as a baby when her family fled the Dominican Republic’s dictator, Rafael Trujillo. Speaking with passion through the “lenses of families” she met as a teacher, she attacked the fear-mongering directed toward other immigrants and the betrayal of the Dreamers, and echoed the other five candidates in supporting tax reform, universal health care, participation in the Paris Agreement, pro choice and campaign finance reform.

Codger has not signed a petition yet, wavering between supporting his pick for the job and the one most likely to beat Zeldin.

Health, safety and environmental concerns are no abstractions with toxic wells in the Center, the shaky funding of Meals on Wheels and the danger of school shootings.

The stakes seem higher than ever.