On election night 2016, Republican Suffolk County Chairman John Jay LaValle praised Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) by saying he had gone to Washington, D.C., and become “a national TV star.”
It was fitting praise, considering the direction politics has taken under President Trump. It’s all about ratings.
As much as Mr. Zeldin may enjoy his cameos on Fox News, however, the job of a congressman isn’t to become a TV star. It’s to represent the people of the district. And we need that now more than ever.
In seeking a third term to represent the 1st Congressional District, Mr. Zeldin, 38, is opposed by Democratic challenger Perry Gershon, 56, of East Hampton, who’s making his first run for public office.
The race comes at a pivotal time in our nation, as Democrats seek to regain control of the House and restore some balance to the GOP-controlled government. Mr. Zeldin won re-election easily in 2016, but this year’s race is shaping up to be tighter — it would be naive to think Mr. Zeldin’s steadfast support of President Trump isn’t a key factor. In a district that seems to favor a more moderate representative, Mr. Zeldin’s views and actions sway far to the right, more so than most voters likely realized in the past two elections.
On local issues, Mr. Zeldin says he believes the undeveloped portion of Plum Island should remain that way — and we agree with that. But for all the press releases and announcements, Plum Island remains up for sale as of this writing.
We can also give credit to Mr. Zeldin for recent legislation that will require the FAA to reassess the North Shore route for aircraft. But there’s no guarantee the FAA will listen to anyone’s concerns and change a thing.
These accomplishments add up to mere promises. And they’re positions that any congressman representing this district would take, Republican or Democrat.
Promises alone can’t boost Mr. Zeldin enough for Shelter Island voters to ignore his record on the national level. Whether it’s immigration, health care, the environment or gun laws, Mr. Zeldin’s record is alarming and should deeply concern voters. He follows the president’s lead in using fear to rally voters, such as the threat of MS-13 when it comes to immigration.
He issued a statement in 2017 using the murder of a Greenport woman as reason to back “Kate’s Law,” an anti-immigration policy. It’s unclear whether the law, as written, would actually have prevented that incident. But Mr. Zeldin still pushed the idea, fueling the notion that immigrants are only coming here to harm us.
Mr. Zeldin’s environmental voting record is particularly troubling considering the area he represents. He has done the work to secure necessary funding for the Long Island Sound and National Estuary programs. But when it comes to issues beyond his hometown, the environment becomes less and less a priority.
The League of Conservation Voters, which has been grading officials since 1970, has given Mr. Zeldin a 10 percent lifetime score. Mr. Zeldin dismisses the score, saying the LCV is a partisan group.
He agreed with the president’s decision to leave the Paris climate agreement, a landmark effort among nations to combat climate change. Mr. Zeldin said he would be open to negotiating a better agreement for the U.S., but when asked if that’s currently happening, he said no. And he continues to stand by as the EPA is gutted by the Trump administration.
The congressman’s strong rating from the NRA has been well documented by his critics. Mr. Zeldin argues that citizens have a right to own firearms to protect themselves. But when he says that he would even support teachers arming themselves in classrooms, if they so choose and are qualified to handle a weapon, it becomes clear he will never champion any common-sense gun legislation.
Just this past week, the nation mourned another horrific tragedy. The mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 people dead understandably dominated the news. But consider this: On that day alone, an additional 31 people died by gunfire across America.
Too many of our elected officials are willing to accept that kind of bloodshed. On many of these key issues, Mr. Gershon advocates a sensible approach that even moderate Republicans should support. He’s made health care a key campaign issue and will work to strengthen the Affordable Care Act, while Mr. Zeldin has spent his time in office trying to repeal it.
We’re long past the point where we need to hear Republicans harp on how devastating the law will be. We need elected officials who will try to improve what is already in place.
Perry Gershon promises to focus on environmental issues and will vote in favor of climate change protections. He promises to protect women’s health care rights. He promises to push for common-sense gun laws, such as mandatory background checks. He’s willing to talk about immigration reform without jumping to extreme measures such as abolishing ICE.
Mr. Gershon smartly chose to focus his campaign on local issues, rather than try to circle everything back to the myriad controversies the president has sparked. But these are far from normal times, with a celebrity president who continues to let down the nation with lies and angry rhetoric. We need a congressman who will stand up to that. Not just another TV star.
That is why the Reporter endorses Mr. Gershon.
ASSEMBLY AND STATE SENATE
In the race for Assembly, the Reporter endorses Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) and for state senate, Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson.