A woman worried about losing health insurance for her 6-year-old son with leukemia. A man concerned about the continued legal status of his marriage. A business owner protective of immigrant workers and their families. These were a few of the stories shared by the more than 60 people who gathered outside Rep. Lee Zeldin’s district office in Riverhead this morning, the first day of business for the 115th Congress of the United States.
Zeldin (R-Shirley) was in the nation’s capital, being sworn in and taking his seat representing New York’s First Congressional District, but the constituents who turned up for a demonstration at his Riverhead office came with the message, “You work for us.”
“We are here to remind Lee Zeldin that he represents all of us, diverse constituents with diverse but considerable concerns, from women’s rights to immigration to discrimination to health care,” said organizer Kathryn Quigley of Greenport.
“We are here while Congress — and presumably the congressman — is in D.C taking steps to repeal healthcare for millions of Americans with no alternative plan in sight.
“We are here on the first day Congress reconvenes to remind Mr. Zeldin that he does not have a mandate, that while he may have been re-elected, his seat has been held by both Democrats and Republicans over the years,” she said.
“We are here to share our stories.”
Julie Sheehan of East Quogue spoke of her friend Holly, a Greenport woman whose young son has leukemia. A child care worker, “a vibrant engaged smart knowledgable competent caretaker bumping along at the bottom of the economic scale,” Holly never had health insurance until Obamacare. She couldn’t afford it, Sheehan said — and she’s worried if it’s repealed as promised by the Republican controlled Congress, she won’t be able to afford it again.
“One of the reasons we have the ACA is because small business owners couldn’t afford the kinds of crazy prices insurance companies were charging for policies for small groups,” Sheehan said.
“Obamacare has kept her family together. We say we care about kids, we care about families, we say we’re pro life, then a vote to repeal Obamacare is a vote for death.”
Nursery owner Ann Trimble of Cutchogue described her crew, made up largely of immigrants, as her Trimble family.
“They come to work terrified,” she said. “One of our employees’ daughters, the day after the election was terrified that her father, who had been called a murderer and a rapist, was going to be deported,” she said.
“We are going to fight and stand by our crew,” Trimble said. “The North Fork would tank, would go out of existence, without the immigrant population that works in our industries,” she said.
Trimble said she could “count on one hand” the number of white American men who’ve sought work in her nursery over the past 25 years.
“We need to get it into Zeldin’s head and the new administration that there has to be some serious immigration reform,” Trimble said. “We need to make a pathway for them to make them feel like they’re part of the family, part of the American way.”
Jim Shaw, a Greenport electrician, spoke of the significance being able to get married.
“The LGBT community, as all of us know, have not had an easy time of it,” Shaw said. “We’ve had to scratch and claw and fight for everything that we’ve ever gotten through the government and many in the community are extremely worried that we’re going to lose those rights that we’ve worked so long and so hard and so many have sacrificed so much to achieve,” he said.
“I will not go backwards. I will not go back to 1950 where I had to hide for fear of being beat up, arrested or worse.”
After demonstrating on the sidewalk outside the building at 30 W. Main Street where Zeldin has a satellite office, the group made its way upstairs to speak with the congressman’s district manager, Mark Woolley.
They presented Woolley with a thick stack of letters requesting the congressman to heed their concerns about the preservation of the affordable care act, marriage equality, immigration reform, preserving DACA (deferred action for childhood arrivals), Russian interference with the 2016 elections, President-elect Donald Trump’s “many conflicts of interests,” and Trump’s selection of Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn and several of his announced intended cabinet appointments.
Woolley mostly declined to answer their questions about Zeldin’s positions on various issues. He urged those present to fill out forms posing their questions and asking the congressman to reply.
He assured them that his boss pays attention to his constituents’ concerns and points of view. In November, Zeldin handily won re-elected to a second term with 58 percent of the votes cast, defeating Democratic challenger Anna Throne-Holst.