Will what is being called the “Trump Factor” — a negative view of the Republican candidate for president that could affect GOP candidates down the ballot— impact in Suffolk on Congressman Lee Zeldin? Zeldin, who represents Riverhead and Southold Towns, is an ardent supporter of Trump, indeed prominent nationally for this.
Election Day eight weeks away (thankfully) will tell the tale. But Anna Throne-Holst, the Democratic candidate in the First Congressional District, has been emphasizing the close link between the two.
The First CD, in addition to Riverhead and Southold, covers all the other East End towns, too — Southampton, Shelter Island and East Hampton — and all of Brookhaven and a piece of Islip Town. It was first represented by William Floyd of Mastic Beach, who fought in the Revolutionary War and signed the Declaration of Independence.
It is regarded as a “swing” district. Going back a little over 50 years, Otis G. Pike of Riverhead, starting in 1961 held the First CD seat for 18 years. Pike began in politics in Suffolk as a Stevensonian Democrat, a follower of the cerebral and liberal former Illinois governor and presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson.
He was followed by other Democrats — George Hochbrueckner of Coram (and now residing in Laurel) and Tim Bishop of Southampton— along with Republicans Felix Grucci of Bellport and Mike Forbes of Quogue. And the seat was also held by a Conservative (the only one in the House), William Carney of Hauppauge. Carney received GOP cross-endorsement to run for Congress in a 1978 deal in which Republican Perry B. Duryea Jr. of Montauk, a State Assembly speaker, got the Conservative line for a (losing) bid for governor.
Zeldin of Shirley, who was a state senator, is in his first term.
Throne-Holst of Noyac, former three-term supervisor of Southampton Town, has been criticizing Zeldin for what she terms his “cozy” relationship with Trump. She speaks of the two having a “mutual admiration society.” Throne-Holst has charged that “there is no line Lee Zeldin won’t cross trying to hold on to his seat including throwing his support behind a racist misogynist because he thinks it will help his political career.”
Trump in 2014 personally contributed $2,000 to the Zeldin campaign for Congress and in a robocall declared Zeldin “a terrific guy” and “very conservative.”
Zeldin remains active in publicly supporting Trump despite Throne-Holst calling on him to denounce the presidential candidates for his various statements.
Zeldin made national news when he was questioned on CNN about Trump criticizing the judge overseeing the Trump University fraud case because, Trump said, “…he’s a Mexican. We’re building a wall between here and Mexico.” Zeldin was pressed by the CNN anchors on whether this Trump comment about the U.S-born judge of Mexican ancestry was racist. Zeldin responded that “there’s a whole lot more to define everyone, but you can easily argue that the president of the United States is a racist with his policies and his rhetoric.”
Zeldin has said that Trump “would annihilate” Democrat Hillary Clinton in the district.
Clinton has a personal link to Suffolk in that former East Hampton town supervisor Judith Hope, when she was New York Democratic chair, was the person who encouraged Clinton to run for senator from New York, her entry into elective politics. They are close friends. Will Hope, Long Island’s first woman town supervisor, be key to who could become the first U.S. woman president?
“Long Island Is Both Hostile Territory and Fertile Ground for Donald Trump” was the headline of an April article in The New York Times. It spoke of “potential Trump stronghold … along Long Island’s south shore, where blue-collar towns still bear scars from the Great Recession” and “parts of Long Island” are “ripe territory for Mr. Trump’s attacks on illegal immigration.” Still, the story ended with a Republican Suffolk business executive saying he was a “not-Trump voter,” that he wanted someone “levelheaded.”
Suffolk GOP Chairman John Jay LaValle, like Zeldin, has lauded Mr. Trump. In an April article in The New Yorker — headed “Donald Trump in Patchogue” about a Trump rally that drew 1,300 people — LaValle exclaimed: “He’s the single most important candidate to run in modern history.”
A measure of the wide swings in the First CD was Conservative Carney staying on for eight years after succeeding Pike. To be watched: the changing demographics of the First CD. It now has a large Latino population in addition to a good number of African-Americans, and they, like most women in the U.S. as reflected in polls, are especially negative towards Trump. Much of the First CD’s voting base is educated, also considered not a good pool for the Republican nominee. Democratic enrollment has grown and President Obama carried the First C.D. in 2012. The non-partisan Cook Political Report recently judged the race between Throne-Holst and Zeldin a “toss-up.”
Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books. Grossman and his wife Janet live in Sag Harbor.
Suffolk Closeup is a syndicated opinion column on issues of concern to Suffolk County residents.
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