The 1st Congressional District starts on the East End of Long Island and reaches all the way to denser western Suffolk towns. It includes some of the most expensive real estate in the world, as well as working farms, a major research university and many working-class hamlets stung hard by a lack of opportunity.
It’s a district narrowly won by Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. In 2014, it turned out an incumbent Democrat to elect Lee Zeldin, a Republican.
Zeldin, disappointingly, is not representing it very well, not respecting its diversity of views and people. All too often, he has aligned himself with the most archconservative groups in his party.
In 2015, Zeldin was the only member of New York’s congressional delegation and among the minority in his own party to vote against a bipartisan budget deal. The compromise avoided another shutdown of the federal government like the disastrous 16-day event in 2013.
The first-term congressman showed the same poor judgment last year in his intransigence over funding for the Department of Homeland Security. After a three-month showdown with by Republican hard-liners who wanted to hold the funding hostage to fight Obama on immigration issues, and with just four days left before the anti-terrorism agency would have been shut down, the House of Representatives finally approved a $40 billion appropriation.
Rep. Peter King, whose district abuts the 1st Congressional District, was critical of fellow Republicans like Zeldin at the time. “This involves human lives, and this is too risky a game to be playing here,” King said. “This is no way to run a government.”
Zeldin 36, from Shirley, also cast votes that would stop federal money from being sent to local governments to buy cameras to collect license-plate data, a tool in the growing fight against gangs and terrorists. In 2015, he supported a GOP conference budget report that cut money for Pell education grants, housing programs for low-income earners and food stamps.
Zeldin signed on as a co-sponsor of the First Amendment Defense Act, a show horse of a bill criticized even on the right as overly broad and vague. It was designed to protect those who cite religious beliefs as a reason to deny services to same-sex couples, but it didn’t end there. The bill also would give legal protection to those who believe that sexual relations are properly reserved to a marriage between a man and woman. It would deny housing to an unmarried, pregnant woman, for example, or bed-and-breakfast accommodations to an unmarried couple.
A pragmatic approach
This year, voters have a terrific choice in Anna Throne-Holst, the former Southampton supervisor and town board member who over eight years stabilized town finances and corrected its mismanagement.
Throne-Holst, a Democrat, has deep and broad command of issues that makes her the most knowledgeable challenger the editorial board has seen in any race in years. She has a master’s degree in international affairs and training in social work and education. She is not an ideologue, and she takes a pragmatic, bipartisan approach to problem-solving. Her reason for going to Washington is not to stop it from working, but to find ways to make it work better.
Throne-Holst, 56, of Sag Harbor, has a sensible take on overhauling immigration laws, understanding that it will require a compromise with a mix of border security, visa reforms, and a way to bring those living in the shadows into legal status.
Zeldin, on the other hand, rejects a comprehensive plan, preferring a piecemeal approach that will continue the stalemate.
Throne-Holst, who has an outstanding local record on the environment, is concerned about rising sea levels that are a danger to the livelihood and fortunes of a vast swath of her district. She promises to join the House bipartisan caucus on climate change that was formed earlier this year.
Zeldin, who supported measures to protect the fossil-fuel industry, doesn’t acknowledge climate change is occurring, although he does concede that “humans can do a better job” of protecting the environment.
We disagreed with Zeldin on many issues in 2014, but we endorsed him as a fresh, independent voice who would put aside ideology and give the region another voice in the majority party. And he did that by passing a law that starts the process of protecting Plum Island from development.
More significant, he impressed us as someone who would be fearless in speaking out, not someone who calculates every word and seems phobic about taking a public position until he can calculate how it will play with voters. Unfortunately, he has not lived up to that promise.
The only way to end the dysfunction in Congress is to stop sending to Washington those who make it so.
Newsday endorses Throne-Holst.