As far as I’m concerned, the trouble with our congressman, Lee Zeldin, is that he doesn’t come up for re-election again until 2020.
In 2016, he defeated Anna Throne-Holst, his Democratic challenger, by a whopping 16.4 percent. That margin was quite an achievement, certainly, but it seems he was, to some extent, riding on Donald Trump’s coattails in that election year. In 2018, Representative Zeldin was elected to a third term, but it was by a much narrower margin, only 4.1 percent, and his opponent that time was the little-known and untried Perry Gershon (“Park Avenue Perry,” as Mr. Zeldin liked to call him).
For the last three years, Mr. Zeldin has hitched himself to the star called Trump, cheering nearly all the president’s moves from the sidelines like an eager wingman. He is an affable man, I’m told, and we would certainly be foolish to count him out for 2020, but it is not irrelevant to his future fortunes that the president’s most recent “disapproval rating‚” — in an average of five nationwide polls — was 53.5 percent.
Mr. Zeldin is good at playing to his crowd. He knows how to make popular moves, as is evidenced by his actions on veterans affairs, counterterrorism, and transportation. He also supports the preservation of Plum Island, which his constituents like. So far, so good. But (as Alec Baldwin likes to say) here’s the thing: Mr. Zeldin does not share his constituents’ opinions on some very crucial issues.
Consider his antediluvian opinions of immigrants, for example. He has asked Attorney General William Barr to ask the Justice Department to review, with the goal of eliminating, New York State’s Green Light Law, which allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses (thus putting in place mandatory driving tests and eyesight tests, to make sure they are a safe presence on our roads).
The First Congressional District Mr. Zeldin represents is huge. It includes most of central and eastern Suffolk County, including all of East Hampton, Shelter Island, and Southampton, where immigrants are a vital part of the community. Everyone on the East End knows that immigrants do not take jobs away from deserving locals. Everyone here knows our healthy resort economy depends on them.
Similarly, Mr. Zeldin is very gung-ho about the shore-hardening work of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A less popular position would be hard to find here on the South Fork.
He has voted against same-sex marriage, and for the expansion of the right to carry concealed weapons across the country.
And he is no environmentalist, having voted against protections for everything from gray wolves to clean water, and voting for laws that slashed investment in renewable energy.
It will be interesting to see how long Mr. Zeldin continues to parrot the White House’s mandated talking points, as things turn ever darker and stranger in the house of Trump.
Here at home, it has always been a tradition that how East Hampton politicians align themselves in matters of national politics doesn’t really matter so much. This is a good thing: Knowledge of the town and competence matter much more on the small-town scene than adherence to any nationwide litmus test. We do not like our local politicians to kowtow.