A Professor Eyes Congress

Nancy Goroff, a professor and chairwoman of Stony Brook University’s chemistry department, will make a final decision in July as to whether to seek the Democratic Party's nomination to challenge challenge Representative Lee Zeldin. Crown Street Productions

Perry Gershon, the only declared candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination to challenge Representative Lee Zeldin in New York’s First Congressional District next year, may soon have a challenger of his own. Nancy Goroff, a professor and chairwoman of Stony Brook University’s chemistry department, told The Star this week that she will soon decide whether to seek the party’s nomination. 

“I am preparing to be a candidate,” she said on Monday. “I have not decided yet, but I will make a final decision in July.” Ms. Goroff, a Chicago native who has lived in the district for 22 years, plans to take a leave of absence from Stony Brook at the end of this month. 

Ms. Goroff said that she had considered a bid for Congress in the past, but not as seriously as she is now. “I’ve been very involved with issues advocacy for quite a while,” she said, pointing to her position on the Union of Concerned Scientists’ National Advisory Board and activism with J Street, a nonprofit group advocating a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict though diplomacy. “But I guess I’ve gotten to the point where I feel I need to move my involvement to the next level.” 

Last year’s Democratic primary race included a scientist, Elaine DiMasi, a physicist who worked at Brookhaven National Laboratory. She fared poorly, finishing last among five candidates, but “different scientists come with different skills,” Ms. Goroff said. “People ask, how do you get from chemistry to Congress, and the answer is that the skills I use in leading the chemistry department are the same that we need in Congress now: being able to solve complex problems, building consensus, advocating for the people I represent. I’ve had a lot of leadership positions at the university, and I think those skills have served me well and will continue to.”  

Her assessment of Mr. Zeldin’s tenure in Congress resembles that of Mr. Gershon. The congressman, she said, “is not representing his constituents. He hasn’t held a town hall meeting in, I don’t know how long. Instead of actually listening to his constituents and representing many different concerns, he is choosing to spend his time tweeting about somebody from Minnesota.” 

The reference was to Representative Ilhan Omar, one of two Muslim women elected to Congress last year whom Mr. Zeldin has harshly criticized, via Twitter, for statements deemed anti-Semitic. 

“I find a lot of parts of his record troubling,” Ms. Goroff said of Mr. Zeldin. “I’m certainly concerned about his lack of action, when his party was in the majority, to prevent the limit on the SALT deduction,” a provision in the Republican Party’s 2017 tax overhaul capping the state and local tax deduction at $10,000, which negatively affects residents of states with high income taxes, including New York. 

“He was for it before he was against it,” she charged. “He did vote against it at the end, when they didn’t need his vote, but he didn’t do anything to change that. He voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act multiple times without anything to replace it, and has done nothing to try to stabilize it now, when people are depending on it. That’s troubling.”

“In general,” she said, “I see him not acting, not trying to solve problems. He says he’s for doing something about climate change, but he hasn’t actually done something about it.” For First Congressional District residents especially, she said, “it’s a real concern.” 

“When I talk to people,” she said, “what I hear most is they’re worried about financial security. Are they going to be able to live here? Are their children going to be able to raise their children here? Health care is certainly a concern. Health care is directly related to financial security as well.” 

The First District race will not be about national leadership, Ms. Goroff said, “but I think Zeldin is taking his cues from the president, in tweeting instead of governing. He’s fomenting division instead of looking for ways to solve problems.”

Should she decide to run, “I will certainly be prepared to do all the work necessary to be successful,” Ms. Goroff said. “I believe I’m well positioned to do that.” 

Mr. Gershon, who lives in East Hampton, lost to Mr. Zeldin by four percentage points in his first political campaign last year, a year that saw Democrats gain 40 seats and reclaim a majority in the House of Representatives. He announced his intention to seek the Democrats’ 2020 nomination again last month. 

“We came extremely close,” he told The Star upon making that announcement. “This is a district where very frequently Democrats who run for Congress don’t win their first time, but come back and win the second time,” he said, citing Otis Pike and George Hochbrueckner. The National Republican Congressional Committee has included Mr. Zeldin on its list of incumbents expected to face tough re-election campaigns. 

Mr. Zeldin defeated Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst by 16 points in 2016, and he unseated Representative Tim Bishop in 2014, besting the six-term incumbent by nine percentage points.