For Viloria-Fisher, Immigration Is Priority

Former county legislator has a long history of activism
Vivian Viloria-Fisher Christopher Walsh

For a time, Suffolk County was ground zero for immigrant issues, Vivian Viloria-Fisher told the audience at a Democratic congressional candidates forum in January. 

“We need to fulfill the promise that we made to young people” with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, she said that day. “The rug has been pulled out from under them by Donald Trump, and Lee Zeldin has not done anything to make their lives whole again,” she said. “We must have a comprehensive immigration policy because we can’t continue to have 12 million people, maybe more, living in the shadows.” 

An immigrant herself, Ms. Viloria-Fisher, a former Suffolk County legislator, is one of five candidates vying for the Democratic Party’s nomination to challenge Mr. Zeldin, the Republican incumbent who is seeking a third term representing New York’s First Congressional District. A sixth, Brendon Henry, dropped out of the race last week.

Immigration reform is important, she said, and is among a range of issues she raised this week, along with a long list of examples that, she said, demonstrate Mr. Zeldin’s failure to represent his constituents. 

“I had always been involved in community activities, from the time I was very young,” said Ms. Viloria-Fisher, who lives in East Setauket. “In those days, it wasn’t something you put on your resume; you just did it because you did it. I continue to be very involved with the community.” 

That involvement includes 13 years in the Legislature — “I won seven races in order to do that,” she said — and more than 30 as an educator. “I’m the only one,” she said, “who’s lived in the district for almost 50 years. My legislative base is the base that would be very active Democratic voters.” 

As a small child, she left the Dominican Republic with her family. Her father, she said, had spoken out against the country’s dictator, Rafael Trujillo, and was therefore in mortal danger. After the family settled in New York City, she went to Stony Brook University to earn a master’s degree, and while there she was hired by the Middle Country Central School District. 

While teaching Sunday school, she came to know Legislator Nora Bredes, whose son was a student. “She had to leave her post,” Ms. Viloria-Fisher said, “and asked me to run. I’d never been in politics, but she said, ‘It’s obvious how committed you are to the community.’ ” In the Legislature, “the environment and social justice issues were important to me,” she said. Unable to continue because of term limits, she turned to volunteering, including with Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic, the March of Dimes, the Food Policy Council, and as a teacher of English as a second language. 

Mr. Zeldin, she said, “seems to be tacking farther and farther to the right.” She noted his scores awarded by the League of Conservation Voters of 9 percent for 2017 and 10 percent lifetime. 

“People on Long Island care about our environment,” she said. “We stand on the water we drink and have to be protective about it. Although he’ll make noise about saving Plum Island, in the meantime he’s rubber-stamping” the Trump administration’s moves “to deregulate all protections we have for rivers, waterways. He thinks that Pruitt” — Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency’s administrator — “is as terrific as Trump thinks he is.” 

Ms. Viloria-Fisher also called out the congressman’s “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, “and he is one of the biggest receivers of their bounty,” she said. Most of the First District’s residents, she said, understand that “we have to move toward sensible safety for our kids,” particularly in light of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in February. “I haven’t met one person who thought it was a good idea to arm teachers with weapons, to have armed police officers in a building,” she said. “But we do have to look at these AR-15s, bump stocks, background checks.” 

Mr. Zeldin, she said, “is so extreme he wants reciprocity,” a reference to the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which would allow a person with a concealed carry permit from one state to carry a firearm in any other state and on any federal land. Mr. Zeldin co-sponsored the legislation, which passed in the House and was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Should it become law, “it will really invalidate our New York SAFE Act,” she said of the state’s Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, a gun regulation law enacted after the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. “We’ll lose control of our safety in New York.” 

“I want to see sensible gun laws passed,” she said, “and I think we will when we get a Democratic majority. I want to be part of that blue wave and make this happen.” 

Like several of her rivals for the nomination, Ms. Viloria-Fisher decried the appearance of Stephen Bannon, formerly of the Trump campaign and administration, at a December fund-raiser for Mr. Zeldin in Manhattan. That, she said, demonstrated the congressman’s “utter contempt for the people that he’s supposed to be representing and his utter and complete loyalty to the president, to the exclusion of the duties that Zeldin has as a congressional representative to be someone who represents checks and balances.”

Ms. Viloria-Fisher called for a repeal of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act “that Paul Ryan is so proud of, which is going to hurt the middle class and widen the huge gap between the poorest and richest in our country. It’s creating an oligarchy here. It’s totally out of line with what a Democracy should be about.”

In Congress, “I want to give people opportunities, to foster the basic values of the Democratic Party,” she said, “which is fairness and providing an equal playing field for all of us.” 

She can defeat her rivals and Mr. Zeldin “because I have a large base,” she said. “I’m known not only as a legislator but as a teacher, a parent, a person who’s devoted my entire life to this community, being part of the grain and fabric of the community.” 

“I have the electability, a proven record,” she said. “There is not one progressive position I can’t prove I have already acted upon. That’s why I’m going to beat Lee Zeldin.”

This is part of a series of profiles of Dem­ocrats vying to challenge Lee Zeldin in the lead-up to the June 26 Democratic primary.