This letter to the editor was published in the East Hampton Star on March 9, 2017.
Thank you for this paper’s coverage of our congressman, Lee Zeldin. It is reassuring to know the press is holding Zeldin accountable, even as he hides from his constituents.
Since Zeldin took office on Jan. 3, his constituents have visited his offices weekly and placed hundreds if not thousands of calls to his offices demanding a public town hall. Those calls have been echoed by many of the First Congressional District’s news organizations, from Smithtown Matters to The Suffolk Times to this newspaper, to name just a few.
Zeldin’s claim that telephone town halls and mobile office hours are more effective ways to respond to his constituents is laughable. During Zeldin’s recent hourlong call with his constituents, he answered the questions (prescreened by his staff) of only 12 callers or less than .13% of the people on the call. In sum, it was a Zeldin monologue, not the “constructive dialogue,” he promised. Zeldin’s mobile office hours held last Friday in Patchogue turned out to be another sham alternative to a town hall. Billed as an opportunity to meet with Zeldin, the event attracted hundreds of constituents. As on the telephone call, aides first screened constituents’ concerns. But after waiting hours many never had a chance to meet with Zeldin. Most were relegated to meeting with his staff. Others left in frustration.
If Zeldin respected his entire district and took seriously his role as a representative in a democracy, he would hold a town hall. In that kind of forum, representatives listen to the unscreened concerns of a large number of constituents, and those constituents have the valuable opportunity to learn what issues are of importance to each other. It is a foundational civic practice dating back to our early settlers.
Zeldin’s fear that a town hall might be disrupted is no justification for his refusal to hold one. First, his claims of aggressive behavior at an East Patchogue rally were grossly exaggerated. Second, as other G.O.P. congressmen have had the courage to face unhappy constituents, why can’t Zeldin? And, finally, if Zeldin is concerned that the crowd won’t observe the proper decorum, he should follow the suggestion made by several grass-roots organizations and ask a neutral third party to moderate.
It’s simple, Congressman Zeldin. You wanted this job. Now do it.
AMY TURNER, Wainscott, East Hampton, NY