April 16, 2021: by Barbara Weber-Floyd from her blog.
I have learned a great deal about Lee Zeldin over the last few years. While my journey as an activist began in response to Hillary losing the presidential race in 2016, Indivisible taught me that protesting my own Republican member of Congress sends a powerful message. We had a lot to protest with Zeldin. In his first congressional race in 2014, he ran on a platform of lies, hate and fear; Trumpian before Trump was even a candidate. Under President Trump, Zeldin went from bad to worse.
Unfortunately, despite our protests and the attention we brought to his radical right-wing record, Zeldin kept winning. He squeaked by in 2018 despite it being a blue wave year and won again last year, this time by a comfortable 10% margin, even though Biden-Harris won New York with over 60% of the vote.
One of Zeldin’s winning strategies is outlined in my October 29th, 2020 blog post: Two Zeldins. He plays a shell game, hiding his true voting record from the electorate in a fog of fake bipartisanship. Analyzing last year’s loss, it is clear we need to do two things if we are going to defeat him in 2022. First, we need a stronger Democratic candidate, not weakened by a divisive primary, and second, we need a better strategy to expose the Real Zeldin.
After the election, Real Zeldin upped the ante with his embrace of Trump’s Big Lie. He was one of the most vocal GOP voices in the House supporting the conspiracy theory of rampant voter fraud that stole the election from Trump. His social media posts, always divisive, were virulent. Then came January 6th. In my first blog post of 2021, entitled Complicity, I wrote about the blood on Zeldin’s hands.
Zeldin’s shamelessness makes it even more important that we find a way to erase that fake moderate veneer and defeat him once and for all. This district deserves better than Lee Zeldin. Though we will be busy this year campaigning for our local candidates, both East End Action Network (EEAN) and the Southampton Town Democratic Committee (SHDems) have begun discussing initiatives that would keep the pressure on Zeldin. One idea from both is a letter-to-the-editor writing campaign.
Then, last week, Zeldin upended everything with an announcement that he is running for governor. Because of the scandals attached to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, a lot of politicians on both sides of the aisle are eyeing this race. Zeldin has started raising money and is conducting a tour of upstate New York. He does not have to withdraw from running for reelection here yet. Next year’s primary dates for the governor’s and congressional races have not yet been announced but when they are, he will then have to decide which ballot line to be on since you can’t be on two ballot lines at the same time. I have heard he has to decide by next April.
Over the coming weeks, I will be reaching out to many of my sources in the Democratic Party and the grassroots to ask them their thoughts about Zeldin running for governor. What do they think it means, for the governor’s race, for Zeldin and for our district? And just how worried should we be that this radical politician could now climb to higher, statewide office, despite his complicity in the COVID deaths in our district and the insurrection, not to mention his complete absence from any policies or legislation that would have helped us in our district?
To begin, I started with the EEAN leadership team. We held a Zoom meeting to discuss Zeldin, which I recorded. In attendance were Sharon Adams, Rebecca Dolber Ray, Patricia Callan, Cindy Salwen and new member Corinne Bernath. Absent leadership members Syma Gerard, Lisa Marrin and Wendy Turkington emailed me their reactions.
Syma: I can only hope that it’s a wonderful decision on Zeldin’s part. That he loses in the governor’s race and is gone from the House. If both primaries are the same day, I’ve read that he can’t do both.
Lisa: I hope that Cuomo doesn’t run. He is still very popular, but in my opinion, he has been governor long enough. Zeldin is a nightmare. I am hoping he faces a primary (against Guiliani’s son, perhaps) to split the party. At the end of the day, I think we need a strong, popular Democrat and then this whole Zeldin debacle goes away. Who? I don’t know. I am staying minimally involved right now but resting up for the fight.
Wendy: I feel hopeful that Zeldin’s decision to run for governor of New York will enable the Democratic Party to find a terrific candidate to run for CD#1 and we will finally have fair, intelligent, and impassioned representation in Congress. I don’t think the great state of New York will make the mistake of electing a failed, superficial, biased, and minimally informed former Republican representative such as Zeldin to its gubernatorial seat.
Below is a lightly edited and condensed transcript of our conversation. My first question to the group was about the wisdom of a right-wing Republican trying to win statewide in Democratic New York.
Right after Zeldin’s announcement, a grassroots activist posted on Facebook, “this may be the stupidest political decision of all time.” Voter registration in New York is two to one registered Democrats. I had the same reaction and wondered why he would want to lose a race for governor rather than probably win reelection to the House?
Sharon: I don’t think he cares about Long Island anymore. So, what does he have to lose?
Cindy: I think he thinks he can win.
Rebecca: I do, too. When I heard that he was running and I know the statistics and the numbers in New York and that everyone says a Republican can’t win statewide, but after 2016, I believe none of it anymore. I think anybody can win on any given day. This is intuition not based on any set of facts, but I feel that Lee Zeldin is the kind of man who does what he is told. So, if he was told to run for governor, Lee Zeldin is going to run for governor, and I think that he probably is going to have a lot of money behind him. I’ve been told that Republicans fall in line. So, I imagine if Lee Zeldin is running in the primary, it’s because they think Lee Zeldin is going to win. If he didn’t think he could win that primary, he seems like the kind of guy that would not do it.
Corinne: I agree. I come from a family of Republicans and I had six family members last week repost his announcement, and say, “Where do I sign up? What do we need to do to get Lee elected?”
Patricia: They love him.
Rebecca: This is his time. I feel it. I feel that he is the person that could unite enough of them to change the conventional wisdom of New York politics. I also don’t know what’s going on with all these voting machines in New York. Not to get too conspiracy-minded, but there’s a lot going on. I don’t think that we should ever say there’s no way he’s going to win which is what everybody said about Trump.
One thing that scares me is the press attention he has gotten so far, when he made his announcement and on this tour of upstate New York. They are buying into the fake Zeldin. Lazy reporters just took his press releases verbatim, never even mentioning Trump, January 6th and Zeldin’s vote to decertify the presidential election. The exception was the article in The New York Times.
Patricia: That’s why I think he has a shot because there are enough crazies still out there and because the upstate people don’t really know him. If their local press just takes everything he gives them, and we know he claims things that aren’t true, then they can be fooled.
Rebecca: Not to mention that Cuomo is weak right now. If he doesn’t resign and decides to seek out another term…
Patricia: Then Democrats might not vote and then we could be done.
Cindy: I’m even more cynical. I think he views the New York governorship as his stepping-stone to run for President.
Patricia: Yes. I think he has always had higher aspirations. He’s got an inflated ego and being aligned with Trump has only increased that. I could see him going first for governor then trying to go against Gillibrand or Schumer for the Senate, all in preparation for a run for the presidency.
All the more reason why we have to get the word out there about the Real Zeldin.
Rebecca: My first question is what changes for us now that he’s running for governor? Do we just wait? Do we put together a plan to attack him in the primary?
Cindy: I don’t think we should get involved in any way in the Republican primary, except for something like letters-to-the-editor to a newspaper that was so lazy that they didn’t say anything about who he actually is or fact-checked his bio. That might be worthwhile. But I don’t think we should consider trying to stop him getting the nomination.
Patricia: For the governorship or further out here?
Cindy: For the governorship. I don’t want him to be governor, but we vote in our primary, they vote in theirs and then we try to knock him out.
Rebecca: Let the primary play out because we’re not part of it and then if he wins it, then we take up the cause.
Patricia: I don’t feel comfortable just waiting. Maybe there are postcards we could write to people or let them know what Zeldin’s voting record really is, like how bad he’s been for the environment, for women. He’s such a total hypocrite. People need to know this statewide. Who better to tell them than the people he inflicted this pain on?
Rebecca: Well, I would agree with you there and I think that this might be the thing that brings all the grassroots groups together, especially if he wins the nomination. We are going to need a collaborative effort to let the state know how horrible he actually is.
Sharon: Well, going back to our list of original initiatives, we had letters-to-the-editor on our list. It might be a good time now, when we don’t have a lot of other things on our plate, to start writing those letters. We have the resources from groups that have been tracking his voting record. Also, I have a lot of back letters regarding Zeldin from The Southampton Press that I have cut out and saved. Now might be a good time for us to jump on that initiative and each take a turn to do a letter. That would be what Patty was mentioning, letting people know now about how he’s voted or hasn’t voted.
Patricia: Yes. People across the state don’t really know him just like we don’t know their Congress people.
Rebecca: I think people across the state who have been paying attention know Zeldin. But I agree, the average voter probably doesn’t. I think your idea is a good one, Sharon. In fact, what you’re saying is making me think that maybe, in addition to the letter writing, we can do something with video to tell our stories about our experiences with Zeldin. I always tell the story about how before Trump was elected, I moved back to Center Moriches from New York City and Lee Zeldin was running for his first term in Congress. He took up an office in the King Kullen shopping center and I remember thinking, “Oh, who is this guy?” So, I read about him and learned just how horrible he is on gay marriage. Having this person with his main office in my hometown, just made me feel sick and sad.
I wonder if we could do a video-based project where we all tell stories about how this congressman has affected us. Just little snippets that could be passed around on social media. It might even be easier than writing a letter. Even if you don’t have a personal story about Lee Zeldin, you can talk about how it felt to have your congressman give that disgraceful speech on the floor of the House on the same day that the Capital was attacked. We could do a whole campaign about it. “We are not actors. We are constituents of Lee Zeldin.”
I have read about the short, 30-second videos on TikTok and when they go viral, they reach a lot of people, particularly a lot of young people. This video story project would powerfully expose the fake Zeldin that he’s pushing. He is even trying to take credit for the federal funds that saved the Long Island Railroad from further cuts, even though he voted against Biden’s American Rescue Plan.
Patricia: Right. We live in his district; this is who he is.
Cindy: But wouldn’t this be more useful to the general election if he is the candidate?
Rebecca: I agree. It’s a lot to take on now.
Cindy: Besides, who knows how Republican primary voters think? They might think these are good reasons to vote for him! It would probably be like a badge of honor that he’s being attacked so much by these “radicals” or whatever he calls us these days.
Patricia: No, I disagree with that because that’s like saying he is right and we are those radicals when the truth is that he’s the radical. We’re just saying what his voting record is, what he’s done and how he’s made us feel as his constituents. That’s not radical, that’s pretty straightforward.
Rebecca: But you know what? I don’t care what they think, because I’m not trying to change their minds. I think these videos are for new voters. If I was a young person and I saw this it would make me energized to vote. We have been talking about new ways to reach out to younger voters. This may be another way to do that.
What do you think the impact is going to be on the congressional race here in our district if he isn’t running?
Rebecca: Well, my first thought was he leaves a huge hole for a Republican who could be worse than him to run, which could be a good or bad thing. That was my thought.
Cindy: I think it will be a free-for-all on both sides. But at least with a primary on both sides, then we are not as screwed as in the past when there was a contentious primary on our side and an incumbent on the other.