Dozens Press Zeldin on His Agenda

Protesters seek answers on health care, immigration
Constituents rallied outside Representative Lee Zeldin’s office in Riverhead on Tuesday. Kathryn Casey Quigley

As the 115th Congress was sworn in Tuesday morning, more than 60 voters from the North and South Forks visited the Riverhead office of Representative Lee Zeldin, who was re-elected in November to serve a second term. Their message was one of “extreme concerns” regarding the incoming administration of Donald Trump as well as Congress.

During his successful campaign against former Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, Mr. Zeldin, a Republican, was a consistent supporter of Mr. Trump. On Tuesday, some of his constituents in New York’s First Congressional District presented letters outlining their opposition to many of Mr. Trump’s cabinet picks and his stated positions on health care, immigration, climate change, conflicts of interest, racism, and discrimination.

“We are here not as disgruntled voters, nor extremists, nor sore losers,” Kathryn Casey Quigley, who lives in Greenport, told the gathering. “We are here as concerned constituents. We are here to remind Lee Zeldin that he represents all of us, diverse constituents with diverse but considerable concerns, from women’s rights to immigration to discrimination to health care.”

In preparation for the event, Ms. Quigley and like-minded constituents drafted a letter to Mr. Zeldin, and all who visited his office on Tuesday delivered a copy, or one they had customized, she said. They also formed a Facebook group called Let’s Visit Lee Zeldin and launched a petition at the website change.org that had 150 signatures as of noon yesterday.

The informal group does not have a name, Ms. Quigley said after the event. “We just got organized, sent an email to some contacts, and it grew from there.” The efforts were part of a nationwide coordinated action by the organization Rebuild the Hope.

Outside Mr. Zeldin’s office, three of his constituents spoke about health care, immigration, and L.B.G.T.Q. rights. Afterward, they discussed their concerns with Mark Woolley, the representative’s district director, for about 40 minutes. Participants asked that Mr. Zeldin support investigations into Russian interference in the election and the proliferation of fake news, call on Mr. Trump to divest of his business interests, oppose legislation that would threaten undocumented immigrants, speak out against hateful actions and speech, oppose discriminatory legislation and many of Mr. Trump’s proposed appointees, and preserve the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare.

“I went to try and make sure Congressman Zeldin hears that there are opposing opinions within this district,” said Robert Brody, who lives in East Hampton. “The main reason I went was because of the Republican agenda,” which Mr. Brody, a senior citizen, believes will include substantial cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Beyond that personal stake, “there’s a moral stake as well,” he said. “Many, many people were there because of the threat, or reality, of canceling the Affordable Care Act without any real replacement.”

“We talked a lot about health care,” Ms. Quigley agreed, pointing out that the Republican majority in the House has signaled that repeal of the A.C.A. is a priority. At Mr. Zeldin’s office, she said, there was a “lack of clarity as to the congressman’s position. He’s seemed to indicate that he was in favor of a replacement, but didn’t say how that will take shape or what it will be.”

“He was very polite,” Mr. Brody said of Mr. Woolley. “He didn’t really give any answers. A lot of spin.”

Julie Sheehan, who lives in East Quogue, delivered a letter about a friend who lives in Greenport whose child has leukemia. Her friend works in child care and earns low wages, she said. “Vote to save this boy’s life,” her letter read. “Vote to keep the Affordable Care Act, so that he can continue to receive treatment. Vote to keep Medicaid and other safety-net programs intact, because if you destroy them, you destroy his mom’s access to health care, housing, and food, and undermine his whole support system.”

Jennifer DiSiena, Mr. Zeldin’s communications director, responded to an inquiry about the representative’s position on the A.C.A. with a statement yesterday. “Congressman Zeldin supports repealing and replacing Obamacare,” the statement begins. “Obamacare has been nothing short of a disaster for countless hard-working families and our economy. The flaws in this health care system have resulted in higher premiums, higher deductibles, lost doctors, and canceled policies, among many other challenges. With the collapse of Health Republic in New York, which left over 200,000 individuals and businesses in New York without insurance coverage unexpectedly, as well as the collapse of dozens of other co-ops across the country, it has become increasingly clear to both Democrats and Republicans that this law is deeply flawed.”

The statement goes on to say that under Mr. Trump, “we can repeal and replace Obamacare with a system that will work better and make health care costs affordable, relieving taxpayers of the financial burdens under this failed policy, and give patients more choices, while still continuing to cover Americans with pre-existing conditions and allowing children to stay on their parents’ policy.”

Betty Mazur, vice chairwoman of the East Hampton Democrats, held a sign asking Mr. Zeldin to oppose Mr. Trump’s pick of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. Pruitt, whom The New York Times has described as a climate change denier, must be confirmed by the Senate.

“Even though he doesn’t get to vote on the appointments, he can make his opinion known,” Ms. Mazur said of Mr. Zeldin. “Anyone representing the First District should not be a climate change denier in this particularly vulnerable area of our little planet.”

“It was a very earnest and articulate group,” Ms. Mazur, who lives in Amagansett, said of Tuesday’s gathering, “and this will be the first of many visits, I’m sure.”

“They made room for all of us and listened as everyone voiced their concerns,” Ms. Quigley said. “However, we would have liked to hear a little bit more substance and specifics with respect to the answers,” which she called “pretty vague.”

“We were really, really thrilled by the number of people that showed up on a rainy Tuesday morning,” said Eileen Duffy, another of the event’s organizers. Ms. Duffy, who lives in Quogue, campaigned for Ms. Throne-Holst. “I didn’t think somebody who could be a Trump supporter would be a good face for our district,” she said of Mr. Zeldin. “But we want to make sure that our voices are heard, as we are his constituents as well.”

Her next task, Ms. Duffy said, is to organize a town hall-style meeting with Mr. Zeldin. “If we could get 60 people on a Tuesday morning, I think we could fill an auditorium or a gym,” she said.