Kate Browning Is Backyard Challenger

A ‘stubborn’ veteran of Legislature from Shirley
Kate Browning Durell Godfrey

“I fight, I’m stubborn,” Kate Browning told those attending a congressional candidates forum at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Amagansett last month. “I never give up, I never back down. That’s why I can beat Lee Zeldin.” 

Ms. Browning, who represented the Third District in the Suffolk County Legislature for 12 years, is one of five candidates seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination to challenge Mr. Zeldin to represent New York’s First Congressional District. Mr. Zeldin, a Republican, is seeking a third term. 

A native of Belfast, Northern Ireland, Ms. Browning said that her consistent electoral success in the Republican-leaning Third District bodes well for her congressional bid. “My focus was always to make sure I deliver for my district and do what’s right by my constituency,” she said this week. “I won in a very Republican district with no less than 57 percent. That shows the people in the district appreciated and supported what I’ve been doing over the past 12 years.”

Mr. Zeldin “has been absent, has not really represented the district,” she said. 

As a legislator, she secured funding to install the ShotSpotter gun detection system, a technology that relies on sound equipment to pinpoint the origin of gunfire, in several communities. ShotSpotter, she said, “helps reduce the amount of gunfire in a community but also helps law enforcement be able to go directly to where an incident occurs. It helps response time. It can help save a life.”

“I have a good record on doing what’s needed when it comes to gun safety,” Ms. Browning said. “Lee Zeldin certainly has not. When you get an ‘A’ rating from the National Rifle Association, you’re not being responsive to issues of your constituency.”

“This is not an attack on the Second Amendment,” Ms. Browning, whose husband is a detective in the New York Police Department, said. “It’s about gun safety.”

Like most of her competitors for the Democratic nomination, she noted Mr. Zeldin’s co-sponsorship of 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. “This was a bill that law enforcement across the nation said they’re adamantly opposed to. He chose to support the N.R.A.’s position on this. . . . In my opinion, by supporting something like this, he puts people like my husband and his colleagues in danger. Concealed carry puts our residents in danger, but also puts law enforcement in a lot of danger.” 

Ms. Browning cited her work in the Legislature to preserve more than 1,000 acres of open space, and to secure $189 million in federal and state money for a   new sewer district in Mastic and Shirley, as proof of her commitment to environmental conservation and clean water. “Lee Zeldin has been nowhere on this issue,” she charged. “This is a very important issue for all of us here on Long Island.” 

In Congress, “I want to represent the working families, not the wealthy special interests,” Ms. Browning said. “We need to fight and repeal the Republican tax plan.” Health care is another focus, she said. “There’s certainly people in Suffolk County who are struggling to keep and maintain health care. When I meet many senior citizens who tell me they’re cutting their pills, they can’t afford their prescriptions, or to pay for bills and the roof over their head, there’s something seriously wrong. We need to have a good health care but one that everybody can afford. Health care is a right, not a privilege.” 

She also said that protecting a woman’s right to choose is very important. “So many single moms are so dependent on Planned Parenthood in many places across the country,” she said. “We can’t take that away from them.” She is also concerned about protecting the L.G.B.T. community, she said. “The Supreme Court could take away marriage equality. It’s time to secure that for the L.G.B.T. community on the federal level.” 

Ms. Browning and her husband settled in Shirley, where Mr. Zeldin lives, in 1989. “I’m certainly going to be able to pull voters from Lee Zeldin,” she said. “I’ve never lost an election, and the First Congressional District is not unlike the Third Legislative District. I think I will be able to appeal to the blue-collar voters that are in the district. I’m running on my record, my vision for the future. Government needs to work for the people, not wealthy special interests. I believe that’s something I can certainly do.”

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