February 28, 2017
To the Editor,
This past Election Day, like many Long Islanders and Americans, I will never forget where I was when Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. On Long Island, Trump won Suffolk County 52 percent to 44 percent, and was in the high 40-percent range in Nassau County.
I am not here to tell you that all those who voted for President Trump are bad people, or that they need to re-evaluate their vote. Who am I to question someone’s vote? We are a nation of differing opinions, and we all need to realize this.
Now that President Trump is in office many Americans are scared, afraid, and angry. They are not wrong to be afraid; this is a scary time for many Americans. Undocumented Americans are worried about being rounded up and deported, separating families. Over 20 million Americans are worried about losing health care and being uninsurable. Long Island is especially susceptible to rising sea levels due to climate change. These are serious issues that impact real Long Islanders’ everyday lives. People are demanding answers.
Since the election, many members of Congress have hosted town halls, a chance to hear from the people who are directly being impacted by this legislation. These town halls have been getting a lot of national attention due to the size and the energy in the crowds. But no matter how loud it gets, and how rowdy the crowd is, this is the job of a member of Congress. We, the taxpayers, pay your salary and you answer to us.
Congressman Lee Zeldin, from New York’s First District, has not hosted a town hall yet. His team has accused protesters of being violent, which was not corroborated with witness reports. Congressman Zeldin and his staff then tried to do only a tele-town hall. Tele-town halls are ways of avoiding direct contact with constituents, as questions get screened and there is no direct face-to-face contact. Now, after pushback from his constituents, the congressman was finally prepared to do a town hall in Patchogue on March 3.
The congressman’s constituents are busy working people. Congress is just coming out of a two-week recess period. This recess is meant specifically so members of Congress can be connected to their districts and their constituents. Now I know that the congressman is busy, but if a United States senator, for example Tom Cotton of Arkansas, can make time for his constituents, so can the congressman. In the email sent out by Zeldin’s team, they also say no recording can happen at the event, “to protect the privacy of the constituents.” This is just untrue. There are no cameras, so you, Congressman Zeldin, cannot be embarrassed (the way you embarrassed a young girl just trying to do her job as a tracker for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee).
The point of all of this is not to attack Mr. Zeldin. Although I do not agree with many of the arguments he makes, I will forever stand by his right to make them. But if Congressman Zeldin can defend Donald Trump during the election — after Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said Trump’s attacks on a Mexican-American judge were a “textbook definition of racism,” Mr. Zeldin went on CNN and questioned whether President Obama was a racist. If you can say that with a straight face, the least you can do is answer some real concerns from constituents and allow recordings, so constituents who cannot take off work can be informed. Unfortunately, not every job gives a two-week-long recess so we can hear your answers. There is a way to have these town halls professionally and with transparency.
I believe that Congressman Zeldin owes it to all of his constituents to go and answer our questions, or at least hear our concerns.
Check Out Lee Zeldin
March 4, 2017
To the Editor:
I attended the Lee Zeldin East Patchogue gathering on Friday, March 3. It was no substitute for a town hall, and voters are still owed one. Zeldin never appeared to the crowd as a whole. Some people didn’t make it into the event room and had to wait outside. Staffers said this was because of the legal attendance of the room, yet there appeared to be spaces at tables and chairs. Why put out more tables and chairs than you are permitted?
The Zeldin staff was professional. I arrived at 9:30 and wrote down my questions. People were ushered in to meet with either Zeldin or staff members. At 3:30 I got into a group formed by a staffer who wanted questions limited to health issues. I oppose the Republican push to defund Planned Parenthood, and fear the loss of coverage on women’s health issues. My comments were respectfully received, though I had to remind the staffer that I was speaking from a health-care standpoint, and not a politically ideological one.
But there were serious personal issues raised by others in my group, and this forum seemed to shortchange them. Are personal one-on-ones that hard to arrange at the local level with staffers? Those voters should have had a better way to make their requests than to be mixed in with other voters more focused on global issues.
If you have concerns on health care, or are concerned about ensuring clean water and clean air, donor lists are interesting guidelines to a legislator’s stance. I suggest the website opensecrets.org, whose results are based on filings with the Federal Election Commission. Check out Lee Zeldin, and donations received from those in the health and waste removal industries. Check out the financial groups, as well, whose interests are diversified.
March 6, 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.
March 2, 2017
Recently Representative Zeldin wrote about his health care goals in the Riverhead local:
“I will also be working to ensure facilities such as Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Laboratory have the funding necessary to continue to advance life-saving research and technologies.”
Mr. Zeldin needs to take a much stronger pro-science stand as a first step. We are lucky to have three major science institutions in Suffolk County (Cold Spring Harbor, Stony Brook, and Brookhaven National Labs). They are internationally known and respected. In striking contrast to the research triangle in the State of North Carolina, our own research triangle has not spawned a biotech or science industry.
In a 2013 white paper published online by the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council (regionalcouncils.ny.gov) the following assessment is sobering: “While Long Island possesses assets rivaling those of Silicon Valley, the Route 128 corridor (Boston, Mass.), or Research Triangle (N.C.), our technology economy pales in comparison. What we have been lacking is a comprehensive, structured regional framework, not only to encourage discovery and invention, but to transform them into new commercial products and ventures — and bring them to market.”
Since most of the funding for big science comes from the federal government, our Representative Lee Zeldin has a critical role. Many start-up companies, created out of collaborations with Long Island’s research institutions, have ended up leaving the area. As an example, Cold Spring Harbor technologies have formed the basis for 13 companies and only 2 have been retained within the region. There are many reasons for this failure, but it is obvious that the local economy is not helped.
The Trump administration has already belittled scientists (such as climate scientists) and data (alternative facts). Even the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control appear to be on their target list. For example, a memo was circulated freezing N.I.H. communications with congress as reported by the magazine Science: http://www.sciencemag.org/ news/2017/01/memo-freezing-nih-communications-congress-triggers-jitters.
And the C.D.C. is likely to lose at least 10 percent of funding with repeal of the Affordable Care Act, as reported in Scientific American: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/trump-rsquo-s-cdc-may-face-serious-hurdles.
This does not bode well for a good relationship with our major science institutions. Mr. Zeldin has held his seat for over two years and he has not acted to defend science and the institutions within his own congressional district.
March 6, 2017
There are more differences within a group than there are between groups. Any attempt at grouping and/or stereotyping does every individual within that group a disservice by assuming that they will act in a stereotypical way. Jews, Muslims, Christians, atheists, etc., men, women, Northerners, Southerners, coal miners, professors, and on and on.
In the final analysis we are complex and separate individuals habituating a changing world in ways that require our living collectively for our common survival. Within all of the above groups you will find individual differences of thought and action that dictate their uniqueness. It is by their thoughts and actions that they cross stereotypical lines and not by the almost generic label with which the “group” is defined.
Mr. Zeldin may be Jewish, but it tells me nothing about his religious orientation, is he Orthodox, Conservative, Reformed, Reconstructionist, or even secular? Was he born a Jew or did he voluntarily adopt Judaism? Does he practice Judaism or doesn’t he? And in the final analysis, who cares? It tells me nothing.
I personally do not care, but I do, however, respond to what he does as the congressman from the First Congressional District. Knowing his religion, nationality, origin, sexual orientation, race (yes, there are black Jews as well) does not help me in determining his effectiveness as my representative in the United States Congress. But being Donald Trump’s alter ego and acolyte tells me that he needs replacing as soon as possible. His record while in office is representative of the wrong side of almost every issue that impacts on me and my family’s life and future.
Let’s stay focused on Lee Zeldin, Republican of the First Congressional District. His being Jewish is and should be up to and important to only him and his family. That information provides us with no clues as to how he will govern, nor should it.
LAWRENCE S. SMITH