Editorial: For Congress

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Nancy Goroff is our enthusiastic choice for the 1st District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Democratic newcomer is not just an acceptable alternative to the incumbent, Republican Lee Zeldin, she is, in nearly every way, the better choice to represent the region at the dawn of a new decade, and perhaps a new era.

Much has been made of the fact that her election would send a scientist to Congress. No question, sending a woman of science as a representative would be a strong statement from a region where science is so critically important — in education, at Brookhaven National Lab, in our waters, along our shorelines, in our hospitals. At a time when climate denial lingers, the 1st District must send experts to Washington, D.C., to protect our interests in the most basic way: assuring the landmass’s survival against an encroaching ocean, an intensifying situation worsened by the ignorance of man’s impact.

No more a political novice than Mr. Zeldin was when he sprung from the same contrarian soil that grew the Tea Party movement in his first run for Congress, Ms. Goroff likewise acknowledges that she ran for office because she was “frustrated and infuriated.” But the cause was Mr. Zeldin, and the Republican Party, putting on the mantle of environmentalism while steadily enacting policies that were giant steps backward.

She pledges to be a scientific resource for every member of Congress if elected, encouraging her colleagues to “ask questions of the data, interrogate the data.” That’s a very, very different message than is generally heard in Washington — and not at all from the region’s current representative.

It must be said that, as U.S. representative, Lee Zeldin has served his diverse district honorably in many ways. He is responsive to constituents when they are in need, whether it’s local officials, veterans, Brookhaven National Lab, or charities and health care workers who needed personal protective equipment, ventilators and testing supplies at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many said that only when his office got involved did they receive much-needed resources. He and his staff deserve full marks for coming through in a true crisis.

But in so many other ways, he is not just a disappointment but, as Ms. Goroff noted, frustrating and infuriating. Why not wear a mask to the president’s indoor rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma? Why become one of President Donald Trump’s biggest national apologists — and, crucially, never challenge his obvious, dangerous misrepresentations of the COVID-19 threat? Are there no principles under the politics?

The 1st District is a complicated amalgam of left and right. He ousted a strongly progressive incumbent, Tim Bishop, by riding an ideological wave that eventually crested with the Trump White House. He has found a favored seat at the table there. Rare is the time he’s not lockstep with Trumpism. Sometimes, that’s beneficial, as in his ability to reach out to the White House for equipment in the pandemic. But it’s hard to shake the idea that lifesaving resources shouldn’t be handed out as political plums to favored sons. (Mr. Zeldin responded on Monday by giving the federal response a “B” — which seems like a remarkable case of grade inflation, looking around the nation today.)

Meanwhile, his influence to derail policies that directly hurt his own constituents — such as the vindictive revocation of SALT deductions, targeting blue states like New York almost exclusively, at the president’s behest — appears to be either nil or never utilized.

Mr. Zeldin operates in similar fashion. He is all but unresponsive to 1st District residents who don’t support him; his “outreach” is almost exclusively to hand-picked audiences, where he won’t face difficult questions. He insulates himself against critics.

Come January, there could well be a new direction in national government. The House likely will stay Democratic controlled, perhaps even more so. The White House and Senate may follow. There is a reason for such a wild swing: It’s the way an electorate rejects a direction the country is headed.

Nancy Goroff is a candidate perfectly suited to carry the 1st District into the future, rather than being a House member wildly out of step with the times. Mr. Zeldin has been a keystone of a unique time in American politics — and that time appears to be ending. So should his tenure.

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