Suffolk Closeup: Trump Factor


By Karl Grossman

Will what is being called the “Trump Factor”—a negative view of the Republican candidate for president that could affect GOP candidates down the ballot—impact in Suffolk on Congressman Lee Zeldin? Mr. Zeldin is an ardent supporter of Mr. Trump, indeed prominent nationally for this.

Election Day eight weeks away (thankfully) will tell the tale. But Anna Throne-Holst, the Democratic candidate in the 1st Congressional District, has been emphasizing the close link between the two.

The 1st Congressional District covers Sag Harbor and the rest of the towns of Southampton and East Hampton, along with the other East End towns Riverhead, Southold and Shelter Island, and all of Brookhaven, much of Smithtown and a piece of Islip. It was first represented by William Floyd of Mastic Beach, who fought in the Revolutionary War and signed the Declaration of Independence.

It is regarded as a “swing” district. Going back a little over 50 years, Otis G. Pike of Riverhead, starting in 1961 held the 1st Congressional District seat for 18 years. Mr. Pike began in politics in Suffolk as a Stevensonian Democrat, a follower of the cerebral and liberal former Illinois governor and presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson.

He was followed by other Democrats—George Hochbrueckner of Coram and Tim Bishop of Southampton—along with Republicans Felix Grucci of Bellport and Mike Forbes of Quogue. The seat was also held by a Conservative (the only one in the House), William Carney of Hauppauge. Mr. Carney received GOP cross-endorsement to run for Congress in a 1978 deal in which Republican Perry B. Duryea, Jr. of Montauk, a State Assembly speaker, got the Conservative line for a (losing) bid for governor.

Mr. Zeldin of Shirley, who was a state senator, is in his first term.

Ms. Throne-Holst, of Noyac, a former three-term supervisor of Southampton Town, has been criticizing Mr. Zeldin for what she terms his “cozy” relationship with Mr. Trump. She speaks of the two having a “mutual admiration society.” Ms. Throne-Holst has charged that “there is no line Lee Zeldin won’t cross trying to hold on to his seat including throwing his support behind a racist misogynist because he thinks it will help his political career.”

Mr. Trump in 2014 personally contributed $2,000 to the Zeldin campaign for Congress and in a robocall declared Mr. Zeldin “a terrific guy” and “very conservative.”

Mr. Zeldin remains active in publicly supporting Mr. Trump despite Ms. Throne-Holst calling on him to denounce Mr. Trump for various statements he has made during the course of his campaign.

Mr. Zeldin made national news when he was questioned on CNN about Mr. Trump criticizing the judge overseeing the Trump University fraud case because, said Mr. Trump, “he’s a Mexican. We’re building a wall between here and Mexico.” Mr. Zeldin was pressed by the CNN anchors on whether this Trump comment about the U.S-born judge of Mexican ancestry was racist. Mr. Zeldin responded that “there’s a whole lot more to define everyone, but you can easily argue that the president of the United States is a racist with his policies and his rhetoric.”

Mr. Zeldin has said that Mr. Trump “would annihilate” Democrat Hillary Clinton in the district.

Ms. Clinton has a personal link to Suffolk in that former East Hampton Town Supervisor Judith Hope, when she was New York Democratic chair, was the person who encouraged Ms. Clinton to run for senator from New York, her entry into elective politics. They are close friends. Will Long Island’s first woman town supervisor be key to who could become the first U.S. woman president?

“Long Island Is Both Hostile Territory and Fertile Ground for Donald Trump” was the headline of an April article in The New York Times. It spoke of “potential Trump strongholds…along Long Island’s south shore, where blue-collar towns still bear scars from the Great Recession” and “parts of Long Island” are “ripe territory for Mr. Trump’s attacks on illegal immigration.” Still, the story ended with a Republican Suffolk business executive saying he was a “not-Trump voter,” that he wanted someone “levelheaded.”

Suffolk GOP Chairman John Jay LaValle, like Mr. Zeldin, has lauded Mr. Trump. In an April article in The New Yorker—headed “Donald Trump in Patchogue” about a Trump rally that drew 1,300 people—Mr. LaValle exclaimed: “He’s the single most important candidate to run in modern history.”

A measure of the wide swings in the 1st Congressional District was Conservative Carney staying on for eight years after succeeding Mr. Pike. To be watched: the changing demographics of the 1st Congressional District. It now has a large Latino population in addition to a good number of African-Americans, and they, like most women in the U.S. as reflected in polls, are especially negative towards Mr. Trump. Much of the 1st Congressional District voting base is educated, also considered not a good pool for Mr. Trump. Democratic enrollment has grown and President Obama carried the 1st Congressional District in 2012. The non-partisan Cook Political Report recently judged the race between Ms. Throne-Holst and Mr. Zeldin a “toss-up.”