Thiele Says He Won’t Run for Congress Against Zeldin

Fred W. Thiele Jr.
Fred W. Thiele Jr.

By Stephen J. Kotz

New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who had been weighing a challenge to U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin in 2018, has decided not to run against the two-term Republican incumbent.

“I was always iffy on it,” Mr. Thiele said on Tuesday. “I had quite a few people ask me to take a look at it and I was thinking hard about it, but ultimately, I think I can get more done on the issues as a senior member of the state Assembly than as a 65-year-old freshman congressman.”

Mr. Thiele, a member of the Independence Party, said last summer he was loath to run in a primary for the Democratic nomination, and with four candidates already announcing challenges and a fifth considering a bid, that is looking more and more likely, he said.

“I think to be successful, there needed to be a quick unity of Democrats behind one candidate, but that doesn’t seem to be happening,” he said. “I think a primary would be a losing strategy.”

Mr. Zeldin won the seat, defeating the incumbent Democrat, Tim Bishop, easily in 2014 and then trounced former Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst in 2016. Ms. Throne-Holst won the nomination after a bruising primary battle against Dave Calone, a venture capitalist from East Setauket.

“I don’t think a Democrat was going to win that seat given last year’s climate, but the primary certainly didn’t help,” Mr. Thiele said.

Four candidates have already announced they would seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Mr. Zeldin: former Suffolk County Legislator Vivian Viloria-Fisher of East Setauket; Perry Gershon, an East Hampton businessman; Elaine DiMasi, a physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory who lives in Ronkonkoma, and Brendon Henry, a bartender at Buckley’s Inn Between in Hampton Bays, who lives in Center Moriches. Suffolk County Legislator Kate Browning of Mastic, who cannot run again for her county position because of term limits, is also weighing a run, and Mr. Thiele said he believes she would be the strongest candidate, although he warned it wouldn’t be an easy race.

“It’s going to be an uphill race against an incumbent in a district that still leans Republican,” he said.

Mr. Thiele has made no secret of his disagreement with the Trump administration as well as Mr. Zeldin’s position as one of the president’s most ardent backers, but he said at this stage of his career — he has been in the Assembly since 1995 — he could get more done on issues that are dear to his heart by remaining in Albany.

Protecting water quality, transportation matters, including expanding Long Island Rail Road service to the East End, the effort to reinvigorate the Stony Brook Southampton campus and eventually move Southampton Hospital to the campus and providing better health care are among the issues Mr. Thiele said are important to him.

“You can oppose what’s going on in Washington at the state level,” he said, adding that in progressive states like New York, “governors and state legislators are stepping up on the issues.”