By Stephen J. Kotz
Former Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst expressed quiet confidence entering the final week of campaigning before she faces Dave Calone in the Democratic primary for the right to challenge incumbent Republican Representative Lee Zeldin in the November general election.
“I think I’m the only one who can unseat him,” she said. “Voters are looking to be represented by people who actually have a track record in government of bringing results, and I’m the only one who has done that, including Mr. Zeldin.”
Not surprisingly, Mr. Calone, an entrepreneur, former federal prosecutor, and former chairman of the Suffolk County Planning Commission and former member of the Long Island Power Authority board, likes his chances to win both the primary on Tuesday, June 28, and take the fight to Mr. Zeldin in the November general election.
“On the ground we’ve built a tremendous volunteer effort,” he said, adding that the majority of the Southampton Town Democratic Committee has offered him its support and the East Hampton Town Democratic Committee gave him an outright endorsement, which he said has helped tremendously with his local campaigning.
Both candidates said they believed that Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic candidate for president, would do well in the 1st District, especially on the East End, and that would be a positive for whoever wins the nomination.
“I think her coattails will be huge,” said Ms. Throne-Holst, who added that she thought her own chances would be buoyed by an expected large turnout of women in November and the possibility that many Republican women will cross lines and cast their ballots for Ms. Clinton and other Democrats because they do not support the polarizing candidacy of Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
Through a lengthy primary slog both candidates say the primary goal remains the defeat of Mr. Zeldin, the first-term Republican congressman. Mr. Zeldin routed six-term incumbent Tim Bishop in 2014, in large part by painting himself as a middle-of-the road candidate who would be willing to reach across the aisle to work with Democrats.
“Unfortunately for him, or fortunately for us, he has lots of votes that align him with the right wing of the party,” said Mr. Calone, pointing to Mr. Zeldin’s votes to defund Planned Parenthood, withhold homeland security funding over an immigration policy dispute with President Obama, and refuse to make it illegal to sell guns to people who are on the nation’s terrorist watch list.
“He’s entirely out of step with this district,” added Ms. Throne-Holst. “He’s a climate change denier. It’s almost comical. How do you live and legislate on Long Island as a climate change denier?” She also charged that Mr. Zeldin had failed “to do anything of any meaning to address the challenges around our Veterans Administration services, which is another thing he campaigned on.” She also criticized for a failure to address infrastructure challenges and what she said was a poor attendance record on the Foreign Relations Committee.
In early debates, Ms. Throne-Holst pointed to her record of righting Southampton Town’s financial ship, holding the line on taxes, and guiding a progressive agenda through a split town board.
Mr. Calone has cited his record as a prosecutor, where he handled cases involving an Al Qaeda operative, oil and gas companies, and health care fraud. He points to his efforts to encourage renewable energy and said his Long Island Emerging Technologies Fund and other efforts had helped launch a number of start-up businesses and the good jobs that come with them.
But the race has turned increasingly personal. Mr. Calone has trumpeted the fact that he has been endorsed by many local Democrats, including the four members of the East Hampton Town Board and Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, who served on the town board with Ms. Throne-Holst. Ms. Throne-Holster counters that she has former U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in her corner as well as U.S. Representative Steve Israel, former Representative Tim Bishop, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and current Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman.
While Mr. Calone has attacked Ms. Throne-Holst for being pro-development and points to his endorsement by the Long Island Environmental Forum, she counters that her administration oversaw aggressive open space purchases and took the lead on a variety of green building codes and other initiatives.
Things took a sharper turn when Mr. Calone’s campaign aired a television advertisement, attacking Ms. Throne-Holst for making donations to the Conservative Party, which supports Donald Trump.
“It’s symptomatic of a first-time candidate,” Ms. Throne-Holst said of the ad. “It shows a level of desperation.”
She said she had paid her way to attend several Conservative Party events, which she described as more a courtesy and an effort to work across party lines in a town that until recently was reliably Republican. Ms. Throne-Holst said she had been asked to screen by the Conservatives, who, she said, liked her record of never raising taxes, but she said her pro-choice position and support of gun control disqualified her from receiving the endorsement.
“To try to translate that into somehow I’m supporting Donald Trump is really gratuitous,” she said.
Mr. Calone stood by his ad. “I am not suggesting she endorsed Donald Trump,” he said. “The ad says she switched parties and was a contributor to the Conservative Party. The people who support me are progressive and proud of it and never want to align themselves with the Conservative Party. At the end of the day, you go to Washington, D.C., and are out of sight. People have to know you are fighting for the values they care about.”
Mr. Calone took umbrage at mailings Ms. Throne-Holst’s campaign had sent out implied he was responsible for LIPA’s poor response to Superstorm Sandy and resigned just a few days afterward. Mr. Calone said he had informed LIPA of his decision to resign months earlier and said he had only recently been appointed head of storm response after working on a report studying ways to more quickly bring in extra repair crews from elsewhere in the event of a major storm.
Ms. Throne-Holst argued it was a crucial issue. “It was called a colossal failure by the state, a lack of management skill and understanding,” she said, arguing that Mr. Zeldin would be sure to make it a campaign issue. “Look at the issue he made over a fireworks permit with Tim Bishop,” she said.