Congressman Lee Zeldin at a New York League of Conservation Voters forum in Riverhead this fall.
Congressman Lee Zeldin at a forum in Riverhead in the fall of 2016.

Congressional elections are more than a year away, but the Democratic field is already getting crowded, as candidates jockey to see who will run against incumbent Congressman Lee Zeldin in 2018.

As of early September, half a dozen prospective candidates had expressed serious interest in the race, including former Suffolk County Legislator Vivian Viloria Fisher of Setauket, entrepreneur and businessman Perry Gershon of East Hampton, former BNL physicist Elaine DiMasi, Center Moriches bartender Brendon Henry and New York City Council staffer David Pechefsky, who was the 1986 Valedictorian of Patchogue-Medford High School but currently lives in Brooklyn.

South Fork State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, who has been saying for several months that he is considering a congressional run, has not yet declared whether he will throw his hat in the ring, though he did tell the group Progressive East End Reformers at a July forum that he believed Democrats would need a solid showing in Brookhaven Town in order to win the First Congressional District, and he hoped there would not be a primary and the party would rally behind its candidate, even if he was not that candidate.

The First Congressional District includes the towns of Brookhaven, Riverhead, Southold, East Hampton, Southampton and Shelter Island, along with parts of Smithtown and Islip.

As Mr. Zeldin echoed President Donald Trump’s sentiments that there were violent people on both sides when white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Va. over the weekend of Aug. 12 to 13, two candidates were quick to denounce his statements, calling for Mr. Zeldin, who is Jewish, to resign from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.

“Lee Zeldin equates white supremacists with those who are outraged by racist and evil ideologies. There is no place on the US Holocaust Memorial Council for anyone who would fail to unequivocally condemn neo-Nazis, the KKK and white nationalists, whose ideology fueled the Holocaust.” said Ms. Viloria Fisher.

In an Aug. 15 Facebook post, Mr. Zeldin said “Antifa bused in criminals with bats and pepper spray for the purpose of committing acts of violence targeting anyone who was part of the protest against Charlottesville bringing down the statue of Robert E. Lee, whether associated with the KKK or Nazism or neither.”

“There is an element of our country that has pledged to resist, oppose, and obstruct this President entirely on absolutely everything and anything and to this population the President cannot say or do absolutely anything at all that they won’t criticize as long as he is in the office he was elected to serve in last November,” he added.

“Opposing white supremacy is not an ‘extreme’” said Ms. Viloria Fisher “And to describe anyone who marched in solidarity with the neo-Nazi’s as ‘very fine people’, as President Trump did, is an affront to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust.”

Mr. Gershon agreed.

“President Trump’s insistence that ‘both sides’ deserve blame for the Charlottesville tragedy has received near universal criticism from Republicans and Democrats. One notable exception is Lee Zeldin, who inexplicably continues to defend the President’s position,” said Mr. Gershon.

“What we witnessed in Charlottesville was a vile, organized group of white nationalists and neo-Nazis descend upon a peaceful American city,” he added. “It is extremely troubling that Zeldin is joining Trump in making excuses for hate and neo-Nazism. The Nazis targeted our ancestors for extermination. How can a man so clearly proud of his Jewish heritage side with these savages?”

Vivian Viloria-Fisher served in the Suffolk County Legislature for 13 years, including six years as Deputy Presiding Officer, before she was term-limited out of office. 

Ms. Viloria-Fisher had reportedly raised $25,619 as of the last Federal Election Commission reporting date on Jun 30, 2017.

Mr. Gershon announced July 24 that he had raised $102,700 dollars from individual donors since filing his candidacy paperwork on July 15.

Elaine DiMasi, a former physicist from Brookhaven National Laboratory for 21 years, announced her candidacy on Aug. 25.

“At the heart of every scientist is a commitment to facts, integrity, and truth,” she said in her announcement. “I know what’s possible — Congress can collaborate, embrace science, and improve lives.”

Her candidacy is being aided by a national grassroots movement, 314 Action, formed to elect more people with scientific backgrounds to the House of Representatives to work on solutions to problems including climate change, workforce development and infrastructure improvement.

“Ideals, by their very nature, can never be too high,” said Ms. DiMasi. “We have built a world of innovation that must be shared by all. Progressive solutions are possible. I will listen to the concerns of Suffolk County residents, and together we can help get Congress back to work for taxpayers.”

David Pechefsky, who holds a BA in political science from Hunter College and a Masters Degree in International Development from American University in Washington, DC, says he is running “because we need to take our government back from Trump and his apologists and enablers like Lee Zeldin.”

“I believe the path to do this is for the Democratic Party to have a bold agenda that makes sure our economy is working for everyone, not just for the wealthy, and that challenges a foreign policy driven by war profiteers that makes us less safe and wastes money that could be invested in our human and physical infrastructure,” he added.

As a consultant for the National Democratic Institute from 2010 to 2013, Mr. Pechefsky worked to establish a legislative budget office to serve the Congress of Liberia. As a staffer for the New York City Council, he has worked on issues ranging from protecting children from lead poisoning to promoting green buildings to building senior housing.

“I was born and raised here in a working family, and understand the value of hard work and the power of determination,” says Brendon Henry on his campaign website. “I graduated high school here, and became the first to graduate college in my family here. I met and married my wife Brittany here, and now we are raising our son where we have always loved to call our home. Washington has forgotten who it works for, and I intend to remind them that the people always come first. We need a Congress that accurately and actually represents our people and district, not just the will of the parties.”

The FEC has no candidate information yet on Ms. DiMasi and no financial data yet from Mr. Pechefsky or Mr. Henry. The next FEC reporting deadline is Sept. 30.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at

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