Considering Congressional Run, Thiele Calls for Focus on Working Class Issues

State Assemblyman Fred Thiele
State Assemblyman Fred Thiele

While South Fork State Assemblyman Fred Thiele mulls a run for Congress in 2018, the 22-year veteran state legislator is still dreaming about fixes for dysfunction in Albany.

Mr. Thiele praised the virtues of grassroots organizing and harkened the working class roots of the Democratic Party at Progressive East End Reformers’ monthly meeting in Bridgehampton July 18, as he told the crowd that he was heading to Washington, DC the next day to discuss a a potential congressional campaign with members of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Mr. Thiele, who has a long history of maverick political moves, is a long-time independent who began his career in Albany as a Republican but has for several years held the Democratic party line. While he supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary election, he was unable to vote in that election because he is not a registered Democrat.

Progressive East End Reformers is a grassroots organizing group that’s an offshoot of the New York Progressive Action Network, which grew out of Mr. Sanders’ campaign.

It’s Mr. Sanders’ focus on issues that affect working families that drove Mr. Thiele to support the Vermont senator, and it’s that focus he says Democrats will need in next year’s congressional election, regardless of who becomes the nominee.

“Two-thirds of the First Congressional District’s voters are in Brookhaven,” he told PEER members at the July 18 meeting. “You have a good base on the East End but when you’re doing grassroots organizing, Brookhaven is ground zero. It’s not enough to just be against [incumbent Congressman] Lee Zeldin. People have gotten the opinion that the only thing they know Democrats for is they’re against Trump or Zeldin. There needs to be an affirmative message that gets back to what the Democratic Party always stood for: working class people, the environment, public education. Central Long Island is not that much different than Pennsylvania, Ohio or Michigan. The high paying Grumman jobs left in the ‘70s and ‘80s and never came back.”

Mr. Thiele said the most important thing Democrats can do is to stay unified, unlike in 2016, when former Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst closely won a primary against candidate Dave Calone of Setauket, a race that wasn’t decided until several weeks after the vote, when all ballots were certified.

“I’m thinking very seriously about this. It’s not an idle thing,” said Mr. Thiele of his possible candidacy. “I love my job in the state legislature, but I can’t wake up every morning, turn on Morning Joe and listen to what’s going on for two more years after this. I am dedicated to the proposition of removing Lee Zeldin from Congress. We can’t have a primary this time. We need the best candidate possible and we need to rally around that candidate.”

Mr. Thiele also discussed the New York Health Act, a proposed single-payer health care system that has passed the State Assembly the past two years. The State Senate, however, will not let it onto the floor for a vote, in part due to an alliance between the Independent Democratic Coalition and Republicans in that legislative body.

“We are one vote short in the State Senate of passing the New York Health Act. That’s how close this is. This is not pie in the sky,” he said. “The level of popularity of this bill is such that even my colleague Ken LaValle — he said he wasn’t ready to vote for it yet, but his comments are that it’s inevitable.”

“The New York Health Act has gotten increased attention because of the impact of what the federal government is attempting to do with health care could have on the State of New York,” added Mr. Thiele. “This legislation would save people substantial amounts of money, take health care off the backs of small businesses and take out administrative costs. We could be a leader here.”

Mr. Thiele saved his harshest criticism for the Citizens United vs. FEC Supreme Court case, which allowed corporate money to flow unfettered into political campaigns.

“Both parties have become captive to begging wealthy people for money to be able to run political campaigns,” he said. “I tried to think of a worse Supreme Court decision, and the only one I could come up with was the Dred Scott decision a century and a half ago, which allowed slavery to continue.”

Mr. Thiele said that, in the last congressional election cycle, Mr. Zeldin and Ms. Throne-Holst,together raised $6 through their official campaigns, but with Political Action Committee money they raised more than $10 million.

He pointed out that, when former Congressman Otis Pike won the First Congressional District race in 1960, he spent just $15,000.

“The one antidote to money being a wash in system is grassroots participation,” said Mr. Thiele. “There are efforts out there every day to depress the vote. There’s no substitute for grassroots involvement. If you  are not happy with the way things are, get some of that 60 percent that stays home and get them energized to be part of this process.”

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, 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 editor@eastendbeacon.com

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