A crowd of about 60 East End residents gathered in front of Congressman Lee Zeldin’s Riverhead office in the rain Tuesday morning to share their concerns about the policies of President-elect Donald Trump and about the direction of the new Congress, which begins work today.
The group, which coalesced on the North Fork among activists including Greenport mother Kathryn Casey Quigley and also included numerous South Fork participants, shared their concerns about health care, immigration reform, marriage equality, climate change and other issues before the federal government in the new year.
“We are here, not as disgruntled voters, nor extremists nor sore losers. We are here as concerned constituents…We are here on the first day that Congress reconvenes to remind Mr. Zeldin that he does not have a mandate,” said Ms. Quigley at the opening of a press conference at which several North Fork residents shared their concerns about national issues. “While he may have been reelected, he holds a seat that has been held by both Democrats and Republicans over the years. … we are here and we will continue to be here asking to be heard, and we hope the congressman will listen, remember us, and act with all his constituents’ interests, concerns and stories in mind.”
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Anne Trimble, who owns Trimble’s Nursery in Cutchogue, said she is concerned about the new administration both as a gay business owner and as someone who employs many immigrants from Latin America and all over the world.
“They’re our Trimble crew. They’re our family. They are not illegal aliens, which I find appalling,” she said. “They are immigrants as we all are immigrants.”
“My crew is terrified they are going to get stopped and frisked, even though they hold legal documentation,” she added. “They live in terror. It’s not a happy thing.”
Ms. Trimble added that she now sees the Confederate flag flying proudly in Riverhead, something she hasn’t seen in decades, and even then only in the South.
“I thought we were over that,” she said. “It’s 2017. It’s not the 1940s and ’50s. I always thought America was great… I think we’re making America mean again and making America hate again, and I would love to see America be kind again. We are going to fight and we are going to stand by our crew.”
Electrician Jim Shaw, who is gay and married his husband at The Inn at East Wind in October 2016, said he’s concerned that his marriage won’t be allowed to stand under the new administration.
“The LGBT community, as all of us know, have not had an easy time of it. We’ve had to scratch and fight and claw for everything we’ve ever gotten, through the government, particularly,” he said. “Many in the community are extremely concerned that we are going to lose those rights.”
“I’m going to fight as hard as I can to make sure our marriage lasts longer than a Kardashian marriage,” he said. “I’m not an activist but it’s too important to sit back and be silent anymore. We had a saying in the ’80s — silence equals death — when we were fighting AIDS. It’s back.”
Julie Sheehan shared the story of a Greenport woman named Holly who has devoted her life to pre-school education. Holly’s daughter was recently diagnosed with leukemia, she said, and is only able to fight cancer through the insurance her mother received through the Affordable Care Act.
“The kinds of stresses that puts on a parent are out of control,” she said. “How employable can someone like Holly be when she’s on call 24-7 to take care of her child? Obamacare has kept her family together.”
While Mr. Zeldin is in Washington being sworn in for his second term in office, his District Director, Mark Wooley, invited the crowd upstairs to the office, took about a half an hour of questions, and asked attendees to turn in forms with their constituent concerns.
The group also handed in a stack of letters to Mr. Wooley.
“Is Lee Zeldin going to fight like hell to protect climate change agreements we’ve already made and to fight aggressively to reverse climate change?” asked Francesca Rheannon of WPKN’s Sustainable East End, who added that some climate models put sea level rise on Long Island at six feet in the next 100 years.
“He’s made it known that, despite what others might have thought or said, he’s very much aware of the fact that there is climate change,” said Mr. Wooley, who added that there’s some debate as to which models for sea level rise are most accurate.
“Climate change is something that is very much on our agenda this term, as it was last term,” he added.
Mr. Wooley said it was too early to comment on Mr. Zeldin’s position on Donald Trump’s cabinet appointments.
One woman, who identified herself as Jewish, said she believes Mr. Zeldin does not speak for the majority of Jews in the district when he supports Israeli settlements in the West Bank. She said most Jews she knows here are in favor of a two-state solution to the Israeli conflict.
Another woman added that if Obamacare is repealed and replaced, “people will die.”
Mary Casey asked if Mr. Zeldin would soften his position on gun control, but Mr. Wooley said he believed voters had spoken when they returned the congressman to office knowing his gun control views.
Mr. Shaw, the electrician, asked if Mr. Zeldin would still work to dismantle marriage equality since the 2015 Supreme Court decision that made marriage equality the law of the land.
Mr. Wooley said Mr. Zeldin supports “the law of the land” but then did not answer a barrage of questions about why the congressman doesn’t support the Obamacare law.
Mr. Wooley told attendees they would continue to be welcome at the district office, and at Mr. Zeldin’s mobile office hours in the district throughout the upcoming year.