Suffolk GOP selects Zeldin to challenge Bishop in congressional race

02/17/2014 10:00 AM |
State Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), shown here, will challenge incumbent Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) in 2014. (Courtesy file photo)

State Senator Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), pictured above, will challenge incumbent Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) in November. (Courtesy file photo)

Some familiar faces will be looking for the Republican nod for Congress this fall, with the winner getting a shot at longtime incumbent Democrat Tim Bishop.

The Suffolk County Republican Committee on Thursday unanimously selected state Senator Lee Zeldin, 34, of Shirley as its candidate for the First District Congress seat to challenge Mr. Bishop in November.

Riverhead Republican chairman Mason Haas described Mr. Zeldin as “a breath of fresh air for Congress.”

“He’s a proven candidate who has shown his trustworthiness,” Mr. Haas said. “He went to the Senate and he promised he would repeal the MTA tax on small businesses and he did that … He understands what’s going on out there and how it affects the working middle class.”

But Mr. Zeldin, who challenged Mr. Bishop in 2008 and was defeated by a 58-42 percentage margin, may first have to get past another familiar face.

George Demos, 37, of Ronkonkoma, who has run Republican primaries in the last two congressional races, losing both times to Randy Altschuler, has once again vowed to run a Republican primary for the seat.

Mr. Demos, a former United States Securities and Exchange Commission prosecutor, withdrew from the 2012 primary in May of that year, although his name remained on the ballot.

Mr. Demos has been issuing press releases critical of Mr. Zeldin since December. In particular, Mr. Demos has blasted Mr. Zeldin for voting in favor of funding the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, in New York with federal dollars. Mr. Zeldin has said he doesn’t support the national health care legislation.

“It is a fact that Obamacare is a federal law that was rolled out nationally in all 50 states on Oct. 1, 2013,” according to Mr. Zeldin’s Facebook page. ”Anyone claiming that somehow I had the power as a New York State Senator to stop that is trying to fool you.”

Mr. Zeldin is a graduate of William Floyd High School who has a bachelor’s degree from the SUNY-Albany and a law degree from Albany Law School.

He spent four years on active duty with the U.S. Army and served as a Military Intelligence Officer, Federal Prosecutor and Military Magistrate. He was also a paratrooper with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, where he served in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

He has been a member of Army reserves since 2007, and, after losing the Congress race in 2008, was later elected to the state senate in 2010, a position he holds today.

Mr. Zeldin has said he isn’t seeking reelection to his state Senate seat since the term is the same as that of Congress.

Mr. Bishop, 63, of Southampton, was first elected in 2002 after defeating then-incumbent Felix Grucci. Since then, Mr. Bishop has been targeted by national Republicans as being vulnerable, although he has won re-election four times, with the closest race being the 2010 campaign against Mr. Altschuler, in which Mr. Bishop won by just 593 votes.

Mr. Bishop is now touting his accomplishments in areas like reducing the federal deficit, keeping gas prices down, supporting veterans, improving health care, fighting for seniors and protecting the environment, according to the congressman’s campaign website.

Mr. Zeldin’s campaign is targeting issues like shrinking the size of government, cutting wasteful spending, creating jobs, improving education, and replacing Obamacare with a better system.

Mr. Haas said he thinks Mr. Zeldin has gained a lot of experience since his first campaign for Congress.

“I think there’s excitement in the party about him and he has a very good chance to win,” he said.

Mr. Zeldin will have a campaign office in downtown Riverhead, Mr. Haas said. It will be located at 127 East Main Street, next to the Riverhead Farmers Market site, he said.

tgannon@timesreview.com

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