About 60 East End residents demonstrated Tuesday outside Congressman Lee Zeldin’s office in Riverhead, urging their representative to listen to their concerns as the House of Representatives prepared to meet that day for the first time in 2017.
Issues they raised ranged from plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act to marriage equality and immigration.
“We are here, not as disgruntled voters, nor extremists, nor sore losers,” said Kathryn Quigley of Greenport, one of the organizers. “We are here as concerned citizens. We are here to remind Lee Zeldin that he represents all of us — diverse constituents with considerable concerns, from women’s rights to immigration to discrimination to health care.”
Julie Sheehan of East Quogue said a friend in Greenport was never able to afford health care prior to the Affordable Care Act, and now that her young son has been diagnosed with leukemia, he will be without any health care if the new federal administration repeals the ACA, or “Obamacare,” as it’s often called.
Jim Shaw of Greenport, meanwhile, expressed concern that the new administration might overturn the laws that allowed his same-sex marriage last year.
“The LGBT community has not had an easy time of it,” he said. “We’ve had to scratch and claw and fight for everything we’ve gotten from government, and many in the community are extremely worried we’re going to lose those rights.”
Cutchogue resident Anne Trimble worried that potential laws to deport immigrants would leave her nursery business without employees.
“The North Fork would go out of existence without the immigrant population,” she said, stressing the need for immigration reform. “White, Caucasian, American men? I could count on one hand how many I’ve hired in the last 25 years.”
With Congress beginning its 2017 session Tuesday, Mr. Zeldin’s district director, Mark Woolley, met with the protestors, who crammed inside the office. He told Ms. Trimble there’s an immigration reform bill planned for Congress this year.
Responding to questions about a possible repeal of laws allowing gay marriage, Mr. Woolley said there are no current proposals before Congress to do so.
“There’s nothing to debate here,” he said. “You’re looking for a debate on something that doesn’t exist.”
On the issue of health care, and specifically what would replace Obamacare if it were repealed, Mr. Woolley said several proposals are being considered. He said he expects some elements of the Affordable Care Act to remain in place.
Ms. Quigley said the protestors were there to “share [their] stories” and that they promise to return.
“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,” she said.
Mr. Zeldin (R-Shirley) was elected to a second two-year term in November.
Top photo: Demonstrators outside Congressman Lee Zeldin’s office Tuesday. (Credit: Tim Gannon)