Editorial: Disagree with Zeldin? He doesn’t seem to care

02/23/2017 5:50 AM |

Lee Zeldin office Riverhead

On Saturday, one New York congressman spent about five hours hosting a pair of town hall meetings in his district. Another took to Facebook to explain why he has no interest in holding such an event.

The two elected officials are both Republicans and, so far, each has voted in line with the political views of President Donald Trump 100 percent of the time. Both have also faced protests from constituents.

Congressmen Tom Reed (R-Corning) and Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) both replaced Democrats within the past decade and each won re-election last year with about 58 percent of the vote.

So why is it, then, that on the same day Mr. Reed hosted his town halls, describing them to Fox News as “democracy in action,” Mr. Zeldin posted a 122-word social media rant in which he accused his constituents of taking “an oath of disrespect to get ahead in life”?

“Liberal obstructionists are disrupting, resisting and destructing public events all around America,” Mr. Zeldin wrote at the start of his diatribe. “Our neighbors want to actually engage in substantive, productive, constructive dialogue and the liberal obstructionists are spitting on them with their shameful shows for their own political theater.”

Four hundred miles away, outside one of the two town halls he was hosting that day, Mr. Reed grabbed a megaphone covered with rainbow flags and engaged with the audience. Footage of the event shows him listening to what residents of his district had to say and disagreeing with them — respectfully.

The next day, when Fox News asked Mr. Reed about the events he’d hosted, he said, “I so appreciate people coming out and engaging in the conversation and hearing their point of view.”

Mr. Reed’s approach to hosting town halls during the recess from Congress is to be commended. Mr. Zeldin and others, meanwhile, should be ashamed.

Under the headline “Duck and Cover,” Vice News reported last week that, collectively, House Republicans are hosting just 88 in-person town hall events this month, including four by Mr. Reed and 35 by Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin. During the February 2015 recess, following the final mid-term election of the Obama administration, House Republicans scheduled 222 such events, according to Vice.

By failing to host in-person town hall events despite pleas from his constituents — including one from this newspaper two weeks ago — Mr. Zeldin is withholding a public forum from the many constituents who do not share his viewpoint on important issues like health care, immigration and the environment. His planned 60-minute telephone town hall doesn’t cut it.

He has also failed to provide any real proof of his staff’s claims of “a recent Rotary event in East Patchogue where these protesters were banging on car doors, jumping in front of cars, shining lights into cars and yelling at attendees to harass them.” People who were present have since reached out to this newspaper to dispute that claim.

What we’ve seen at local protests is more in line with the actions of the tea party in 2009, when demonstrators packed a pair of town halls hosted by Mr. Zeldin’s predecessor, Democrat Tim Bishop. Videos of those events show Mr. Bishop acknowledging the protesters and even answering some questions outside the event.

In his Facebook post Saturday, Mr. Zeldin said demonstrators in his district “think they are embarrassing other people, but they are really just embarrassing themselves.” If he continues berating constituents who disagree with him and refusing to engage in open public dialogue with those detractors, Mr. Zeldin is only doing the same.

File photo: Demonstrators marched Feb. 7 to Congressman Lee Zeldin’s office in Riverhead to request that the he schedule a town hall style meeting. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

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