Following months of pressure from constituents demanding he do so, Congressman Lee Zeldin (R, NY-1) hosted three long-awaited town hall meetings in his district on Sunday, April 23. The congressman met with hundreds of Long Islanders, first with a town hall at Suffolk County Community College’s Riverhead Campus, followed by a town hall at the Portuguese American Center in Farmingville, and finally at a town hall hosted by Catholics for Freedom of Religion at St. Patrick’s Church in Smithtown.
According to Newsday, Zeldin faced “fiery crowds” at the meetings, where he explained his some of the issues where he and President Donald Trump differ, but also stood by the President on matters such as the effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Among his differences with Trump, Zeldin said the President should release his tax returns. He also noted that he opposes Trump’s proposal to cut local environmental programs, including Brookhaven National Laboratory and Long Island Sound. When asked if he believed Trump is honest, the congressman offered a tactful answer: “It’s one thing to be a reality TV host. It’s another to be president of the United States,” he said. “I’m not saying that in a pejorative sense. The style needs to evolve to become a little bit tighter. When you say something it has huge consequences.”
While he still hasn’t made up for canceling his scheduled April 13 town hall at Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton, Zeldin’s visit to Riverhead Sunday was the next closest meeting. It was also his most hostile crowd of the day. At the event moderated by Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy, Zeldin was met with hisses and frequent interruptions from an angry, standing-room-only, capacity crowd, Newsday reports.
A 64-year-old Wainscott resident and retired teacher, Amy Turner, told Newsday, “We wanted a dialogue and we got a monologue.”
A video released Sunday by Let’s Visit Lee Zeldin demonstrated the temperature of the room when a distraught mother of a heroin-addicted son asked Zeldin if he would commit to fighting against a health care act that does not include mental health substance abuse treatment. Her anger, of course, comes from the fact that the scuttled American Health Care Act—which Zeldin supported—dumped Obamacare’s mandate that Medicaid cover basic mental health and addiction treatment. “I want it in the act,” the woman said to roaring applause, “We need it.”
Zeldin, who was answering questions submitted on cards, first opted to answer the question, explaining, “There are amendments that are being discussed, that have not yet been filed…,” but then he stopped short of elaborating, saying, “OK. Now, that’s OK, that’s fine…what’s the next question?” He received more jeers from the crowd and moved on. (Watch the video below.)
The crowd at the Farmingville town hall, moderated by Jay Oliver from LI News Radio, appeared to be about 50/50 for and against Zeldin (and Trump, presumably), according to Newsday, while the Smithtown town hall, moderated by Linda DiScala, was the friendliest toward the congressman.
In an email sent out Monday, Zeldin said he met with thousands of constituents over the weekend between the three town halls, his mobile office hours on Friday and many other important gatherings. “It is always a pleasure to meet with so many great constituents, hear your concerns, and answer your questions,” he said in the email thanking his NY-1 constituents for coming out. “My days are almost always completely filled with constituent meetings, which have spanned the ideological spectrum.”