Candidates lining up to challenge Congressman Lee Zeldin in 2018

To date, four people are officially in the running to become the Democratic candidate for Congress in the fall 2018 elections, according to the Federal Elections Commission.

The winner of the Democratic nomination will likely challenge incumbent Republican Lee Zeldin of Shirley, who is, so far, the only Republican candidate to have formally established a campaign committees for a run for the Congressional seat, according to the FEC.

The Democratic hopefuls listed by the FEC are Vivian Viloria-Fisher of Setauket, Brendon Henry of Center Moriches, Perry Gershon of East Hampton and David Pechefsky of Brooklyn.

Elaine DiMasi of Ronkonkoma has also announced her intention to run for Congress and has set up a campaign website as well as campaign Facebook and Twitter sites, but is not yet listed on the FEC website.

Perhaps the biggest name among potential Democratic candidates for Congress is the South Fork’s state Assemblyman, Fred Thiele of Sag Harbor, 64. He said he spoke with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in July about running against Mr. Zeldin on the Democratic line.

Mr. Thiele — who’s been an assemblyman for 22 years, and before that was Southampton Town supervisor from 1993 to 1995, a Suffolk County legislator from 1988 to 1991 and a Southampton town attorney from 1982 to 1987 — is registered with the Independence party, not the Democrats.

He has indicated interest in the Congressional seat, but has not made a decision. The Congressional slot and his own state Assembly seat are both up for election at the same time, so Mr. Thiele would have to give up the Assembly seat in order to run for Congress.

“Congress was really never on my radar screen until this past election,” Mr. Thiele said in an interview. “Obviously, I’m not happy with the way things are going in Washington, and that’s certainly a reason for me to think about running.”

He said he plans to meet with Suffolk County Democratic Committee chair Richard Schaefer one more time and will make a decision within the next two weeks.

Mr. Thiele said he would need to build his name recognition in western Suffolk, since the Congressional district includes the East End, Brookhaven Town, Smithtown and parts of Islip, whereas his Assembly district covers only about 15 percent of that area.

Mr. Thiele also said he will not change his party registration.

“I’m an Independence Party member and I’ve always been independent and plan to stay that way. There’s enough partisanship in Washington,” he said. “I’ve been independent in Albany and I’m able to work with Democrats and Republicans to bring things to Long Island.”

In the past, Mr. Thiele has won elections with both Republican and Democratic backing, and was elected Southampton Town supervisor without the support of either major party.

Kate Browning, who has served 12 years in the county Legislature and is term-limited from running again, said supporters have urged her to run for Congress but she will not run against Mr. Thiele in a primary, instead deferring to him if he chooses to run for Congress.

A resident of Shirley and a native of Northern Ireland, Ms. Browning, 58, was elected to the Legislature with Democratic backing but was registered with the Working Families party until she recently changed her enrollment to Democrat.

Ms. Viloria-Fisher, a former Suffolk County legislator who was term-limited out of that position in 2011, also has made her candidacy for Congress official and has scheduled a “kickoff” event for Sept. 10 in Farmingville.

Ms. Viloria-Fisher has established a campaign website and has posted a notice on her Facebook site saying, “Join us for a Taste of Diversity as we kick off Vivian’s Campaign for US Representative for the 1st Congressional District of New York.”

The kickoff will be held at the Portugese American Center in Farmingville from 3 to 5 p.m.; admission is $50.

Ms. Viloria-Fisher, 69, is a native of the Dominican Republic and served in the Legislature from January 1999 to December 2011. Previously, she had been foreign language department chairperson at Ward Melville High School since September 1997. The campaign disclosure files currently posted on the FEC website show that she has raised $35,619 and spent $1,630.

The same site shows that the other three Democrats had raised and spent no funds, as of the June 30 filing date.

Mr. Zeldin, seeking his third two-year term, has raised $952,872, spent $567,201 and has a total of $762,249 in cash on hand, according to the FEC.

The most recent Democratic candidate to throw his hat into the ring is Mr. Henry, 36, who made his run official on last week with a campaign kickoff at Kalers Pond Park in Center Moriches.

Mr. Henry said he had filed to run a while back and made it official Monday.

“After a lot of people pushing me do to it and cheering me on, I decided to do it,” he said Monday afternoon.

Mr. Henry graduated from Westhampton Beach High School and has degrees in political science, history and education from Long Island University.

“I taught at Eastern Suffolk BOCES, working with people who have autism and behavioral issues,” he said. “Then I had a car crash and I stopped teaching. I went back to my roots working in service, which is what a lot of my family has done,” he said.

Mr. Henry currently works as a bartender in Buckley’s Inn Between in Hampton Bays and at the Southampton Publick House.

“I met my wife, bought a house in Center Moriches and then the climate started to change in politics and I really felt that complaining on the sidelines wasn’t doing enough and that it was time to get involved,” he said.

“One guy gives you a great plan, and the second guy refuses to do it because the first guy thought of it,” is how he describes how Congress works.

Also in the race is Mr. Gershon, 55, who announced his intention to run for Congress on July 15. He has worked in commercial real estate for more than 25 years and told The Suffolk Times he is running in this election to fight against health care being taken away from Americans and to “restore the middle class.”

He said he raised more than $100,000 in campaign contributions in his first week of campaigning, although current fundraising numbers on the FEC website don’t show any fundraising activities beyond June 30, with the next filing due Oct. 15.

The fourth Democrat officially recognized by the FEC as having established a campaign is David Pechefsky, who currently lives in Brooklyn, which is not within the 1st Congressional District.

According to the state Board of Elections, a candidate for Congress doesn’t have to live in the district in which he or she is running, but must be at least 25 years old, reside in the state when they are elected, and have been a U.S. citizen for at least seven years.

However, Mr. Pechefsky, 49, said in an interview this week that he plans to move into the 1st Congressional District.

Mr. Pechefsky, a graduate of Patchogue-Medford High School, is a longtime staff member with the New York City Council and has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Hunter College and a master’s in international development from American University in Washington, D.C.

His campaign website says he’s running for Congress “because we need to take our government back from [President Donald] Trump and his apologists and enablers like Lee Zeldin.”

Ms. DiMasi, 48, is a former Brookhaven National Laboratory physicist of 21 years.

“My vision for Long Island creates a re-energized economy with new jobs in the clean energy sector. Evidence-based policy will right-size the regulations, so we have affordable protections that work,” she said on the Facebook site.

On Tuesday, Mr. Zeldin’s office issued the following statement:

“While several Democratic Party candidates spend the next year trying to out liberal each other for the right to be the Democratic Party designee, Congressman Zeldin will remain completely focused working harder than anyone else to deliver positive results to grow our economy, protect our security and improve in many other ways our community, state and nation.”

Among the top issues he is working on are preventing the sale of Plum Island, doubling funding for the Long Island Sound Program to $8 million and fully funding the Peconic Estuary Program, to $26.7 million, and the National Sea Grant College Program, which will help grow Long Island’s seafood economy, to $72.5 million, according to Jennifer DiSiena, Mr. Zeldin’s communications director.

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File photo: Congressman Lee Zeldin. (Credit: Grant Parpan)