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Race for Congress: Thiele out, Browning in

Longtime state Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) has decided against a bid to challenge incumbent 1st District Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin of Shirley in 2018.

Meanwhile, county Legislator Kate Browning (D-Shirley) threw her hat into the ring for that seat last week.

Ms. Browning becomes the sixth candidate to seek the Democratic nod for Congress, according to the Federal Elections Commission. To date, Mr. Zeldin is the only Republican candidate.

Should there be a primary vote in the 1st District, it would take place June 26, 2018. The general election is set for Nov. 6, 2018.

Ms. Browning has been a county legislator for 12 years and is prohibited by a term-limit law from seeking re-election.

Both Mr. Thiele and Ms. Browning said they would not run a primary against each other.

The assemblyman says he’s backing Ms. Browning for Congress.

Asked what led to his decision, Mr. Thiele replied, “I think there were two things. One is the realization that I can probably accomplish more on the issues that I care about as the senior member of the state Legislature in Albany than as a 65-year-old freshman congressman in Washington.

“And secondly, on the political side of things, I would have to think that the strategy for winning that seat requires the early selection of a candidate — and the lack of a primary. That simply wasn’t happening. There’s probably half a dozen candidates out there and I think a primary seems likely. I think the only one who benefits from a primary is the incumbent.”

Mr. Thiele said there needed to have been early consensus around one candidate.

He also noted that in order to run for Congress, he would have to give up his Assembly seat, since both positions are up for election in 2018.

“I have a lot of respect for Fred,” Ms. Browning said. “Certainly I would not want to run a primary against him. He’s become a really good friend over the years. I wouldn’t do that with a friend.”

Ms. Browning said she feels she’s in a good position to win both the primary and the general election.

“I’ve been a legislator for 12 years. I feel like I’ve won handily every election and I think I have a good record to show and I’ve worked with my colleagues on the Legislature for the good of the entire county,” she said.

Ms. Browning added that she’s “not a party person” and has backed both Republicans and Democrats on issues that will protect the quality of life in their districts.

“I’ll cross party lines if I have to in order to do the right thing for my constituents,” she said.

Ms. Browning has been registered with the Working Families party for most of her years in the Legislature and ran with Democratic backing. She recently changed her registration to Democrat.

“I think issues like open space and farmland preservation are extremely important for the survival of the East End,” she said. “My record on water quality, I think, is very strong.”

Ms. Browning feels Mr. Zeldin “has forgotten that he has a district. When it comes to a lot of what’s going on, he just falls in step with the Paul Ryan establishment and is not necessarily looking at what’s best for his district.”

She said a Republican tax reform bill will hurt Long Islanders and New Yorkers.

Mr. Zeldin has said Republicans plan to simplify the tax code.

“I want to see my hard-working constituents keeping more of their paychecks, experiencing a lower cost of living and being able to save more for retirement,” the congressman said in a press release. “All of this is possible.”

Other Democratic candidates who have officially thrown their hats in the ring for Congress in 2018 include former county legislator Vivian Viloria-Fisher of Setauket; Brendon Henry of Center Moriches; Perry Gershon of East Hampton; David Pechefsky of Brooklyn; and Elaine DiMasi of Ronkonkoma, according to the FEC.

While Ms. Viloria-Fisher may have the best name recognition of that group, it’s Mr. Gershon who is thus far leading Democrats in campaign funding, having raised $506.579 through the latest FEC filings, followed by Mr. Pechefsky — who said he plans to move into the district — at $170,818 and Ms. Viloria-Fisher at $35,619.

The other candidates have yet to raise any campaign funds, according to the FEC.

Ms. Zeldin, meanwhile, has thus far raised $952,873, according to the latest FEC filings.

Photo caption: Fred Thiele and Kate Browning. 

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