In the sea of blue that is New York, Long Island remains a Republican stronghold, especially Suffolk County where Fire Island sits off the coast. Had it been the eastern Long Island county’s decision alone to make, Donald Trump would still be president by a margin of 232 votes, making Suffolk the most populous county that he carried in the nation according to The Wall Street Journal. That said, the two GOP congressmen whose districts include Fire Island both won their seats in 2020 by respectable margins, and the tumultuous first month of 2021 is already painting different portraits of each man.
To Fire Island’s Brookhaven east side, Lee Zeldin is already a familiar commodity, both on the local and national stage. The Shirley native, who graduated from William Floyd High School, won his First District seat for a fourth term over contender Nancy Goroff, taking 55 percent of the vote. Zeldin actually interviewed with this publication as a freshman congressman in 2015, and he spoke with enthusiasm about his appointment to the Infrastructure and Transportation Committee. However after the 2016 presidential election, he emerged as one of Trump’s most fervent advocates.
Due west, while Andrew Garbarino may be new to the congressional scene, he is hardly unknown on Long Island. As a New York Assemblyman, he represented the Seventh Assembly District since 2013. With 53 percent of the vote over Democratic hopeful Jackie Gordon, the Sayville native held onto the Republican seat vacated by the retiring incumbent Peter King. Only days after being sworn into his new office, Garbarino would become one of 60 freshmen to the House of Representatives to face an unprecedented test on Jan. 6, 2021.
“On January 3rd, I took an oath to support and defend the U.S. Constitution,” Garbarino wrote on his Twitter page that fateful day. “Because of this oath, I will not object the certification of the 2020 presidential election.”
In contrast, Zeldin posted a video of himself on his Twitter page at 11:31 p.m. of Jan. 6, entitled “In defense of the republic,” [sic] in which he states why he was challenging the Electoral College Presidential Election results, less than 24 hours after the Capitol Building was stormed by a mob of Trump supporters.
“Signature verification, ballot observation, voter roll integrity, voter ID requirements and ballot collection protections were weakened on top of the millions of mailboxes that were flooded with unrequested mail-in ballots,” says Zeldin, while speaking on the Congressional floor in the video. He goes on several more minutes expounding on theories such as the state of Wisconsin placing “unmanned drop boxes in locations picked to boost Democrat turnout.”
Zeldin’s words drew many harsh rebukes by critics that included calls for his resignation. While he made attempts to backtrack his statements the next day by acknowledging Joseph Biden would be sworn in as the next president of the United States on January 20, 2021, criticism lingered over the weeks that followed, including an ethics complaint jointly filed by 22 New York attorneys in late January, calling his speech “riddled with misinformation and misrepresentations” in the grievance.
Meanwhile, while Zeldin tries to salvage his reputation, his Long Island congressional colleague fresh into his first term is striving to walk a fine line. While supporting the election certification process, Garbarino voted against the Jan. 13, 2021, impeachment proceedings of Trump.
“Yesterday, I voted against a rushed impeachment that was quickly pushed through Congress,” he wrote on his Facebook page the following day. “I strongly condemn the acts of terror that took place last week, but I believe this impeachment unfortunately opens the door to fast political impeachment hearings in the future. These past few weeks have brought out deep divisions in our nation, but the election is over. It’s time to get back to business; delivering additional COVID-19 relief, improving our infrastructure, restoring Long Island’s SALT deduction, protecting our environment, and so much more.”
The comment thread that followed his statement was filled with harsh words for him from constituents on both sides of the aisle. Fast forward two weeks later, and a political watchdog group for the Second Congressional District took note that a photo of Garbarino standing in the company of the controversial Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) recently linked to QAnon conspiracy theories among other alleged transgressions was quietly removed from his social media feed. In his first month in Washington D.C., it appears Garbarino has already learned that image can be everything.
An elected official’s legacy is built by the decisions they make, and voters on Long Island can be a tough audience indeed. History is watching, and Fire Island is too.
EDITOR’S NOTE: While acknowledging the existence of a group photo in which Andrew Garbarino standing in the company of Marjorie Taylor Greene has been circulating on the internet, a representative from his office contacted our publication on Tuesday, February 2, 2021 to state that the Congressman never placed, or removed said photo from his social media feed.
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