WASHINGTON — Now that Donald Trump has become the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Rep. Lee Zeldin is touting his ties to the New York businessman — despite the fact that Democrats also are using that connection to attack him.
After endorsing Trump on Wednesday, Zeldin (R-Shirley) said that he had met a year ago with Trump and his wife at their exclusive Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida. Zeldin said that Trump had personally called him after his 2014 campaign victories and that Trump and his father, David Zeldin, share an old school tie as New York Military Academy alumni.
Zeldin, a first-term Republican congressman, said he believes Trump is very popular in his district, much more so than Democratic front-runner and likely nominee Hillary Clinton.
“If the election was held today, at least in the 1st Congressional District, it’s a blowout,” Zeldin said in a telephone interview. “Donald Trump is annihilating the competition whether it was the primary or the general as we saw it play out in the primary on April 19.”
Zeldin pointed out that Trump won 73 percent of the Republican vote on that day in the New York primary, and added, “In my home election district he got over 83 percent of the vote.”
Anna Throne-Holst, the former Southampton Town supervisor who’s seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Zeldin this year, sent out an email on Friday attacking Zeldin for endorsing Trump based on Trump’s primary vote total in the district.
“There is no line Lee Zeldin won’t cross trying to hold on to his seat, including throwing his support behind a racist misogynist because he thinks it will help his political career,” her email said. “There is truly no daylight between him and Donald Trump.”
Still, Zeldin gladly told the story about how he went to Florida last year for a March 12 fundraiser in Florida, and that he gave a heads up to Trump’s staff that he and a party would be dining at the Mar-a-Lago.
Trump and his wife, Melania, visited Zeldin’s table and then took Zeldin and his wife, Diane, to their table for a while, Zeldin recalled. That was before Trump’s announcement that he was running for president, Zeldin said, and “there was no conversation about his political future.”
Zeldin also said Trump had personally called him the days after both his primary victory and his general election victory in 2014 — and that Trump told him he had only recorded robocalls for Zeldin and one other congressional candidate.
He said his father, a semiretired corporate security contractor who lives in Bellmore, had long been active in the New York Military Academy’s alumni groups, and had spent 15 years as a treasurer and 20 years as a board member.
David Zeldin said in an email that he knew Trump well enough to ask him for support for the alumni associations but had never asked him to back his son’s political campaigns.
Lee Zeldin said he was surprised that Trump decided to run for the White House and that he has done so well. And, he said, “I haven’t seen him since he became a presidential candidate.”