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Two East End religious leaders have called on State Sen. Lee Zeldin to withdraw his invitation to controversial former congressman Allen West as a headliner for his campaign kickoff Sept. 8.
Rev. Charles Coverdale of the First Baptist Church of Riverhead called Zeldin’s invitation to West “extremely disturbing” because the former congressman has referred to the Democratic Party as a “21st Century plantation” and black leaders are its overseers. “These beliefs are repugnant and offensive and have no place on Long Island,” Coverdale said.
Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman of the Jewish Center of the Hamptons in East Hampton said Zeldin should distance himself from West because of “extremely alarming” remarks comparing the federal government under President Obama to Nazi Germany. “Long Island will not stand for those who hold intolerance as a value,” he said.
Meanwhile, Zeldin late yesterday announced a second “special guest” for his kickoff rally — retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Steve Russell, who helped lead the effort to capture Saddam Hussein in Iraq. He will join Zeldin, who remains in the Army Reserves and West, who is also a former Army lieutenant colonel, at the event.
Zeldin called Russell “a true American hero who has fought to defend our...way of life for over 20 years” and stood by West, whose appearance has drawn repeated fire from Zeldin’s opponent Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton). “It’s great to have the support of fellow service members such as Allen West and Steve Russell,” Zeldin said.
Zeldin’s kickoff rally is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the VFW Post 4927 in Centereach. Ironically, it is the same place Bishop held a thank-you event after winning his last election.
Zeldin’s response in full:
"Lieutenant Colonel West is my friend and I greatly admire his 20 years of service in the United States military. I am proud to be receiving a wide range of support from people of all backgrounds, including conservatives, moderates and liberals all ready to term limit Tim. We are also excited that retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Steve Russell will also be speaking at Monday's free Fall Campaign Kickoff Rally. Lieutenant Colonel Russell was part of the unit that captured Saddam Hussein. Forty years ago, over 75 percent of Congress was made up military veterans. Now that number is less than one in five. In the First Congressional District of New York, many Republicans, Democrats and independents want to change Washington by changing the people we send there to represent us. We cannot keep re-electing the same Congressmen like Tim Bishop over and over again and ever expect a different result. Long Islanders of all walks of life are deeply concerned with the direction America is headed under the failed Obama-Pelosi Agenda that my opponent has declared his undying loyalty towards. At some point before November 4th, it would be smart for the Democrats to accept two things; (1) Lee Zeldin is Bishop's opponent, not anyone else; and (2) voters want a debate on facts and truth related to our positions on issues related to the economy, immigration, education, healthcare, foreign policy and other more important priorities than Bishop's extremely alarming and obsessive pursuit of job security for himself."