Suffolk Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) said Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017,...

Suffolk Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) said Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, that she will seek the Democratic nomination to run against Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) next year. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Suffolk County Legis. Kate Browning announced Thursday she will seek the Democratic nomination to run against Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) next year.

Browning, a longtime Working Families Party member from Shirley who registered as a Democrat in May, said her working-class background gives her an advantage over Zeldin and others seeking the Democratic nomination in the 1st Congressional District.

“I have a district that’s a working-class, middle-class district,” Browning, a former school bus driver who was active in her union, said in an interview.

“That’s where I’ve come from. I know what it’s like,” Browning said. “I walked in their shoes. I don’t think Lee Zeldin understands that.”

Browning has served in the Suffolk Legislature since 2005 but can’t seek re-election under term limits. Her Democratic Party registration takes effect after this November’s election.

Browning criticized Zeldin for supporting the Republican tax reform plan, which she said would hurt middle-class Long Island families because it would scrap the deductibility of state and local taxes. Zeldin has said he supports efforts to include those deductions in the federal tax plan that will pass Congress.

Browning also said Republicans have failed to improve the Affordable Care Act.

“I don’t think we should be repealing and replacing,” Browning said. “It needs to be amended. It needs to be fixed. I don’t think it needs to be totally repealed.”

Zeldin spokeswoman Jennifer DiSiena said in a statement: “While several Democratic Party candidates spend the next year trying to out-liberal each other for the Democratic designation, 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.”

Browning joins an already crowded field of Democrats vying to defeat Zeldin, who is serving his second term in the 1st Congressional District, which covers eastern Long Island, Brookhaven and portions of Smithtown and Islip.

Among other candidates are Perry Gershon, a former Manhattan resident who in June registered to vote at his East Hampton seasonal home. He raised $507,000 through September, including a $60,000 personal loan, and spent $95,164, according to federal election filings. Gershon in an interview said he’s prepared for a primary.

Suffolk County Legis. Kate Browning appears before the county legislature...

Suffolk County Legis. Kate Browning appears before the county legislature in Smithtown Thursday, April 20, 2017. Credit: Barry Sloan

“I think having candidates out meeting voters, presenting their point of view — as long as it stays positive — is a good thing for the party,” Gershon said.

Suffolk Democratic chairman Rich Schaffer called Browning “formidable,” particularly because she’s popular in her district, which also is where Zeldin is from.

Schaffer said that while he’d work to avoid a primary by getting an agreement on one candidate, he added that “based on the number of candidates, that’s unlikely.”

Progressive groups have protested against Zeldin and his support of President Donald Trump since the 2016 election.

Asked about Trump, Browning said he hasn’t followed through on campaign promises for an infrastructure bill or to unite the country.

“If there’s anything positive he can do, to help the country and constituents, I’d support him. At this point in time, there’s too much fighting going on,” she said.

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