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A potential challenger for Lee Zeldin emerges

Rep. Lee Zeldin speaks at Suffolk Community College

Rep. Lee Zeldin speaks at Suffolk Community College in Riverhead on Nov. 1, 2016. Credit: Ed Betz

This originally appeared in The Point, the editorial board's newsletter for insiders. To subscribe, click here.

The federal midterm elections are more than 19 months away but it’s a fair bet that Long Island’s 1st Congressional District will once again be a toss-up seat to watch. And now a significant potential challenger has emerged for Rep. Lee Zeldin.

Democratic leaders on the East End have approached Fred Thiele, a long-term member of the State Assembly, about making a run. And Thiele is considering it.

“If you had mentioned ‘congressional seat’ two years ago, I would have chased you out of my office with a pitchfork,” Thiele told The Point, and he still puts his chances of entering the race at less than 50-50. But, he admits that he’s bothered by what’s happening nationally.

“If you’re motivated by public service, what got us all involved in this to begin with, it’s hard to watch what’s going on in Washington and feel you could have made a contribution and you sat by the wayside,” Thiele said.

Thiele, 63, an Independence Party member who caucuses with the Democrats, has been in the Assembly since 1995 and has a strong track record of working with Republicans and getting effective legislation passed. He says he still enjoys his job and knows he’d have to give it up to make a run for Congress, but “at this stage of my life, I’m willing to make that move.”

Thiele, who said he’ll make a decision toward year’s end, said he worked well with Zeldin when the Shirley Republican was in the State Senate. “But the idea of canceling your town hall meetings, I didn’t like that,” Thiele said. “I need to see more, but I am concerned.”