July 26, 2017

Mr. Thiele Goes To Washington?

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It's not that he hasn't been asked in the past; happy with the work he does in the State Assembly, Fred Thiele just wasn't that interested.

Now he is.

"Where Congress is now and what's going on in DC – the current political climate – it's piqued my interest," the assemblyman said. Last week he met with movers and shakers in Washington to discuss a possible run for a seat in the House of Representatives. "I have some interest in that this time around," he revealed.

One day in DC was spent with members of the New York Congressional delegation and another meeting with staff from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "I think they consider this race to be one of their priorities," Thiele, an Independence Party member, told The Independent. "In the next few weeks, I'll meet with a lot of local political and community leaders ... my goal is to make a decision one way or another by Labor Day."

As state assemblyman representing the East End for the last 22 years, Thiele's worked with the area's current congressman Lee Zeldin, a Republican. Choosing his words carefully, Thiele spoke of his potential opponent's "disappointing" performance. "He's been sucked into a partisan vortex. I'm not sure that serves the district well."

By contrast, Thiele noted a career-long ability to work across party lines, and eschew partisan politics. "This district has always been represented by someone independent-minded, someone who put the district first, going all the way back to the tradition of Congressman Otis Pike in the 1960s," he said.

Pike was the first congressman Thiele recalls from childhood. He aspires to model his public service on the Long Island representative. That means putting people before politics, maintaining an independent mind, and forwarding measures with consistency, persistence, and fiscal responsibility.

"I think experience is important," the veteran elected offered. "To me it's about getting things done," he said, noting his place among the top five lawmakers when it comes to getting legislation passed.

There is one radical difference between the Pike campaign and Thiele's potential run. Pike spent a grand total of $12,500 in his House race. Since then, the amount of money it takes to run a congressional campaign is, said Thiele, "a whole different order of magnitude" compared to what the lawmaker has spent on state campaigns where he rarely faced viable opponents.

War chests in local congressional races surpassed the million-dollar mark years ago. "I'm not worried about my ability to raise money," the Sag Harbor native said. "I just find how money has dominated political campaigns to be pretty distasteful."

Overall, Thiele said, "I felt very positive at the end of the trip." He pointed out that there are a number of potential candidates for the seat that the DCCC wants to interview.

The field seems to grow weekly. Former Suffolk County Legislator Vivian Viloria-Fisher from East Setauket has expressed interest, as has Legislator Kate Browning who represents the Mastic area on the county legislature. Peter Gershon from East Hampton has reportedly formed a campaign committee and Brookhaven National Lab scientist Elaine DiMasi has joined the cadre of Zeldin foes.

Midterm elections will be held in 2018.

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