Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), eyeing the Republican nomination for next year’s gubernatorial race, made a campaign stop in Riverhead on Sunday morning.
The event, hosted by the Nofo Patriots group, was billed as a food fundraiser that turned into a political rally and car parade that went to Greenport, Shelter Island and South Fork. It started with a rally in the former Walmart parking lot along Route 58 in Riverhead, where similar pro-Trump caravans began ahead of the 2020 election.
In a 20-minute speech, Mr. Zeldin spoke to a crowd of nearly 100 supporters drawn to the “red wave” that swept Long Island during the November 2nd general election.
“We need change,” said Mr. Zeldin. “We need a new direction for our country … and we need a balance in our state.”
During his speech, Mr. Zeldin spoke about the need to strengthen public security, repeal the state’s cashless bail reforms and support law enforcement officers. He said he was running as a “last stand” to save the state.
“We want you to stay and afford to live here in New York,” he said, demanding a balance in Albany.
Mr. Zeldin also took up the hotly debated topic of “parental rights” in the suburbs. The educational topics range from mask requirements and COVID-19 restrictions to educating children about racism and even sex education, which, according to Zeldin, is often not “age-appropriate” for children.
“We believe that for quality education our students should go to school,” he said. “Don’t try to indoctrinate our children – don’t try to brainwash our children.”
According to the New York Department of Health, Mr. Zeldin’s hometowns, Shirley and Mastic Beach, remain at the lower end of vaccination rates in Suffolk County. While he said he was fully vaccinated, his messages to 313,000 followers on Twitter focused solely on anti-mandates.
Some of the vehicles that took part in the parade were posted with flags and messages on the windows such as “We will not comply” and “Expose the children”.
In addition to American flags and “Thin Blue Line” flags, some also contained messages such as “Trump Won” and “Let’s Go Brandon”, an anti-Biden slogan.
Several Riverhead Town police officers were on site for security and to direct traffic. When Mr. Zeldin finished his remarks, a woman in the crowd who appeared to be a counter-demonstrator was molested when she asked him to comment on the January 6th riot in the Capitol.
While this resulted in a brief, tense moment between the woman and others in the crowd, local police officers said there was no incident.
Mr. Zeldin served two terms in the New York State Senate from 2010 before defeating former Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) in 2014.
Since announces his candidacy in April he enlisted the support of virtually every GOP leader in the county, including Nassau and Suffolk Counties. Former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and Andrew Giuliani, son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, have also made bids for the governor.
New York has not had a Republican governor since Governor George Pataki ended in 2007.
“We will have a choice in which they will still talk about the history of this group in 40 years,” Zeldin said on Sunday. “We are going to elect a Suffolk County governor for the first time ever. We’ll have a bigger seat at the table than ever before. “
Mr Zeldin spoke on Sunday after recently voting against both the Build Back Better bill and the $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure bill signed on Monday.
After the rally on Sunday, which was attended by several other speakers, a caravan of more than 50 vehicles set off for the parade, which co-organizer Vinny Tirelli said was held to raise food and cash donations for local food supplies, General Needs, local organization that helps homeless veterans, and Mission 22, which provides help in the treatment of traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder to collect veterans.
“We’re a very patriotic group, but we want to show that it’s not about party lines, it’s not about politics,” said Tirelli. “Although we’re a Republican and Conservative organization, it’s about giving back to the people who need it. There are a lot of people who go without it this year, especially when it all happens. Lots of people are unemployed. “
By mid-morning, Mr Tirelli said the group had filled about four vans with donated food that will go to pantries on the north and south fork.