Browning to challenge Zeldin in 2018
Suffolk County Legis. Kate Browning has announced she will run for Congress in 2018.

Courtesy photo

Browning to challenge Zeldin in 2018

Story By: TARA SMITH
10/12/2017


Third District Suffolk County Legis. Kate Browning (WF,D,I,WEP) has made it official: She’s running for Congress against incumbent Republican Lee Zeldin (R,C) in 2018. 

Her announcement comes a week after state Assemb. Fred W. Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) said he would not run. Thiele’s decision was significant, as Browning is a longtime friend and colleague of his; both said they would not run if the other did.

Browning, 58, has served as Suffolk County legislator since 2005; term limits prevent her from seeking re-election. She was elected as a member of the Working Families Party with support from Democrats. She officially changed to the Democratic Party in May, which will go into effect after November’s election.

Her decision to run comes after months of urging by constituents and colleagues, she said. As her final term wraps up, she started getting phone calls from her constituents, who were unhappy that she would no longer be their legislator. “They urged me to consider running for something else, and the majority kept mentioning a congressional run,” she said.

But it wasn’t an overnight decision. “It was something I took my time to look at, and I obviously needed the support of my family,” she said. With strong support from her family — husband Steve, a NYC detective, three children and three grandchildren — Browning will move forward with her campaign.

“I take a lot of pride in my work and what I’ve done for the residents of the Third District,” she said, adding, “The third LD is in a better place today.” Over 12 years, Browning has worked on a diverse range of issues including the environment, community revitalization and the opioid epidemic. Regulating sober homes was one of her key objectives. “It was an ongoing battle from the very beginning,” she said. She led the call to close down unregulated sober homes and establish a sober home network with a Request for Qualifications and introduced a bill in June that would withhold funds from two sober home operators due to complaints and lack of regulation.

She also fought for the ShotSpotter implementation in North Bellport that started the area’s turnaround, secured funding for sewers in the Mastic-Shirley area, and worked to preserve over 700 acres of land that included the Beaver Dam Creek watershed area, while creating a protection zone for the Forge River watershed against development. She has fought also for the Carmans River, Yaphank Lakes and other environmentally sensitive parcels.

Browning, who was born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland, lived through the turbulent conflict The Troubles and left for Germany at 19. That’s where she met Steve, who was then serving in the U.S. military. After they wed, the couple settled in Shirley, where they have lived for over 25 years. 

Prior to being elected to the Legislature, Browning drove a school bus for the William Floyd School District to help with finances for her family and became active in TWU Local 252, as assistant shop steward and shop steward, helping to negotiate contracts at every bargaining cycle. “We struggled,” she said, noting that she and her husband held down three jobs to support their young family. “I haven’t forgotten that.”

Her experience both as a working-class resident and representative of the area gives her what she believes it takes to unseat Zeldin next year. “I can truly say I’ve lived it, and understand the issues of people in this district,” she said. “They are working families who struggle every day to make ends meet. We have a congressman who has forgotten where he came from.”

She plans to take the fight for the middle class to Washington, D.C. if elected, noting that recently proposed legislation would be another blow to the middle class. “Tax reform is going to hurt middle-class families and small business owners,” she said. “They’re always the ones who suffer every time people in Washington make decisions.”

Browning also said it’s time for responsible healthcare reform. “The [Affordable Care Act] is not perfect. There are many, many people who are not covered. We need to truly address healthcare and make sure it’s affordable for everybody,” she said, adding that sometimes it will take disagreements within your own party.

“Your district comes before your party. [Zeldin] is tied to party lines and isn’t thinking about the constituents in his district when making decisions,” she said. “There are votes your party wants you to take that I wouldn’t unless I agreed. My record proves it,” she said, noting that she has passionately and respectfully disagreed on issues among her Democratic colleagues. “I work across party lines. I’m not a partisan politician.”

After announcing this week, Browning will roll up her sleeves and get to work opening FEC campaign accounts and assembling a campaign team. Her announcement means there are now six Democratic hopefuls vying to unseat Zeldin. Vivian Viloria-Fisher, a former Suffolk County legislator from East Setauket, Brendon Henry, a bartender from Center Moriches, Perry Gershon, a chief investment officer at Jefferies LoanCore LLC of East Hampton, David Pechefsky, a Patchogue native who lives in Brooklyn, and Elaine DiMasi, a physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory who lives in Ronkonkoma, have also announced their congressional campaigns. 

The 1st Congressional District has never been represented in Congress by a woman.

As of this printing, Viloria-Fisher has raised $25,620 and Pechefsky has raised $70,813 from April to June 30, 2017, according to the FEC website. No data was available for the other candidates, as the next FEC filing deadline is Oct. 15. 

“I have a lot of respect for Vivian. She’s a hard worker,” Browning said of her former colleague. She said she has met a few other candidates but doesn’t know them that well. “I think I have a strong record and strong roots in the district,” she said.

In response to the many campaign announcements in recent months, a spokesperson for Congressman Zeldin said, “While several Democratic Party candidates spend the next year trying to out-liberal each other for the right to be the Democratic Party designee, 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.”