U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin has declined to participate in a forum on morality and ethics, which is being hosted by nine East End houses of worship later this month, because of what he says are event organizers’ potential biases.
Chris Boyle, the congressman’s campaign communications director, said he contacted one of the organizers, Rabbi Jan Uhrbach of the Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons in Bridgehampton, earlier this month via email to explain why Mr. Zeldin would not go to the event, which will be attended by Perry Gershon, his Democratic challenger for the 1st District seat in the House of Representatives.
“The congressman looks forward to impartial, fact-based debates prior to the election,” Mr. Boyle wrote in the email to Rabbi Uhrbach. “Due to your frequent political attacks against the congressman, via public statements, on social media, at protests, in front of his office, in meetings directly with the congressman, and elsewhere, it is extremely unlikely that you would be impartial.”
A few of the participating clergy members have publicly spoken out against Mr. Zeldin and his political beliefs and policies, on social media and at local marches and demonstrations.
Rabbi Uhrbach, however, disputed the premise that the forum would be slanted. She also noted that Mr. Zeldin had declined to participate in a similar event last year, before campaigning began.
“There is a strong need right now for faith leaders to speak up, not to insist that our particular faith be enacted into policy but that voices of faith are able to refocus some of the core discussions of morality,” she said. “I can’t imagine why a candidate would feel that so many different faith communities coming together would not be impartial. This is not one person, and it’s not even just clergy—we represent houses of worship that are very diverse within themselves.”
Mr. Zeldin did not respond to a request for comment, but his campaign released a statement: “My opponent, who recently registered in our district just to run for Congress here, says in his stump speech that his reason for running against me is because of the similarities he sees between the president and Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. This can’t become a new normal of an uneducated, desensitized, unhinged lack of decency, perspective, bipartisanship and morality.”
In addition to the Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons, the event is organized by Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church in Bridgehampton, Calvary Baptist Church in East Hampton, Christ Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor, Hamptons Lutheran Parish in Bridgehampton and Amagansett, Hamptons United Methodist Church in Southampton, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork in Bridgehampton, Jewish Center of the Hamptons in East Hampton, and Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor.
According to Rabbi Uhrbach, the event, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, August 27, at Christ Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor, was organized to allow both candidates in the 1st District an opportunity to engage with their constituents and have a candid conversation on morals and character.
“It’s unfortunate that Zeldin did not accept this invitation—it’s his chance to prove that he will stand up to, and not be a rubber stamp for, President Trump,” Mr. Gershon said in a phone interview. “This is a chance to show our community faith leaders that our elected representatives have concerns for moral values in America at a time when the president is not providing good leadership—and, hopefully, both candidates for congress in New York 1 will attend.”
“The door remains wide open for Congressman Zeldin to participate, and we sincerely hope he will,” said the Reverend Kimberly Quinn Johnson, a participating organizer from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork.