Trump Resistance: Emerging Democrat Group Eyes Peter King’s Seat

Peter King
Rep. Peter King. (Christopher Twarowski/Long Island Press)

One day after President Donald Trump was sworn into office, millions of women across the country took to the streets. Hundreds donned “Pussy Hats” and waved signs proclaiming “My body, my choice” as they marched in record numbers—in Washington, D.C., Boston, Portland and New York, among other cities.

In the nation’s capital, people demonstrated in such sheer numbers that hordes of protesters had to diverge from the designated path to the White House, just to keep their legs moving.

The Women’s March in Washington has been credited as the awakening of the anti-Trump resistance. Since then, cities across the country have been the scene of intense rallies as incensed Americans decry such policies as Trump’s travel ban targeting mostly Muslims, deportations, controversial Cabinet selections and environmental issues.

Besides protest, grassroots groups have emerged in the wake of the election in opposition to the new administration’s policies and with the hope of keeping pressure on elected officials, perhaps even drumming up enough support to inspire a serious challenge against entrenched incumbents. One such group whose efforts has paid immediate dividends is New York’s 2nd District Democrats, named after the congressional district spanning parts of four Long Island towns: Hempstead, Oyster Bay, Islip, and Babylon. New York’s 2nd is represented by Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), whose district was remapped in 2013. The district boasts nearly a half-million eligible voters, with Democrats holding a slim majority over Republicans.

New York’s 2nd District Democrats is barely a month old, but in a short time it organized an anti-Muslim ban rally outside King’s office on Feb. 3 that drew several hundred people. They’ve held “Thank You” events outside the Melville offices of Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer, the legislative body’s minority leader, and Kirsten Gillibrand, and distributed online daily “Action Alerts” regarding the latest hotly debated issue. Notably, the nascent group’s organizers got King to agree to a sit down to address pressing concerns, including his pointed admonishment of protesters outside a Republican retreat in Philadelphia.

Peter King Muslim Ban Protest from Sparrow Media on Vimeo.

Long Island, despite its sizeable population (one million fewer than the city of Los Angeles) is unlikely to ever be confused with major metropolitan areas in terms of on-the-ground political activism. But in the short time since Trump’s election, a coalition of like-minded progressive organizations has mobilized on social media, arranged meetings and training sessions, and hit the streets. The unifying force behind this surprising resistance: President Trump.

“The democrats are stepping up. They needed to step up more in the past, but I think they’re stepping up now because, all of a sudden, there are groups across the country—and it’s not just on Long Island, it’s everywhere—people are furious,” said Liuba Grechen Shirley, the founder of New York 2nd District Democrats. “Three million more people voted for Hillary [Clinton] but because of the electoral college system, we’re stuck with Donald Trump. But those three million people are now getting active. And they’re reaching out to their networks, they’re starting groups, and they’re organizing.”

Like many Democrats reeling after Trump’s shocking victory, Grechen Shirley, 35, of Amityville, was devastated by the result. She said she was depressed in the aftermath of the election and needed to find an outlet. She went online, consulted the Indivisible website, which created a “practical guide for resisting the Trump agenda,” and scrutinized its database to find groups on the local level involved in the Trump resistance. The screen was blank.

So, she did what many others have since that fateful November day: created her own grassroots organization online. Her first get-together at a local Starbucks drew nearly two dozen people, more than she expected. In the month since, New York’s 2nd District Democrats has more than 600 members and counting.

The group’s short-term goals are modest: Establish a routine of hosting monthly meetings, coordinate volunteers and continue to spread the word. Their long-term goals are much more ambitious: mobilize and re-energize a Democratic base that became complacent during the Obama years, resist Trump, and perhaps most enterprising, flip the district.

Removing King from office could prove exceedingly difficult. The 13-term congressman has been in office for a quarter-century and has held high-ranking committee positions. King boasts national recognition and can regularly be found making the rounds on the Sunday morning political TV circuit and pontificating on national security matters. Despite Democrats holding an edge in registered voters on the island and in his district, King has repeatedly won re-election with considerable ease.

Last November, the unapologetic Republican handily defeated his opponent, Democrat DuWayne Gregory, presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature. King’s 25-percent margin was made even more impressive considering Gregory is a known commodity in Long Island political circles. Gregory’s unsuccessful bid came during a presidential election, which typically draws substantially more voters to the polls than mid-terms, the next being 2018. It begs the question: Is King untouchable?

“Uprooting Peter King might be one of the most difficult political tasks that any candidate or opposition party could face,” Larry Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, told the Press. “Although he has taken controversial positions that have alienated some groups, he has had an uncanny ability to draw voters from across partisan and ideological divides.”

King is “especially strong with white working-class and middle-class voters who dominated in his district,” Levy added. “Union workers who often support Democrats have crossed over for him in large numbers because he is seen as a guy with working-class roots and a professional who also is willing to work with people from the other party on things like [Hurricane] Sandy recovery and rebuilding after 9/11. He is, to paraphrase Trump, ‘One tough political hombre.’”

Still, Grechen Shirley is undeterred. She mentions the district’s Democratic majority and the 18,000 registered Independents whose votes may be up for grabs. She’s also optimistic that New York’s 2nd District Democrats will continue to ride a wave of momentum, which, ironically, has been buoyed by Trump’s inability to shake the drama surrounding Russia’s alleged role in interfering in the election and policies Democrats find objectionable.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Grechen Shirley said. “I know that we’re all dedicated enough because this is a horrifying time in American history to see Donald Trump doing what he’s doing in the office of the presidency. He’s undermining the judiciary, he’s undermining the press, he’s undermining the constitution, and this man is our president. It’s not acceptable. It’s awful. So, I’m not slightly concerned about keeping up the momentum.”

Talk to other members and you’ll uncover similar enthusiasm for political activism—which some argue may not have manifested if Clinton had been victorious.

Katie Twomey, a social worker who lives in Nassau County but declined to say which town because of the nature of her work, sees potential Republican seats up for grabs. She mentioned how the recent indictments of Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and since-resigned Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto could shift upcoming elections in the left’s favor.

“There’s a lot of opportunities for people who feel very disaffected by what’s going on,” Twomey said.

Twomey has always been politically minded, she said. What’s most heartening for her and other local politicos is the participation of previously apathetic Long Islanders.

Peter King protest
Protestors rallied outside Rep. Peter King’s Massapequa Park office Friday, Feb. 3, 2017 in opposition to President Donald Trump’s immigration ban and other initiatives. (Long Island Press / Rashed Mian)

Kayla Cooper, 28, of Amityville, a social worker, is one such person. She was disconnected politically during the Obama era. Trump’s victory changed all that.

“The best thing to come out of this election is I am more engaged politically,” she told the Press.

Cooper’s entrance into the political sphere goes beyond criticizing Trump. She’s become more interested in bills being debated in Congress and is also focusing on local politics.

Trump’s win was a “shock to the system,” she said. But joining New York’s 2nd District Democrats has “definitely been cathartic for me.”

The anti-Trump movement is not only for America’s youth, but they have been credited with breathing life into the so-called “Resistance.”

“I’ve been involved since Vietnam and so on,” said Burt Koza, 70, of Copiague, another member of Grechen Shirley’s group. “It’s nice to see this same feeling that I think I had when I was in college, and shortly after college, coming alive again. I see the spirit that we had back in those days in these young people.”

Koza found New York’s 2nd District Democrats on Facebook. (“I play around on Facebook a lot cause I’m a retired guy,” said the former Catholic school teacher.)

Koza, a Suffolk County Democrat Committeeman and member of the Babylon Town Zoning Board, was impressed by the turnout at the King protest and a sister Women’s March in Port Jefferson.

“It’s good to see it’s happening across the country,” he said.

Koza volunteered for Gregory’s campaign against King, and said he wishes more people came out to support the congressional nominee.

Like Grechen Shirley, he believes Democrats can channel the energy they’ve created into persistent political action.

“I think it’s tough to keep it going, but luckily we have a man in Washington that keeps doing things that gets it moving again—he’s his own worst enemy,” Koza said. “Every day there’s something new. Those people that are upset about [Trump] are upset by what he did that day. That’s keeping it going, in a strange sort of way.”

Featured Photo: Rep. Peter King (Christopher Twarowski/Long Island Press)