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May 23, 2008 5:40 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Bishop's congressional challenger speaks at Southampton Village Memorial Day event

May 23, 2008 5:40 PM

As it does every year, Southampton Village’s Commission on Veterans’ Patriotic Events invited a veteran to be its keynote speaker during a remembrance service at Agawam Park on Memorial Day.

However, this year’s speaker, Lee Zeldin, in addition to being an Iraq war veteran, is also the Republican candidate for the 1st District congressional seat, challenging Southampton resident U.S. Representative Tim Bishop, a Democrat.

The invitation disappointed the congressman. “He is being invited because he is the Republican candidate for Congress,” Mr. Bishop said flatly on Friday.

“It has nothing to do with politics,” countered Bill Frankenbach, chairman of the Commission on Veterans’ Patriotic Events for the past 45 years—and a former Southampton Town Republican Party chairman.

Mr. Frankenbach, a Korean War veteran, said on Friday that he invited Mr. Zeldin to speak only after asking a dozen other veterans, to no avail. “We’ve been trying for three months, and nobody wants to do it,” he said. Potential speakers were either unavailable or unwilling, he explained, adding, “The veterans out in this area are getting to be few and far between.”

Mr. Bishop said Mr. Frankenbach’s assertion was “nonsense” and argued that there are plenty of other veterans the commission could have asked other than Mr. Zeldin. “He would not know that Lee Zeldin existed if Lee Zeldin was not the Republican candidate,” he said.

Mr. Bishop emphasized that he believes his congressional opponent was absolutely within his rights to accept Mr. Frankenbach’s offer, and that he thinks Mr. Zeldin should be honored and thanked for his military service. “I would only say that it is simply disingenuous for anyone to suggest that he is being invited simply because he is an Iraq vet,” he added.

He also said that Mr. Frankenbach has never invited him to speak at the commission’s Memorial Day or Veterans Day events.

“I’m really just saddened that Bill Frankenbach would choose to take what should be a solemn occasion and introduce a partisan element into that occasion,” he said.

Mr. Frankenbach said he met with Mr. Zeldin and they had a mutual understanding that the Memorial Day service was not a political event and not a place for political speeches.

In an interview on Friday, Mr. Zeldin of Shirley said he had no intention of touching on politics during his address. “It’s Memorial Day,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for us to honor all those who served and not be political in any way, shape or form.”

Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley said that, like Mr. Bishop, he was not happy that Mr. Zeldin was chosen as the speaker. “I let everybody know up front that it was not going to be a campaign opportunity,” the mayor said Tuesday.

Despite his concerns, Memorial Day went well, and Mr. Zeldin was not even introduced as a candidate the mayor said.

“He didn’t mention anything about campaigning. He stayed focused on Memorial Day and his family,” he said, later adding, “If you had talked to the people in the crowd, no one would even have realized that he was a candidate.”

Brendan O’Reilly

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