Heather Collins is challenging longtime Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Jr. for a third time, hoping to unseat the incumbent — a 13-term assemblyman who chairs the Local Governments Committee and is the only sitting member of the state Legislature who is not a Democrat or Republican.
The district includes 31,757 active registered Democratic voters, 26,539 active Republicans and 24,456 active independent voters.
The district’s economy is reliant on communications, agriculture, tourism and fishing. Such fishing industries off of Shelter Island, casinos in Southampton, tourism in East Hampton and technological and communications industries are the heart of the Town of Brookhaven.
Collins is a member of the Suffolk County Republican Women, the Southampton Town Republican Committee and she is on the PTA of Quogue Elementary School. Collins is also employed as a clerk for the Suffolk County Board of Elections.
When asked for an interview, Collins declined.
Collins has been the challenger to Thiele twice before and was defeated both times.
In 2014, she won 32.4 percent of the vote compared to Thiele’s 60.6 percent. In 2016, she won 37.65 percent of the vote compared to Thiele’s 62.65. Thiele faced a different challenger in 2018, Patrick O’Connor, who he beat 61.6 percent to 38.4 percent.
Thiele is running for reelection on both the Independence Party and Democratic lines. Collins is endorsed by both the Republican and Conservative parties.
Thiele is a Sag Harbor native and an attorney with a practice that specializes in municipal government. He has previously served as a Suffolk County legislator and the Southampton Town Supervisor.
Thiele was first elected to the state Assembly during a special election in 1995 and he represented District 2 from 1995 to 2013. Thiele switched from the Republican Party to the Independence Party in October 2010. He has represented District 1 since 2013.
He currently chairs the Assembly’s Local Governments Committee, and also serves on the Environmental Conservation Committee, the Oversight, Analysis and Investigation Committee, the Transportation Committee and the Ways and Means Committee.
Thiele is serving his 13th term in the Assembly. He authored legislation that created the Peconic Bay Community Preservation Fund Act which authorized the five towns in the Peconic Region to use a 2 percent real estate transfer tax for land preservation and water quality protection. Since its enactment 20 years ago by public referendum, the fund as generated more than $1.4 billion and has resulted in the preservation of more than 10,000 acres of sensitive lands.
Other environmental initiatives he is proud f include state funding for improving water quality, Peconic Bay and South Shore Estuary projects, farmland preservation, and state acquisition of critical environmental parcels.
Thiele also helped establish the South Fork Commuter Connection and was an original proponent of the STAR program to reduce school taxes.
Thiele has also been relatively quiet this election season, but he did accept an invitation to be interviewed for this article. Thiele said that the issues of water quality, climate change and housing costs are his main priorities for this upcoming term.
“Water quality, as well as upgrading septic systems and building a new water treatment plan, [are] my main goals for this upcoming term,” Thiele told the Legislative Gazette.
He listed his next priorities: “Climate change, reducing fossil fuels and most importantly adapting to climate change,” and added, “housing costs are also a primary concern for our district.”
COVID-19 has been a huge challenge for every New Yorker, including lawmakers.
“Constituent work during the pandemic has become more important than ever, as well as helping with unemployment insurance, answering questions about essential business, helping small businesses access loans and helping with local food insecurity through food banks,” Thiele said.
Thiele is also aware of Collins’ campaign inactivity, stating, “She’s not campaigning; her name is on the ballot.” He also commented on the types of campaign approaches often taken by politicians. “There are two ways to campaign: be scared, or be unopposed,” he said.