Candidate Zimmerman is hoping fourth time is a charm

Zimmerman is running for Congress


Robert Zimmerman, an unpaid political commentator for more than a decade for Fox News, CNN and MSNBC, is hoping to replace Congressman Tom Suozzi, who is running for governor, in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Suozzi’s 3rd Congressional District has been redrawn, effective January 2023, when it will stretch from Stony Brook, in Suffolk County, west across the North Shore to Queens, the Bronx and Westchester County. 

Zimmerman, 67, a lifelong Democrat, is co-president and co-founder of ZE Creative Communications, a public relations firm in Great Neck, where he lives. People have told him, he said, that it’s his time to make another run for elective office. 

It will be the fourth attempt for the Democratic National Committee member of 22 years. Zimmerman ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1982, when he was just 27. He was a candidate for the State Assembly in 1986 and 1988, and lost both times. Then he took a break from being a candidate to building a successful business. 

So why is he running now? 

“We are facing the biggest threat to democracy since the Civil War,” Zimmerman said. “Everything I believe in is on the line. So many people today feel isolated. And so many families are trying to rebuild after Covid. We need for people to feel safe again.” 

Zimmerman has advocated for women’s reproductive rights, gun safety and LGBTQ rights for decades. Some of that advocacy, which he described as his “mission in life,” has been personal.

“When I grew up in the ’70s in Great Neck, it was a very isolating time to be a gay kid,” he said. “I even had a former educator suggest conversion therapy to me. I found that political activism gave me a voice after high school and college. It gave me a connection with people.”

State Assemblyman Charles Lavine, who has known Zimmerman for 35 years, has worked closely with him on programs to protect Israel, on gun legislation and on immigration. Zimmerman has always been committed to trying to make life better for the people in his community, Lavine said. 

“And Robert has a global view and a greater familiarity of issues confronting the middle class on the North Shore,” Lavine said. “He’s the only candidate with impressive knowledge of government and business as well.” 

Although Zimmerman has never held office, his interest in politics dates back to when he was 16, and volunteered to work for the campaign of U.S. Rep. Lester Wolff, who was running for re-election. Zimmerman met another volunteer, future New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, who was also 16. 

Zimmerman said he learned a great deal from Wolff, who impressed him with his ability to connect with people. Wolff had a gift for speaking in front of tough audiences, Zimmerman said, which, he says, he can do too. 

Had he not volunteered for Wolff, he might never have met DiNapoli. “We used to fold letters in the basement for Lester,” Zimmerman recalled. “Tom would tell you he worked harder, but I’d have to disagree.”

The two have been friends ever since. Di Napoli endorsed Zimmerman shortly after he announced he was running on Jan. 22. 

“Our paths have been intertwined for 50 years,” DiNapoli said. “I endorsed him because I have confidence he will do an outstanding job in Congress. He’ll bring his own unique qualities that people will find appealing.” 

DiNapoli praised Zimmerman’s passion for politics, and his advocacy. “He’s not afraid to take sides,” DiNapoli said, “and throws himself in early on.” 

After Zimmerman graduated from Brandeis University, he interrupted his MBA studies at Fordham University to go to Washington, where he worked as a senior aide for Wolff, and then for Rep. James Scheuer. 

His experience there will help him to be an effective congressman, Zimmerman said. Like Wolff, he is committed to building coalitions in Washington, and reaching out to people on the issues critical to his district. 

“It’s about listening to people, understanding their concerns and being persistent and aggressive to get the work done,” he said. 

When Wolff died last year, Zimmerman spoke at his memorial service.

People like Zimmerman, DiNapoli said, because they know where he stands. He’s honorable, and advocates for others before himself. 

And what’s needed today is for elected leaders to work together, regardless of party affiliation. 

“He’s always had relationships with those across the aisle,” DiNapoli said. “I don’t think you’d find many Republicans who would have anything negative to say about Robert.”

Zimmerman said he has learned that in order for his advocacy to be successful, people need to see the urgency and the relevance of an issue. He cited the climate crisis as an example. There is national momentum on the issue, and 90 percent of the population recognizes there is a crisis, he said. Now it is time to find a way to make Congress more responsive on the issue. 

“What I’ve found is a loss of confidence that America can do great things,” Zimmerman said. “This is a country that saved the world from fascism and put a man on the moon, but people are cynical of the federal government. We have to remember our great legacy as a country.”

It’s government’s responsibility to show its citizens that the country is as great as they are, he continued, and that we can move forward after the coronavirus pandemic. 

He is committed to combating gun violence, and would like to replicate state legislation on the federal level, to ban ghost guns and assault weapons and require universal background checks. And gun manufacturers should be held responsible, since they are “marketing weapons of war.”

He would also like to expand voting rights, he said, and would stand up for police, though he would like to see important reforms. Bail laws are in need of reform, too, he said, and judges need more authority. 

Zimmerman is for Medicare for all, citing the 23 million Americans who lost their jobs, and with them their health care, during the pandemic. 

And he promised to ensure the 3rd District would get its share of the federal infrastructure money. 

Lavine, too, has endorsed Zimmerman. “It’s all about communication in our business, and he already has that with leaders in the Senate and House,” Lavine said. “There is no manipulation of his words. I trust what he says, and I’m not the only one.”