Interview – Colleague Rivalry

Published: July 13, 2022
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As the summer heats up, so does the race between New York’s prominent Democratic septuagenarian congressmen, who are pitted against each other in an unprecedented redistricting fiasco. New York’s newly redrawn redistricting map has forced two districts into one, melding Manhattan’s West Side and East Side into a single 12th congressional district. 

Rep. Carolyn Maloney from the East Side and Rep. Jerrold Nadler from the West Side, incumbents who have served alongside each other for 30 years, are now forced to fight over the same slice of political pie. And the looming August 23 primary date is making competitors out of colleagues.

A former teacher, who worked her way from city councilwoman to congresswoman, Rep. Maloney has earned a reputation as a tenacious legislator over her long years in Washington, D.C. Like most New York Democrats, Rep. Maloney leans decidedly left, but departs from strict progressive dogma on occasion, especially when it involves the State of Israel and Jewish concerns. In a district that includes a very sizable Jewish population, Rep. Maloney proudly states that she “represents a vibrant Jewish community.”

In an exclusive interview with Hamodia, Rep. Maloney speaks of the issues New Yorkers face, especially Jewish-related issues, and why they should vote for her in next month’s election.

Redistricting has left you and Rep. Jerrold Nadler vying for the same constituents. How would you categorize your race against him?

I think it’s unfortunate that we’re both running. We’ve been friends and colleagues for many years and worked together on many important pieces of legislation. But I believe my record on passing legislation and getting things done speaks for itself. I have a proven record of delivering results for my district.

I brought home to my district over $10 billion. I built the only subway in the entire country — the Second Avenue subway — that had been stalled for 100 years. We now have the money to go up to 125th Street. I also played a pivotal role in funding for the Grand Central Madison, which will connect the East Side to the LIRR via the Grand Central Terminal. That’s billions of dollars.

Nadler is endorsed by the Working Families Party, which Bernie Sanders described as being “the closest thing” to socialism. At a time when socialist-like policies are being blamed for inflation, gas hikes, food shortages, rising crime, and failed immigration and education policies, do you think such an endorsement is going to help him, and how would you position yourself in terms of progressive policies?

Well, I’m a pragmatic progressive. I want to get things done and help people. And I’m very effective at it. I’m consistently ranked higher than Nadler by a significant margin by the Center for Effective Lawmaking. And ranks me consistently first, second or third most effective Democratic legislator in the House. In terms of the Jewish community, I think that it’s more important what you do than what you say and or how you’re born. I have a list of accomplishments for the Jewish community.

Let’s start with your vote on the Iran deal. In 2015, you voted your “conscience” and opposed the Iran Deal, which Nadler supported. The concerns that you voiced at the time seem to be vindicated now, yet the Biden administration is still trying to clinch a deal with a terrorist state. Do you oppose rejoining the deal?

I stand by my vote and think it’s vindicated seven years later. But I think it was vindicated the day that it was signed because the ayatollahs had an event then chanting, “Death to Israel” and “Death to America.” And they started testing ballistic missiles, which are aggressive missiles. I voted against it at the time because I didn’t trust Iran and I don’t trust them now. The time limit was too short, the inspections were weak, and it put Iran on a glidepath to acquiring nuclear weapons.

But once the deal was signed, I then opposed leaving it because they had already gotten the benefits — the billions of dollars. I had wanted to add a requirement to it forbidding the use of any of that money on terrorism activities, but they refused to add that to the original negotiations. I thought that was wrong. But I say that a bad deal is better than no deal at all. So, when Mr. Trump tried to break the deal, I was opposed to that. There were some enforcement inspections, but Iran is now quickly building a nuclear weapon. It is extremely disturbing to me.

It’s not clear what is happening with the negotiations today. I don’t know what’s going to happen. [In] my opinion it does not look like there will be a deal. But I’ll have a very sharp pencil and will be asking a lot of questions and will request to see all the classified documents.

Would you be in favor of reimposing sanctions on Iran?

Well, yes. But I think in a way we lost our leverage. At one point we had the whole world community with us, including Russia and China. Now we don’t have major players as part of the sanction regime, so it’s not as effective as the first deal. The leverage has been weakened dramatically.

Both you and Nadler have garnered dual endorsements from the Jewish Democratic Council of America, but you have been endorsed by AIPAC’s Pro-Israel America PAC and Nadler is being supported by the left-leaning J Street. In what way do you differ in your support for Israel?

I have passed several pieces of legislation to help Israel that I authored myself. My first bill was the Arab Boycott Arms Sale Prohibition Act back in 1993. This prevented the U.S. from selling arms to countries participating in the economic boycott of Israel.

I also authored a very important bill — the Never Again Education Act in 2020 — that was passed in a bipartisan way with a presidential bill signing. I worked very closely with community and Jewish leaders to pass it, which provides resources to teachers and lesson plans on Holocaust education that are held at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. It also has a $10 million grant over five years to grant awards to innovative education projects that teach tolerance, understanding, and acceptance.

That’s important, especially since hate crimes against Jews in NYC have increased dramatically, along with anti-Israel and antisemitic rhetoric in CUNY and other New York universities. Are you doing anything about that?

I speak out. Sometimes I think they [CUNY] have had inappropriate speakers and I have contacted them about it. I have been vocal about my opposition to the BDS movement and any other movement attempting to undermine the existence of Israel. I would say we’ve seen some success with Ben & Jerry’s. That was a clear win for those of us who support Israel.

In addition to the Holocaust Education bill, I also wrote the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act that was passed with a presidential bill signing by President Clinton at the time. I wrote that in an attempt to verify if Kurt Waldheim was a Nazi, and it opened up all U.S. classified Nazi war criminal records. It declassified the biggest trove of documents since the Nuremberg trials. And I’m also very proud of my work on reparations for Holocaust survivors. In 2015, I authored the Holocaust Rail Justice Act, which led to a historic agreement between the U.S. and France to compensate Holocaust victims who were deported on SNCF [French National Railway Company] trains to Auschwitz.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen the rise of the very anti-Israel progressive wing in the Democratic Party. Do you think enough Democrats like you are speaking out against them?

We certainly are speaking out against policies that are harmful to the Jewish country. I was shocked when they succeeded in defunding the Iron Dome. The Iron Dome is totally defensive and protects everyone, not just Jews. Also, the U.S. government partially funded it, and it was a successful joint research project between our two countries. So, along with Steny Hoyer and others, we certainly spoke out against that and immediately put out a bill on the floor that reversed it.

Are you concerned that these progressives are given too loud a voice and too easy a pass regarding their anti-Israel agenda?

I can’t control what they say or what other members of Congress do. I can only control what I do. Unlike my opponent Nadler, I have written several pieces of legislation to support Israel and I don’t know of any legislation that he specifically authored to support Israel. Both Nadler and I support Holocaust education and fighting antisemitism, but I have written and passed legislation to help the situation.

When new members are elected, many of us try to talk to them and educate them. Sometimes they listen and sometimes they don’t. My good friend Elliot Engel, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, spent hours and hours trying to change their point of view and they didn’t change. We live in a democracy, and if you get elected, you can talk and you are appointed to committees.

Can you comment on education, specifically as it pertains to the Orthodox Jewish community in New York that relies on private schools? Where do you stand on school choice?

I think it’s a state issue and I’m a federal legislator, but I support anything that advances education. I’m a former teacher so I feel that a lot of problems can be handled through education. I support the Orthodox community having the educational system that they want and state, city, and federal support for them to have their system.

People in NYC are scared to walk the streets and ride the subways because of left-wing soft-on-crime policies. Other Democrat-run cities with similar crime hikes are fighting back, with the recent recall of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin and the current recall effort of DA George Gascon in Los Angeles. Do you support recalling DA Alvin Bragg to bring law and order back to NYC?

We don’t have the recall system as part of New York state law. There have been attempts to pass it into law in the N.Y. State Legislature, but it has failed.

What kind of policies would you promote to combat the current crime situation?

I support safe streets and have authored a bill that I think would help a lot. A lot of people are mentally ill. Look at the Michelle Goh case, where the Asian woman was pushed in front of a train. I was very upset about it and spent a lot of time studying it. The person who killed her, Mr. Simon, was mentally ill and should have been in a hospital. I called the hospitals and they said that they couldn’t admit him because of a 1960s law stipulating that someone can only get Medicaid and be admitted to an institution if the facility has 16 beds or less. That’s not economical in N.Y.

So, I submitted a bill to lift the cap. I got a lot of pushback from very liberal people, who said that people were going to be abused. But I pointed out that according to N.Y. law, people can walk out of an institution if they want to.

What about the rising level of hate crimes in N.Y., particularly antisemitic ones?

I’m very concerned about the rising level of antisemitism and anti-Asian hate crimes in our city. I have stood with a very good Jewish friend who is an elected official and has repeatedly had swastikas painted on her door. Before redistricting, I had an office in Queens that was also defaced with swastikas.

I’m working on a bill now to combat antisemitism. One of the things that the DAs tell me is that it’s very hard to prove antisemitism. But when someone is violent, I don’t think that’s hard to prove at all. If someone is beating someone up, which happens repeatedly in N.Y., it’s very clear that that is a hate crime. So, I am looking at a bill that would double the penalties for violent hate crimes.

I also think that it’s important that everyone speaks out. When something happens in your neighborhood or synagogue or office — don’t hide and don’t be silent. Speak out and get your community to get together and speak out. And if you have any other ideas for legislation, let me know.

Finally, a recent New York Times interview quoted you as saying that Nadler is using his religious faith as a “divisive tactic” and playing identity politics to appeal to Jewish voters rather than focusing on the issues. Would you agree that Jewish voters are not a monolithic lot, least of all Orthodox Jewish voters, who most probably view Nadler’s Jewishness as an irrelevant factor in the race?

I want to say that I have lived my life building bridges, trying to bring people together. That article was very upsetting to me because I agree with what you’re saying. And the article said the opposite.

I work on a lot of women’s issues, but I’m not running as a woman. I’m running on the issues I’ve done to help people. There are a lot of women in Congress that are terrible on the issues. I would never say vote for me because I’m a woman, but I’d say vote for me because of my record. And my record speaks for itself.