Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney: Mr. Pragmatic Goes (Back) to Washington
On January 3, 2013, the Hudson Valley’s Sean Patrick Maloney became the first openly gay congressman from New York State. But he’s been too busy to pay his own pioneering any mind
Photograph by Michael Polito
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On the 92nd day of his first term, Sean Patrick Maloney wakes up in his home in Cold Spring, lifts weights, eats a bowl of cereal, drinks a cup of coffee, chats with his two daughters — the 12-year-old is going out for the middle school track team; the 10-year-old is big into rugby right now — catches up on the news, and receives a death threat.
Well, if you can even call it that, because if it is, it’s surely the laziest death threat ever recorded. The tiny extremist Westboro Baptist Church out in Topeka, Kansas, has Tweeted him a link. It takes you to a flyer, demanding that the federal government impose the death penalty on all homosexuals and execute Maloney and three of the other seven openly gay members in the two houses of U.S. Congress — only in much coarser language.
Maloney, a Democrat, is no activist and no crusader. So he reports the incident to the Capitol Police and gets on with his workday. He isn’t the outspoken Harvey Milk (the first openly gay person elected to public office in California in the 1970s). Maloney ran for public office as a gay man but not as The Gay Man. He’s proud of who he is, proud of the three children he adopted with his longtime partner, Randy Florke. He doesn’t run away from being gay, but it isn’t the point of his political career either. And there isn’t any time to lose. This summer, some 2,000 civilian employees at the United States Military Academy at West Point will receive notice that they’ll be furloughed for one day a week. They’ll effectively lose a fifth of their income until September because of the sequester, the automatic budget cuts the previous session of Congress imposed on itself as punishment for not passing a budget. Maloney would rather focus on these types of issues. “There are going to be people out there who engage in this kind of hate,” he says. “You can tie yourself in knots worrying about stuff like that.” So he doesn’t.
“They will lose over time, they always do,” Maloney says. “And the best way to defeat that kind of hate-based agenda is to be effective in the job and to demonstrate that, despite our diversity, we all believe in basically the same things. It’s not going to affect anything I do. I don’t think you can do this job in some defensive crouch.”
On this frosty April morning he gets on the 7:58 a.m. train to Croton-on-Hudson, but not until he’s shaken some hands on the platform — “Can I say hi? I’m Sean Maloney, a member of Congress.” He settles into a seat and toggles through briefs on his iPad, from which he never strays very far. He tries to keep reading up on the never-ending deluge of information on the politicking and demagoguery and horse-trading in Washington to a minimum. “You can spend your whole day running around and being busy and get nothing done,” Maloney explains. “So we focus on doable stuff.”
Doable stuff. That might as well be the motto for Maloney’s administration. Realism — a singular pragmatism. He doesn’t grandstand about mucking out Washington. He doesn’t want to over-promise and under-deliver; he’s a freshman in the minority party, after all. “I’m focused on working around the edges and making your taxes work for you in some tangible way,” he says. “Hitting singles and doubles.” He is well-versed in sports metaphors, like all successful politicians. He looks the part, too: tall; in shape; with a long, symmetrical face, neat silvery hair, and blue eyes. He wears a well-tailored navy blue suit; a light blue shirt; and a red, white, and blue checked tie. He gets animated talking about the sequester. Other passengers shoot us looks. “It’s just dumb,” he says. “There are far better ways to reduce your spending than to arbitrarily go after things that are already cut or underfunded. But dumb ideas pass for normal in Washington sometimes.”
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