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
(page 2 of 6)
Shooting hoops at the Newburgh Armory Unity Center
The train pulls into the Croton-Harmon station and Maloney bounds up the stairs, down the stairs, and into a waiting car. His light step belies his 46 years. He’s taping a TV segment for Regional Network News (RNN). Richard French, the sympathetic host, asks him about gun control, family values, gay marriage, Tea Party influence, the sequester. The usual. But then Maloney gets to his own talking points. He’s trying to reform crop insurance, which favors mega-farms in the Midwest but doesn’t do much good for the more than 1,000 smaller farms in his district. Those in Orange County alone lost $50 million worth of harvest during Hurricane Irene. (“It really matters to those farmers, and by extension the whole economy of the region, that when there’s a disaster these guys actually get the benefits they’ve been paying for,” he says later. “They don’t now; they should.”) He wants to renew the lapsed funding for safety inspections on dams. According to Maloney, his district has almost 100 of them deemed a high hazard. (“It’s important we get smart about storm prevention in a future of more extreme weather.”) And he hopes to cut down on the long wait for veterans to get their disability claims by allowing them to see doctors outside the VA system. Unsexy stuff. Urgent stuff. So he introduced bills for all three in March and April. “The day-to-day, bread-and-butter of this job is to find a way to make the federal government useful to folks in the Hudson Valley,” Maloney says. “To find simple ways to make it work.” His constituency, which covers just about every American demographic, consists in large part of commuters and farmers, making their living down in New York City or far away from it, working their land. So he got himself on the House Committee on Agriculture and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
Next he gives a talk at New York Life in Sleepy Hollow, where some 300 employees commute from Maloney’s district. On the drive over, we hit one pothole after another. It’s strange bobbing through the patchwork road with one of the few men in America with the power to fix it. In front of a packed room, Maloney talks about his father, who reinvented himself as a life-insurance salesman in New Hampshire after his business making wooden handles for scythes in Canada went under. Maloney is a good storyteller. He has a gift for putting people at ease, for undercutting the big deal he’s supposed to be. You want to tell him things — it can’t be helped. He wants to hear them, too.
His next appointment is a presentation on the new Tappan Zee Bridge. On our way, we see road workers chucking steaming kernels of hot asphalt into the craters that pockmark the road, as traffic drones on around them. In Nyack, Maloney is shown a slick video of the futuristic new bridge that is to replace the old traffic artery. Halfway through, it freezes. “Just like driving over the bridge itself,” he quips.
The congressman spends the rest of his day on a dam tour in the town of Kent, then talking to a reporter in his sparsely decorated office — a purple orchid serves as the only adornment amid all the mahogany — and later meeting members of the carpenters’ union and the utility companies. His line of questioning is always the same — what are the problems, what might be the problems, and what are the solutions. While on the road, he makes and takes calls. A staffer on the other line asks him a question. “Just do what makes sense,” Maloney answers.
(Continued on next page)