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
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Sean Patrick Maloney stands outside his Newburgh headquarters
Photograph by Michael Polito
On November 6, 2012, 58 days before his term was to begin, Maloney was elected over incumbent Nan Hayworth, who had held a slight lead in the polls. The newly redrawn 18th district spans a jagged, lopsided arc. Its bases start just north of Rockland County’s Ramapo in the west and at Armonk in the east, hugging the New Jersey, Connecticut, and even Pennsylvania state lines before converging just north of Poughkeepsie. The district includes all of Orange and Putnam counties and swaths of Dutchess and Westchester — rural parts and rich pockets. It does not include Sullivan County’s Jeffersonville, where Maloney and Florke — who has a business building, renovating, and decorating country houses — have had a weekend home for 16 years; or New York City, where they lived during the week. So when the districts were redrawn and Maloney decided to run against Hayworth in the 18th district, rather than challenge Chris Gibson in the 19th — which had subsumed the 22nd, where he’d resided — she called him a “carpetbagger.” (Maloney had moved to Cold Spring, which is in the district, before the election. His family will follow from New York after the school year.) She also pointed out that the New York Times had endorsed Richard Becker, a cardiologist and Cortlandt town councilman, during the Democratic primary because of Maloney’s unclear role in the “Troopergate” scandal, which ensnared Governor Eliot Spitzer while Maloney was a top aide.
Maloney in turn accused Hayworth of belonging to the Tea Party, the populist über-conservative movement that swept into the 112th Congress at the height of the recession in 2010. She’d voted to defund Planned Parenthood and curb healthcare coverage for contraception, and he reminded the voters of it loudly and often.
Money from interest groups flooded in, reflecting the importance of the new swing district to the balance of power in the House. Hayworth received $1.44 million from political action committees; Maloney $383,000, according to Federal Election Commission filings. They combined to spend $5.56 million (Hayworth $3.31 million, Maloney $2.25 million) on their campaigns, funding the ugliness that unfolded as attack ads gobbled up air time.
But no matter how heated the race got, Maloney’s sexuality never became a factor. “Hayworth would have been foolish to make it an issue because the research would show that people would be repelled by that,” says Maloney. “A supermajority in the Hudson Valley clearly thinks it’s wrong to discriminate, to hate people for characteristics that are fundamental to who they are, like their race or their religion or their sexual orientation. The politics of hate aren’t very good.
“It is both heartening but also logical that we’re at a point where this issue takes a backseat to the issues that actually matter to the voters in their own lives,” Maloney continues. “This is a job, and a campaign is an employment interview; just as you wouldn’t put your personal life at the center of an employment interview or a professional situation, I don’t know that it’s the central fact for folks here.” Govern well. Know the issues. Find solutions to local problems. Create jobs. “All that stuff matters to them much, much more than who I love.”
Maloney won with 52 percent of the vote. But the fight isn’t over. The first attack ad against him has already run, appearing after his decision to vote against the House Republicans’ plan to balance the budget. Hayworth is already making noises about running again in 2014.
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