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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Photograph by David Burnett/DavidBurnett.com, courtesy of Newburgh Armory Unity Center
On the 31st day of his first term, Maloney walked into the Newburgh Armory in jeans and a sweater with his daughter Essie. They’d come so she could play basketball in one of the many programs the Armory now offers. (Newburgh’s ubiquitous benefactors, William Kaplan and Habitat for Humanity, put up the funds and labor, respectively, for the site to be turned into a community center.) While she played, Maloney ambled into the reading and arts-and-crafts program for toddlers, picked up a pair of scissors, and joined in. A witness described his disposition as a “gentle sweetness.” There was no fuss. Nor did he expect any. No entourage, no grand introductions, no television cameras, no politics. Just a congressman and his constituents. He hung out with the English as a Second Language class, switching between Spanish and English. He sat on the ground with the children and listened to the story being read.
He was there because he felt compelled to be. Because 143,845 locals had asked him to be there, to be their congressman, to care for them and hear from them and go to bat for them. It’s why he made his headquarters on historic Grand Street, a mile away. It wasn’t the nicest city in which to set up shop, or even the best neighborhood within it. But it made sense. It’s where the need is biggest. Where the pain of a district, slammed by a recession and natural disaster, aches the deepest. It’s where Washington is furthest away and the eye can’t miss the ailments of life in one of America’s most destitute pockets. Where he is needed most; where he can be the most useful.