Election 2010: Voters Choice
Read what two local Congressional candidates have to say about the issues — and preview three state races that will have an impact on the Valley
(page 3 of 6)
Sparring partners: Rep. Maurice Hinchey and his Republican challenger, George Phillips (below, right)
A Chat with Rep. Maurice Hinchey
Maurice Hinchey, a Democrat from Hurley, has represented New York’s 22nd Congressional district — which includes Ulster and small portions of Orange and Dutchess counties — since 1992. He is seeking a 10th term in November.
Hudson Valley: First thing’s first: After you’ve spent a long week in Washington and you come home to your district, where do you go to grab a bite to eat?
Maurice Hinchey: I get it wherever I can. (Laughs.) When I have time, there are a number of nice little restaurants around here where I like to pop in, but I don’t get a chance to do it very often. You do the best you can. A lot of work these days.
Do you have any favorite spots or parks here in the Valley?
I love the Hudson Valley, and I am dedicated and devoted to the Hudson River Valley. It’s one of the most wonderful places in this country.
I have done a number of things to try to draw attention to the Hudson Valley, and I’ve been doing it for years, starting when I was a member of the State Assembly. The Hudson River Greenway was established, which was designed to get the communities along the Hudson to focus more attention on the river and on each other. When I went down to Washington, I was able to establish the Hudson River Valley as a National Heritage Area. Every time I come back up from Washington, D.C., I see that big sign there for the National Heritage Area. This is an issue I got established back in the late ’90s.
You authored a bill, ultimately passed by the House, that would commission a study about whether to make the Hudson Valley a unit of the National Park Service system. Why are you a proponent of such a designation, and what would it mean for Hudson Valley residents?
It wouldn’t mean there would be any federal purchasing and ownership of the area. The main purpose of this objective is to draw national attention to the history of the Hudson River and the Hudson River Valley. There would be a lot of attention that would be paid by the federal government through the Environmental Protection Agency. It would put a good focus on places that are national areas, like Washington Headquarters in Newburgh, where Washington spent most of his time in the context of the revolutionary operation. He did so because of the importance of the Hudson River and to maintain the freedom of the Hudson River.
That would be one of the things that would generate economic growth. It would bring in people from around the country and even out of the country.
You grew up in Saugerties and have represented various parts of the Valley for 40 years. In that time, jobs have shifted from manufacturing and agriculture to other sectors. How does the economic outlook for the region now compare to 40 years ago?
When I graduated from high school in Saugerties, I enlisted in the Navy. I spent several years in the Navy, most of it on a destroyer in the western Pacific. When I came back, I went to work for one of those manufacturing plants, a cement plant just north of Saugerties. I spent two years there. So I’ve always been very deeply interested in the situation here.
We had a tragedy take place in 1995, when IBM left the operation just north of Kingston. What I have done is to restimulate that whole area, now called Tech City. In 2007, I initiated a not-for-profit corporation called the Solar Energy Consortium, known as TSEC. We’ve been able to generate a substantial number of jobs, and Tech City, the former IBM plant, is now back alive. It used to be virtually empty.
On the issue of solar energy, we have been able to bring in more than 600 jobs to Tech City. We’ve also brought in agricultural jobs, to help in the sale of agricultural products that are developed in this region. We helped Taylor Biomass, which is located in Orange County. I’ve worked with them over the past several years, and we were able to win a key federal award to support its initiation and expansion. Just a few weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Energy gave initial approval for a $100 million small-interest loan, which will guarantee the company can construct and operate a very significant biomass facility in Montgomery. It will be the biggest and most effective biomass facility in this part of the country. The project is going to create 400 local jobs in the construction phase, and when it is in full operation, there will be 80 full-time jobs to deal with the high-tech business.
As a self-described progressive and Democrat, how do you explain the dramatic rise in anger from groups like the Tea Party about the level of spending in Washington?
Well, the anger we should focus on in regard to the spending in Washington was the illicit spending of money in the invasion of Iraq. The Bush administration spent hundreds of billions in borrowed money year after year, so they created a huge debt for the country. Very few people understand that. It hasn’t been explained adequately to most people. But that’s the major cause of the downslide of this economy, the growing debt — which has now gone up to $1 trillion — because of the borrowed money for the military operation in Iraq, which had no justification. They had no connection to the attack on September 11.
To back that, we have not had adequate internal investment in our own country for many years. Now we’re beginning to see that change. We have been able to initiate investment in the internal needs of this country: to generate jobs, promote economic growth; to upgrade the quality of the basic infrastructure of our nation, transportation included.
If you look at some of the ways in which roads are being upgraded here in the Hudson Valley, you can see how the money is being spent, how jobs are being created and how the economy is going up. Route 128, heading west, for example, across Ulster County — it’s now becoming much better. It was a very bad road with a lot of holes in it, a very dangerous situation. Now it’s smooth and effective.
What do you say to people who agree that these sort of changes are needed here in the Valley, but that now may not be the best time to do so because of the state of the economy?
It is the best time to do it because of the state of the economy. We need to invest internally. That’s what we’ve been doing. When you invest internally, you stimulate growth, you generate jobs, and you bring back more than what you invested.
What we have done here in that context is the Walkway Over the Hudson. I was able to get the first funding for that project, which has attracted 500,000 visitors — or something like that — so far. That’s helping the economy. People are stopping and spending money.
Rather than pouring money outside of this country the way previous administrations have done, we’re instead investing internally. That generates jobs. When you pour money out of the country, that reduces jobs. That downslides the economy. For example, during the Bush administration, there were a lot of companies that were in many ways encouraged to move from the United States to places like China. That created job loss here. We’re stopping that and moving in the opposite direction, including trying to bring some of those companies back to the United States.
Do you think another stimulus is needed, or do you think we should wait and allow the previous stimulus package to continue to take effect?
More is needed, and hopefully there will be some more coming in.
Phillips, who lives in Endwell, Broome County, is looking to defeat Hinchey in the 22nd Congressional district (a seat the Hurley Democrat has held since 1993)
Your opponent this year, George Phillips, is running on a platform of cutting government waste. For instance, he’s proposed cutting 10 federal agencies down to just three. Do you see government waste as a significant problem?
I think he just doesn’t understand what he’s talking about. He doesn’t understand the situation in this country; he doesn’t understand the things we’ve been talking about and the positive things that we’ve been engaged in. What we have done is bring the federal taxes that people have been paying back into the federal government, bringing huge amounts of money back here for investment internally.
One of the more pressing issues facing your district is the high level of gang activity in Newburgh and the attendant high murder rate. The FBI had a major sting operation there in May, and I know you’ve pushed the federal government to name the city a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which is an ongoing process. What sort of progress, if any, can Newburgh residents expect in the short term and the long term?
One of the things we’ve done is to bring federal attention to the situation there. You’ve had a lot of people that are coming up from adverse circumstances in the New York City area, generating this kind of violence up here in Newburgh. So it’s a situation that involves not just the city of Newburgh, but other places. We’ve involved the federal government directly in the situation.
Another thing we’re trying to do is to upgrade the quality of the government of the city of Newburgh. We need a group of people in the city government who will be responsible for specific parts of the city. Because they’re all general across the city, there is a lot of inadequate attention that has been placed on parts of that city. I know the mayor of Newburgh is very much interested in this. He understands it. We’re working with him to try to improve the quality of the government there.
Is there anything else you can do about the situation at the federal level?
We’ve put a significant amount of money into Newburgh to try to upgrade the area. The situation is in the process of changing. It’s been down for decade after decade. We have helped generate the deep change along the Hudson River in Newburgh. There’s so much activity which a lot of people have brought to that part of Newburgh. We’ve been working with the mayor and the county here to bring in an aspect of the education operation in Orange County. We’ve been able to bring in federal funding for more police jobs so they can oversee the situation and deal with it more effectively.
You’ve served in Albany for nearly two decades and Washington for nearly two decades. For how long do you think you’ll continue to seek office? Have you given any thought to retiring?
(Laughs.) Well, I’ve given some thought to retiring eventually. The fact of the matter is I’m now a senior member of the appropriations committee, which determines the allocation of federal funding throughout the country. If I’m reelected, I’m going to be a substantially more senior member of the committee, and over the course of the next couple of years, I’ll be able to do even more than I’ve already done for this region.
As a member of Congress, my main obligation is to be responsible to this area. That’s my job — to do everything I can to improve the situation and to make it a better, happier, more secure place for people to live, with better jobs and a better future for all the people here. That’s the focus of my attention, and that’s what I’ve been doing, to a large extent, successfully.