Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney has held public office for forty years, with thirty of those years as a member of the House of Representatives. Though her reelection campaigns have been won handily for the better part of her tenure, Maloney has amassed serious challengers to her seat over the past three election cycles, most notably Suraj Patel, who is running against Maloney for the third time. Rana Abdelhamid and Maya Contreras have thrown their name in the hat, along with Maud Maron, making this year’s Democratic primary more crowded than ever.
We spoke to Congresswoman Maloney about her record, and what she hopes to accomplish over the next few years.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Your district includes parts of Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn. What issues are present across the board?
Affording housing. I would say The Green New Deal and moving toward a cleaner, brighter, better environment. I would certainly say voting rights. I would say the Equal Rights Amendment, which I’m working on, and homelessness. I’ve been taking on the big oil companies and holding them accountable. All of these go across the board. Criminal justice reform, and a city that works for all of us, not just some of us. I’ve been working and fighting for progressive values my entire life, and I’m not stopping now. I work for the people and would like to continue working for the people.
It’s Women’s History Month, and we’ve been celebrating at Greenpointers. You’re famously a supporter of the ERA. Why is it still necessary, and is there a viable path to get it passed?
Change doesn’t come easy but it will come if you never quit. And I didn’t quit for our 9/11 responders and now they have healthcare for all, and I didn’t quit on a lot of other things, and I’m not quitting on the Equal Rights Amendment. We need the Equal Rights Amendment because we need to be able to enforce equal pay for equal work, and the only way you can do that is by putting women into the Constitution. It gives bedrock protections for women.
I’ll give you one example. I have worked on numerous bills throughout my career, on equal pay for equal work. I started working and we were 50 cents to the dollar, and now we’re 80 cents to the dollar, but it’s unfair whatever it is. Women should be paid equally for their work. But in cases that have been challenged, they haven’t succeeded when they go to the Supreme Court because women are not protected in the Constitution against discrimination, Justice Scalia famously said that. It would make it enforceable — it’s that simple.
Violence against women is a huge problem in this country. Judge Breyer stepping down, his most famous dissent, was in the so-called Brzonkala decision and that was a decision where a woman was gang-raped by the football team on her first night of school at Virginia Tech. She went to the city, they did nothing, she went to the state, she goes to the Supreme Court…they threw it out on equality. And I would say rape is a crime, it’s not a technicality. They said it didn’t adhere to the commerce provisions that they had the right to rule on, some technical BS. Justice Breyer wrote the best dissent of his life on it, and [Brzonkala] received no support in any way, shape, or form. If women were in the Constitution, sexual assault and violence could not be thrown out on a “technicality.”
Another bill I wrote with the great Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder. She wrote a bill on female genital mutilation. It’s against the law in the United States. It is a custom in some African, Asian, and Muslim countries to cut the sexual organs of women out of their bodies. And it was being performed in Michigan. They challenged the law and said it was unconstitutional and said we had no right to tell them to not perform this practice in our country, and they won. And they tore down the female genital mutilation bill. We rewrote the bill and passed it again, but that is one example where it can be torn down and overruled.
So I would say something as fundamental as women’s rights and the protection for women should be in our Constitution — it should not be subject to the whims of who is president, who is speaker, who has the majority of the Supreme Court, but our rights should be enshrined and protected in the Constitution. So that is why I continue working on it.
I really believe that if there’s one thing that I could do while I’m in office that I haven’t done is the Equal Rights Amendment. I think it would do more in so many ways to protect women and our rights than anything else, otherwise, our rights are constantly being attacked and rolled back. I thought, for example, that choice was a constitutional right, and now we’re in the midst of rolling that back. Title IX – the equality in the treatment of women in sports, they’re constantly attacking that with executive orders, court orders, and all kinds of things. It would put equality in the Constitution so that they couldn’t roll it back. Protection would be there for half the population. It’s important, it’s right, and I won’t stop working on it.
Greenpoint has a long history of serving as an environmental dumping ground. You’re a supporter of the Green New Deal. What would that legislation mean for our neighborhood in particular?
Well, I think it would be important not only for our neighborhood but the whole country — any efforts to move us to a greener environment! I just want to show some of what I’ve done, and you gotta take it and pull it down to what it means for people’s lives. And when I first got elected, I filed papers with the federal government to designate Newtown Creek as a federal clean-up site, and it was finally designated one in 2010. I just recently was at Newtown Creek with Lincoln Restler and others to celebrate the new funding for the Superfund sites, as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, and we are working to get part of that money released to go to work for Newtown Creek. One of the problems with Newtown Creek is since the 1800s, they have been really releasing raw sewage into the water, so it’s hard to clean it up, as they continue to release raw sewage. So we have to stop the sewage dumping that is happening now in order to go forward.
I, along with many colleagues and local activists, have consistently called on the Department of Environmental Conservation to deny the National Grid’s permit for new natural gas facilities in Northern Brooklyn. The DEC has recently delayed its permitting decision for the fourth time, and I’m hopeful that the project will be officially denied soon. All of that obviously goes into the Green New Deal, and New York must be a leader at moving away from polluting fossil fuels and building towards a cleaner energy future. And I recently introduced the Justice in Power Plant Permitting [Act]. Now, in my district in Queens, in one mile, there are twenty-eight peaker plants. I do not have a peaker plant in my district in Brooklyn, but there are well over twenty peaker plants in Brooklyn, so this affects the air in Brooklyn also. The law says now that you look at the emissions from one peaker plant and see if it’s devastating to the environment. Obviously one peaker plant is not. What my bill says is they must look at the cumulative effect of all the other peaker plants there. So obviously they would not be granting any new ones in Brooklyn and Queens, and both districts have up to twenty eight peaker plants. Big Allis in Queens is really one that’s an environmental justice area and a big problem.
I would say a big part of preserving our environment is preserving parks. And I advocated for Bushwick Inlet Park and got $160 million, along with other elected officials, to really get more land and now I’m working on trying to get Governor Hochul here to Brooklyn to look at 40 Quay Street, which is a lot that the MTA wants to sell, but we want to make that part of Bushwick Inlet Park. That is another item that’s very important, and part of helping the environment is helping modernize the infrastructure. I secured over $800 million dollars in federal funds to complete the Kosciuszko Bridge. It used to be the worst bridge in the country, now it’s probably the best. [I secured] almost a billion dollars for modernization of the L-train, between Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Probably the biggest thing that I’ve done that would help the environment in Brooklyn, but also the entire city, and I would say the entire country, is moving to the electrification of the federal fleet of the U.S. Postal Service. So if they would go off of fossil fuels, which is the number one polluter of greenhouse gases in our country, it would probably be the single biggest policy decision we could make. I just passed about two weeks ago a reform bill for the postal service. We got $14 billion dollars in the budget in my committee for the electrification of postal fleet cars, and we are working on it next week, and trying to find ways to fund it. As you know, the Build Back Better bill has been stopped. We think we need $6.5 billion dollars, and we’re trying to figure out how to get that, and the genius of it is if you move to really electric then you could use the postal offices, of which there are over 3,500 in our country, and make them energy stations where people could charge their cars. The biggest problem we have is how do we get these charging stations all across the country but if we used the post offices, it would be built-in and infrastructure.
Over the past few years, you’ve amassed a few challengers, though none have been successful. Why are you still the best person for the job?
Because I get results. I bring federal money, I change federal policy, I make things happen. My challengers are Carolyn Maloney without the track record of achievements or the knowledge base that I’ve built over years of being in office.
I was the first woman in history to chair the oversight committee, the first woman to chair the joint economic committee. Only seventeen women in history have chaired committees in Congress, and I’m on two of them. And I have a record of achievement. Just in Brooklyn alone, the Kosciuszko Bridge, the L train, Bushwick Inlet Park, working to get 40 Quay now, working for Box Park. These are all things that I have brought to the district that I represent, and it’s literally billions of dollars in federal funding.
People think that if you become a Congressperson all of this falls into your lap – it doesn’t. You have to work for it. You have to make it happen. You have to put in bills. You have to cut deals. You have to do things to make these things happen. You have to work on it. And I’m successful at bringing results, and I’m a progressive with a track record of results. For example, when I was on the city council, I was the first person to introduce a domestic-partnership gay marriage bill which at the time was so controversial, they wouldn’t even print it. They said it was unconstitutional. I had to fight to get it introduced. I fought, I got it introduced, it’s now the law of the land.
On campaign finance reform, I introduced and passed the first campaign finance reform [bill] in New York State. At the time it was called the toughest and best in the nation. When I went to Congress, I chaired the freshmen class’s campaign finance committee and was put on the leadership team writing the campaign finance bill known as McCain-Feingold. And that bill passed and became law. Then the court case called Citizens United, which is the worst Court case in history — now we have more dark money than ever before. I’m part of the effort to overturn that terrible Supreme Court case.
In terms of women’s rights, I’ve offered in the past the so-called Debbie Smith Bill that’s been called the most important anti-rape bill ever. That created and strengthened a database on rapists and put money into process DNA rape kits that are used to convict and exonerate people who have been brought in for rape. The FBI says for every rapist that’s convicted we save seven women on average from being raped because there are sick people. So I’ve offered in the past important bills, and I’ve had well over fourteen bill signings with presidents of the United States. Usually, bill signings with presidents are reserved for those that are groundbreaking, really transformational bills.
Is there anything else that you’d like to communicate to voters or that you want our readers to know about you?
I just believe that my job as an elected official is to represent the voices of my constituents, to represent the neighborhoods. And to be a fighter for their priorities. And I’ve done that, and I’ve been successful helping people on both a personal level with their personal issues and challenges and a broader policy-making area, such as the 9/11 Health and Compensation Bill, which gave healthcare to the men and women who risked their lives to save the lives of survivors down at 9/11. I passed a credit card bill of rights, which protected against unfair excessive banking fees and kept the money in the consumers’ pockets. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says that the bill alone has saved consumers over $16 billion a year — I call it the Maloney stimulus package because it keeps the money in the people’s pockets, not in the big banks.
And I take that experience and build on it. I now introduced a bill called the Overdraft Bill. I believe my bill’s gonna pass this year, and it’s gonna save consumers even more money. So I have a record to run on that has literally helped people in meaningful ways.