Change Must Come

I've always liked Carolyn Maloney, but...

Updated 1 week ago David Stone
I've always liked Carolyn Maloney, but...

It's 1992. Newcomers to Roosevelt Island and New York City, my wife and I climb on board one of RIOC's fleet of creaky shuttle buses, loaded down with groceries. We're on our way to our new home in Manhattan Park, Roosevelt Island's newest complex. A woman whose appearance contrasts with the not so well-kept vehicle leans forward from the back as if she's been waiting for us. It's Carolyn Maloney. We've never met her before. She wants our vote.

I often recall that moment, Carolyn the unstoppable candidate hunting votes wherever they might be found, ready to talk, ready to listen. I voted for her, and she won.

Next time I talk with the congresswoman is about 8 years later. I'm getting ready for lunch when Dick Lutz, editor and publisher at the Main Street WIRE, were I'd started freelancing, calls and asks me if I can drop everything, grab a camera and race down to the construction site for FDR Four Freedoms Park.

Developers are laying a time capsule under the steps at the top of the park, and Carolyn Maloney's going to be there. There'll be hell to pay, if we don't cover it.

I get there in time, stepping gingerly along a muddy path through Southpoint behind Jessica Lappin, City Council Member, who's changing into smarter shoes on the fly. A small crowd's waiting behind the Smallpox Hospital.

Some very good pictures to go with my story fill my camera. (Lutz, frequently dismayed by my amateur photography, will be happy this time.) My favorite's of Brice Peyre, Maloney's fiercely loyal staffer, standing by with an oversized check for $500,000, money she'd won appropriations for in Congress, hung from his neck like an old-fashion menu board.

After speeches, the time capsule disappears behind granite, and we're invited for a look at the park under development. A bust of FDR has been put in place in front of The Room, but we're forbidden to photograph it.

Out of dumb luck, I find myself strolling down the muddy meadow between rows of recently planted trees with Maloney. She's as casual and unpretentious as she'd been on that red bus 18 years ago. Consensus builder by nature, she shares her concern that Rick O'Connor, publisher of the Roosevelt Islander blog - who's walking about ten steps behind us - doesn't like the park's design. 

That strikes me as excessive, but refreshingly sincere. What politician ever gets a 100% score on anything? But it's what she wants.

Republicans recently won control of the House, and to start a conversation, I remark that it can't be very pleasant to be a Democratic in Washington, these days.

Her reaction's impressive.

"It is when I can do something like this," she says with a big smile, sweeping her arms wide to take in the park coming together around us.

But then...

Two years later, I run into ridiculous trouble with a squirrelly federal agency. They're refusing to release thousands I'm owed for reasons I can only guess. Working with them is like trying to solve Chinese algebra.

I do what everyone says I should do, contacting my local representatives - Maloney and Senators Chuck Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand - to ask for help. 

Getting money for Four Freedoms is one thing, a wonderful thing at that, but constituent services for guys you meet on the bus, helping the powerless weed through the bureaucratic maze, is what matters to most of us in real time. It's what kept Al D'Amato, "Senator Pothole," in office for years while his politics were out of whack with most of his constituents.

The only good thing I can say about Maloney's constituent services is that they aren't as dreadful as Schumer's or Gillibrand's, both of whom reach out whenever they need something, usually money, but might as well be Fatty Arbuckle when I need then.

But Maloney's better only because neither Senator responds to my request for help. Ever.

With Maloney, it takes five months and a second contact to get any traction. Even then, all I get's a referral to an unpaid volunteer who solves my problem.

Grand gestures get your name in the newspaper, but that's not why most of us need from elected representatives. We need help when government doesn't work for us.

My trust in Maloney starts tracking downward.

Other Issues or Lack Thereof

In recent campaigns for reelection, Maloney hasn't faced serious competition.

In 2016, her Republican opponent, Robert Ardini, worked hard but couldn't get the attention of let alone an endorsement from the most high profile citizen in the 12th District, Donald J. Trump, who was running on the same ballot line with him.

Lack of competition may have lead to carelessness - maybe inattentiveness is a better word - on Maloney's part.

Like other Democrats representing Roosevelt Island, there's an assumption that coasting to a win can be taken for granted. That goes for Cuomo, Seawright, Kallos and Serrano, Jr. It's depressing for lifelong Democrats like me. Progressive politics lose their edge without pressure to sharpen and better define them.

Remember that $500,000 for Four Freedoms Park...?

Go to Maloney's web page, and you'll find it's the last appropriation she has to brag about, 8 years later.

It's almost painful to see her taking credit for the 2nd Avenue Subway. Doubtless, she helped get needed funds for it, but it took far too long, is much shorter than promised and needed - the Lower East Side extension remains a pipe dream.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, Schumer and Gillibrand take credit too, and there's only so much to go around.

Maloney also claims credit for supporting East Side Access, which is like bragging about your influence as a supporter of the Cleveland Browns, who - for the benefit of non-football fans - went 0-16 last year. Yes, East Side Access is that bad, a decade late already and a boondoggle draining funds from the MTA with monumental cost overruns while the subways fall apart.

I dig deeper. There's nothing, not even on her own website. She's a commanding presence at committee hearings, but really, what happened after 2010?

Other Concerns

For anyone relying on the latest science for guidance, Maloney's enthusiastic support of the anti-vaccine campaign is alarming. The evidence in favor of vaccines is even stronger than it is for global warming. Vaccines have saved countless lives around the world, as many as 300 million just by eradicating smallpox alone.

Yet, Maloney's appeared with anti-vaccine activists, actors Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carey who use celebrity to advance the anti-science campaign in defiance of all respected medical authorities. She's lead the charge against vaccines in Congress.

True, she backed off in April, reversing positions completely, but that wasn't until she faced a strong primary challenge. The damage has been done, a lot of it, and as the New York Post points out, she never apologizes.

Maloney's also in the Trump camp on foreign policy, withholding support the Iran nuclear agreement, making her as out of step as he is with the rest of the world. Leaders from Europe to Japan hail the Obama administration's accord for lessening the chances of nuclear war between Middle East enemies, but neither Maloney nor Trump agree.

Normalizing Trump

One of The Daily's most read and commented on articles was published last year. We criticized Maloney for normalizing Trump by attending his presidential inauguration, something Jerrold Nadler and Nydia Velazquez, New York Congressional representatives with districts bordering hers, refused to do. The list of absentees grew after Trump trashed civil rights hero, Congressman John Lewis.

"I am attending the inauguration out of respect for our country’s peaceful transition of power and our democratic institutions,” she announced, adding that she'd be bringing her daughters with her.

How's that worked out?

Readers protested, citing Trump's fevered racism, his intolerance and, for many, his suspected collusion with Russia during the campaign. Maloney, a long way out from reelection, remained unmoved.

Need for Change

Sooner or later, like it or not, change comes.

Based on reputation and experience, Carolyn Maloney projects power and determination, but beneath the political posturing, her days of producing for the 12th District, especially for Roosevelt Island, are long past. Look at her website. She makes the argument herself.

I've always liked Carolyn Maloney, but these are challenging times. Trump is not going away.

We have an opportunity to make a statement. Being available for every photo op is not the same as producing results.

We need more. Coasting won't cut it now.

It's time to thank Maloney for her service and move on with energy, enthusiasm and better ideas.

Do it now, or the Trump-led Republicans will do it their way.

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