Under pressure from her political left and from across the Queens side of the East River, Representative Carolyn Maloney announced endorsements from two stalwarts of what used to be known as West Side liberalism before it was relabeled as progressive.
“She is a proven progressive,” one of the endorsers, veteran assembly member Richard Gottfried, said of Maloney, who is running for her 16th term as the member of Congress representing what used to be called “the silk stocking district” of the Upper East Side but now reaches across the East River to take in a big hunk of western Queens.
Regardless of whether anyone still wears silk stockings, the traditional Upper East Side is well enough off that the entire district reports the highest per capita income of any congressional district in the United States.
But the portion across the East River in Long Island City, one of the fastest growing communities in the country, is younger and more progressive than the East Side, which famously once upon a time elected a now extinct political breed, liberal Republicans, like John V. Lindsay and Roy Goodman.
Gottfried has represented Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen in the Assembly for half a century, entering as an anti-Vietnam War 23-year old and watching the city and state’s politics shift leftward toward him. He announced this week that he was retiring at the end of his current term in December of next year.
In his endorsement Gottfried was taking head on the challenge created for Maloney by the shifting demographics of the district and of Democratic politics in New York.
Young progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose district lies just to the north of Maloney’s, have ousted long-serving Democrats by portraying them as not progressive enough and too entrenched in Washington.
In 2020 Maloney, 75, survived such a challenge and was re-nominated, but with only 43% of the Democratic primary vote against Suraj Patel and two others. In next year’s primary she faces a renewed challenge from Rana Abdelhamid, 28, whose critiques of the incumbent include that Maloney has been in Congress longer than she has been alive.
“The progressive case against Carolyn Maloney,” she said to the New York Times, “is that Carolyn Maloney is not a progressive.”
Maloney and her supporters are pushing back on that idea, working to frame her 30-year tenure as a value to her constituents and her politics as committed to progressive causes. “She is a proven progressive who forcefully advocates for women, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, and people with disabilities,” Gottfried said. “She is the lead sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment, a founding member of the Medicare for All Caucus, and a strong supporter of the New York Health Act.”
“We need effective legislators like Carolyn in Washington,” said the other West Side endorser, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, the once and future City Council member, “who not only know what is needed but also how to get things done.”
Brewer pointed out that Maloney, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, had been rated “the third most effective lawmaker in the nation” by The Center for Effective Lawmaking at Vanderbilt University. “Carolyn knows a thing or two about accomplishing for New Yorkers.”
Gottfried also sought to help Maloney strike the effectiveness theme. “Carolyn Maloney consistently delivers for New Yorkers,” he said.
But his role as a credible voice to progressives may be his most significant value. His long tenure has not dulled the embrace of many younger progressives, who particularly support his work to expand access to health care. Maloney made a point of characterizing him “as a longtime healthcare champion” and said she hoped to continue working with him to achieve “Medicare for all,” the Bernie Sanders-inspired goal of government health insurance without the gaps of Obamacare.
Gottfried noted Maloney was a founding member of the Medicare for All Caucus.
A Maloney adviser said it was coincidence that two of the best known West Side progressives had endorsed her within a few days. But it could become particularly relevant depending on how the current process of redrawing congressional districts plays out.
For the first time, New York State is using a bipartisan commission to adjust congressional districts after the census. Followers of the process say the map drawers, appointed by the legislative leadership, are likely to want to help Maloney, which could lead them to reduce the size of the Queens portion of her district and add more voters in Manhattan by pushing the district south or west.
Abdelhamid will be watching this closely, as well. She lives in Queens but not actually in the current district. She has promised to move into it. The new boundaries will be set early next year.