New York’s political attention is riveted on the candidate knife fight over the new congressional district covering Park Slope, but in COVID-neglected core Manhattan, we have our own knife fight: the three-way match among incumbents Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler and upstart former Obama-administration attorney Suraj Patel. The NY1/WNYC debate Tuesday night pointed up big differences — on infrastructure spending, of all things.
Manhattan has always had two congressional reps: one representing the west side and one the east (think John Lindsay’s “silk stocking” Upper East Side and Bella Abzug’s West Side district).
Having two reps was good for Manhattan. Representing the country’s money center (the east) and its intellectual center (the west) made for two powerful congresspeople who got attention and money.
Nevertheless, incumbent Democrats this cycle supported a statewide redistricting plan that was so gerrymandered that a judge ordered a new, objectively created map — and so most of Manhattan is now a big square, with the two districts folded into one.
This probably weakens Manhattan’s power — but we’re stuck with what the Dems made.
Maloney and Nadler, with six decades as friends in Congress between them, are now cordial enemies. In saying how much she regretted having to run against her old “friend” Nadler, Maloney sounded just as sincere as a Mafia don mournful over axing an uncooperative deputy.
For his part, when called on to ask another candidate a question, Nadler invited Patel to slam Maloney’s voting record (over her vote for the Iraq War).
On broad policies, the three candidates don’t disagree. All decry the end of Roe v. Wade and want stricter gun laws.
More surprising, they also agree that New York’s public safety has deteriorated — and that the state needs to reform bail laws so that judges can consider a suspect’s danger to the community.
They’re reflecting what their liberal constituents think — a warning sign for Gov. Kathy Hochul, who won’t consider a special session on the matter.
So where’s the big difference? Infrastructure.
Maloney is unapologetically a “bring home the bacon” gal. She brags of securing funds for the Second Avenue Subway two decades ago and MTA bailout money during COVID. “I have never been more effective than I am now,” she said.
Nadler is more of an ideals guy: He talks more about impeaching President Donald Trump (twice) than about solid accomplishments.
He wants to build a freight tunnel between Brooklyn and New Jersey — but he’s been talking about that for two decades. “He want[s] to build a . . . tunnel that’s still not built,” Maloney said.
Patel, on the other hand, doesn’t automatically equate money with results. On the Second Avenue Subway, he noted that New York’s subway-construction costs are eight to 12 times those of other developed countries. Paris “just built an automated state-of-the-art subway line,” he said, for a fraction of the amount.
That one word — “automated” — may not sound like much. But in New York special-interest politics, it’s a revolution: an indication that maybe the city should consider cutting transit costs, even if it upsets the unions. “We need to reform some of our red tape and laws,” Patel said regarding construction costs and delays.
The biggest contrast was over Hochul’s Penn Station boondoggle scheme. Maloney and Nadler unabashedly support federal dollars to aid the plan to demolish acres of private property to hand over to one politically connected developer and (somehow) fund a sort-of renovated Penn Station.
Never mind the details, they think: It’s a big project, and big projects are always good.
Patel has a different take. Yes, Penn needs a fix, but “that plan isn’t thought up by anyone who’s ever worked in the private sector,” he said. That is, federal money would be subsidizing a bad project — a strange concept. “We have to be good stewards of people’s tax dollars.”
Manhattan voters have to decide: Are they that impressed with announcement after announcement that their congressperson has brought home so many billions for this, so many billions for that — when we get so little for that money?
It may be an odd thing to vote on. But when three people agree on almost everything, the disagreements are important.
Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.