Candidates Line Up to Challenge
Engel for Congress
Congressman Eliot Engel may have had his work cut out for him two years ago, when State Senator Larry Seabrook challenged him in a hard-fought Democratic Primary. But this year is shaping up to be no walk in the park, either.
With new Congressional district lines in place following the 2000 Census, a number of new variables - including the inclusion of many more Republicans and many more constituents outside the Bronx and Westchester in Rockland County are keeping the seven-term incumbent on his toes.
The new district makeup was enough to entice not one, but two Republicans to vie for the chance to battle Engel. A Right to Life candidate has also entered the fray. And on the left, there is a Green Party candidate vying for the seat.
The district now includes southern Rockland County along with Mount Vernon, part of Yonkers, and much of the northwest Bronx.
Even with Democrats still outnumbering Republicans 3-to-1 in the district, two prominent Republicans saw enough of an opening to enter into a primary against each other. Scott Vanderhoef is in discussion with the other Republican, Joseph Holland, to potentially avoid a race.
Holland, a former state housing commissioner and a Yonkers resident, is reportedly reconsidering his bid now that Vanderhoef is in the race. Holland could not be reached for comment.
Vanderhoef, who has been Rockland County executive for the past eight years, is optimistic about capitalizing on the revamped district. "With the new congressional [district lines], we offer a new choice with lots of energy," said Vanderhoef, a long-time Rockland resident.
Vanderhoef sees the issues that he has championed - the environment, open spaces, and reducing property taxes and the size of government - as transferrable to areas outside of Rockland. "They relate . . . [to this] diversified district of people," he added.
Vanderhoef says he wants to work more closely with Governor Pataki and President Bush than Engel on issues such as economic development.
Engel spokesman Joe O'Brien countered that Engel brought in millions of dollars of funds on the federal level and works with the governor when appropriate. He said that such funding has supported education, health, economic development and a host of other issues.
On the other side of the political spectrum, Elizabeth Shanklin of the Green Party feels Engel and other politicians are ignoring important issues. The long-time Riverdale resident and public school teacher, who has taught at Kennedy and Walton high schools in the Bronx, said she was moved to run because of the amount of money being funneled to the War on Terrorism.
"Resources are being disproportionately allocated," said Shanklin, contrasting underfunded and overcrowded schools with a bloated US military budget.
Shanklin also criticized Engel for complacency regarding the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant. Shanklin wants the plant shut down because of concerns it could be the target for a terrorist attack and other safety and health concerns.
But O'Brien said Engel was one of the first public officials to call for the closing of the plant last November and has remained steadfast since then.
Engel, whose contentious 2000 reelection bid cost him over $1 million - a very large sum in a Congressional race - has raised almost $600,000 for this year's run. He's confident of his chances despite the uncertainties of redistricting.
"I never take an election for granted," Engel said, reporting that he has been favorably received during recent forays into Rockland County politicking.
He also believes he has one distinct advantage. "Two-thirds of the district already knows me," he said.
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