Election 2002: Special Report
By HEATHER HADDON
This year's election for the state legislature and Congress is particularly interesting because of new district lines drawn to reflect population shifts recorded in the 2000 Census. In this special election guide, the Norwood News focuses on two of the most seriously contested races - the campaign for the 17th Congressional District and for the 80th Assembly District. Other races for the state Assembly and Senate are listed in briefer form, and three maps are provided so readers can place themselves in the proper Senate, Assembly and Congressional districts. Don't forget to vote on Nov. 5!
Eliot Engel (Democrat)
Incumbent congressman Eliot Engel has maintained the same, simple philosophy on elections over his 25-year political career. "Voters give me a contract for two years," he explained. "After two years, it's renewable."
Engel is now asking voters to renew his eighth Congressional "contract." But this year there is a twist. Co-op City, where Engel once lived and maintained a political base, is being shifted out of his district and a large section of Rockland County is now included. So, Engel, who now lives in Riverdale, will have to to bring his platform - fighting for housing, day care, prescription drugs, education - to a new constituency of voters.
Engel, 55, has been a fixture in Bronx politics for years. His strong connection to the Bronx developed early. Growing up in public housing, Engel attended city public schools before graduating from Lehman College in 1969, where he later got a master's degree. Engel went on to teach at city schools before moving on to the state Assembly in 1977. He began his Congressional career in 1988, by defeating incumbent Mario Biaggi, a former hero cop who was disgraced in the Wedtech bribery scandal, in the Democratic primary. "I lost my last political race in 1974," Engel said. "I don't plan on losing another one."
Engel is proud of the presence of his staff throughout his district. "I have five district offices, more than any other Congressional member in New York," Engel said. If re-elected, he vows to open another office in Rockland.
Engel is confident that his Congressional seniority - considerable after 14 years of service - and his record of raising millions for local projects will result in re-election. "I'm in a good position to produce for residents," he said.
Engel is also reminding voters that the House of Representatives, under Republican leadership since 1995, is only six seats away from Democratic control. Returning the House to his party would end an era marked by "extreme right wing Republican leadership," he said. "The Republicans have been the party of fiscal irresponsibility." Engel believes that the remainder of President George Bush's trillion dollar tax cut should be suspended.
While a consistent and stalwart liberal on domestic issues, Engel did solidly back Bush on the Iraq resolution and supports the president's version of the homeland security bill. Engel sits on the International Relations Committee.
Though he has raised less money than in 2000, when he faced a fierce challenge from State Senator Larry Seabrook in the Democratic primary, Engel's over $700,000 (as of Sept. 30) is still 13 times the bankroll of his closest rival, Republican Scott Vanderhoef. Some of Engel's war chest comes from telecommunications and entertainment companies, a trend that Engel ascribes to his seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee. His other top contributors are unions, which Engel has been a big supporter of throughout his career.
"My dad was an ironworker and union member," Engel explained. "I grew up knowing how important unions were."
Engel sums up his voting record this way: "I have a consistent, progressive record voting for middle-class and working class families."
Elizabeth Shanklin (Green)
Green Party candidate Elizabeth Shanklin, an activist and former teacher, has staked her spirited campaign on prioritizing peace and the social issues that, in her view, the other Congressional candidates ignore.
"I am running for Congress to offer the residents of the 17th Congressional District a progressive agenda - one with real choices that serve their interests," says Shanklin on her campaign Web site.
Originally from Tennessee, Shanklin has lived most of her adult life in Riverdale and has worked for many years as an English teacher at Kennedy High School. She has lectured and written on feminist issues, and lately, has led an effort to close the Indian Point nuclear facility.
Shanklin decided to run for Congress, her first bid for public office, when a fellow Bronxite said she was afraid to publicly oppose a U.S. war with Iraq. "As the chair of the Bronx Green Party, I felt I had to have the courage to speak out," Shanklin said. "We have to reach people and present an alternative to war."
Shanklin has been doing that in her campaign, which has included efforts in Westchester and Rockland. "Nine out of 10 people I talk to don't want the war ... wherever they live," Shanklin said. "It's a betrayal of the ideals and hopes that we have been reared to believe in."
Shanklin asserts that the best response to terrorism is preventative - working through the United Nations and funding the development of other countries instead of using military force. She believes that "violence begets violence."
Shanklin proposes a range of proposals for domestic issues, including a guaranteed income for the unemployed and ending managed-care health insurance. "We spend an enormous amount on the administrative cost of [health] insurance companies," she said. "Health should not be a profit- making enterprise."
Raising money for her campaign has not been easy, Shanklin said. She has relied on individual contributions, though she has not been able to wage as visible a campaign as opponents Engel or Vanderhoef.
Speaking with her teacher's hat on, Shanklin is convinced that voters need to learn more about the underlying issues behind current affairs - whether it's war or energy use. "It's a critical moment in the history of our country," she said. "I'm here to offer leadership."
Scott Vanderhoef (Republican)
Get off the No. 4 train at Mosholu Parkway, and one of the first signs you'll see on ground level reads "Scott Vanderhoef for Congress." Vanderhoef needs to get his name known in the Bronx, because he lives about 24 miles away from Norwood in Rockland County. Vanderhoef is betting that a vastly reshaped District 17 and a campaign staked on common urban-suburban issues could win him the Congressional seat.
The Republican candidate has been furiously hitting the streets and airwaves to make his mark against incumbent Eliot Engel. "I felt Engel's record was weak in some areas," said Vanderhoef, who is married and the father of 17-year-old triplets.
Since 1993, Vanderhoef has served as Rockland's county executive - the top elected official in the predominantly suburban and rural region. Before that, he practiced and taught environmental law, and has fought to protect open space and the Hudson River. Vanderhoef also presided over his local Board of Education, and managed part of the state's Child Health Insurance Program.
Vanderhoef's 15 years of management at Ramapo Land Co., Inc . - a private land owner - helped influence his philosophy that government should be run like a business. While county executive, he consolidated governmental departments and reduced property and sales taxes.
How would he be different than the incumbent in Congress? Vanderhoef points to Engel's vote on President Bush's economic stimulus package. "I feel strongly that voting against [Bush's tax cuts] was one the bigges mistakes Engel made in his 14 years in Congress," Vanderhoef said. "He's completely wrong. It's not just a tax thing for the rich," but a means to put money in working people's pockets, he argued.
Vanderhoef has also been outspoken about the need for additional military spending. "If we are going to place men and women in harm's way, we need to have a plan to stabilize Iraq afterwards," said Vanderhoef, who charges Engel with an inadequate record on defense.
Though limited in his direct experience with New York City politics, Vanderhoef emphasizes the commonality of suburban-urban issues such as more jobs, better education and protecting the environment. His work with an area transportation council, that includes the city, helped him develop expertise in commuting issues, Vanderhoef said.
Vanderhoef knows he faces an uphill battle against Engel, especially in fundraising. Engel's most recently reported campaign contributions were 13 times greater than Vanderhoef's, though a recent fundraiser in conjunction with billionaire Steve Forbes helped some. "I'm getting money from my neighbors," he said about his contributions. "It's more difficult."
The challenger is endorsed by former mayor Rudolph Giuliani. "Scott understands the needs of working families," Giuliani said earlier this month.
Arthur Gallagher (Right to Life)
Right to Life candidate Arthur Gallagher is running an almost exclusively single issue campaign. "The right to life is the most important issue in America today," said Gallagher, who is a devout Catholic. "Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are taking it seriously."
Gallagher, 39, is a Bronx attorney specializing in personal injury law. He grew up in the borough, and has lived in Woodlawn since 1977. Gallagher is also a captain in the New York Guard, a volunteer military and defense support corps.
Though he said he's taking his campaign seriously, Gallagher said he has only been invited to a handful of campaign events. "There's not much one can do," said Gallagher, who has politicked at a number of churches and community events. "You can't compete with the financial resources of the other candidates."
The District 17 Congressional Candidates on the Issues
What other measures would you offer to make corporations more accountable?
EE: Voted for corporate accountability bill that passed. "If companies are doing auditing, they should not be hired as consultants."
SV: "More accountability of accountants." Offer employees alternatives to investing their pensions in their company's stock.
ES: Supports re-writing corporate charters as "persons," giving them individual liability.
AG: Firms need to review accounting principles. Accountants should not have extra involvement in companies they are auditing.
What would you do to stimulate the economy?
EE: Repeal Bush's tax cut. "Start additional spending programs like job training and education." Favors extending unemployment benefits.
SV: Strongly supports Bush tax break. "Cutting taxes generates an economic boost."
ES: Create a public works jobs program that could build and repair schools. Unemployment benefits should be extended.
AG: Cut taxes.
Did you support welfare reform in 1996? What do you think should be done when welfare is renewed?
EE: Did not vote for bill in 1996. "We had a safety net in this country. It was eliminated." Does not support Republican-backed incentives for marriage. Supports additional job training and health benefits.
SV: Thinks welfare reform worked in Rockland. Now, add more job training through a "workforce investment board." Supports increasing day care and tax breaks for married couples.
ES: Does not support 1996 reform. Believes there should be a guaranteed income, paid by taxes, to support the unemployed and those rearing children.
AG: Need to reform "the entire system."
How would you reform health insurance?
EE: Need major reforms to the "bait and switch" HMO system that "restricts care." Supports a patient's bill of rights.
SV: Need legislation to correct problems with HMOs.
ES: Supports "single payer" model, which is funded solely through taxes instead of private companie s. "Health should not be a profit-making enterprise."
AG: Simplify it. "Part of the problem is government getting involved in the first place."
What are your proposals for a prescription drug program?
EE: Proposed a bill for prescription drugs for all seniors through Medicare. A premium and $250 deductible would cover the majority of expenses.
SV: Unsure. "Health care is the next biggest challenge to the U.S. other than war."
ES: Should be part of single payer insurance.
AG: Make drugs more affordable through public and private efforts.
What is your stance on abortion and family planning?
EE: Pro-choice. Voted against efforts to rescind money from global family planning agencies.
SV: Pro-choice. "World population growth is one of the greatest threats to the environment."
ES: Pro-choice, but also advocates a guaranteed income for parents who want to stay home with their children a ~s part of family planning.
AG: Adamantly pro-life - the core issue of his campaign.
Do you support the Congressional resolution authorizing war in Iraq?
EE: Yes [voted for it].
SV: Yes, but should come with a spending bill for post-military regime building.
ES: No. Campaigning on a platform of peace and providing foreign aid.
AG: Thinks war with Iraq is a mistake. "The real worry is North Korea."
Do you support the homeland security bill that has become wrapped up in civil service labor issues?
EE: Yes. "We need to put our heads together and fund [homeland security] as much as it needs."
SV: Yes. There should be "flexibility in any special security department" when it comes to labor regulations.
ES: No. "We need to strengthen international bodies like the UN É to isolate and disarm terrorists."
AG: Not sure about the bill, but "we need a more coherent homeland defense policy."
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