New York 20th District
The Hudson River, an avenue of commerce in colonial days and an inspiration to artists in the new federal republic, is still one of America’s great sights, though it is no longer central, as it was, to the nation’s consciousness and politics. The classic mansions overlooking the river, like Clermont, whose builder Robert Livingston financed Robert Fulton’s first steamboat, and Montgomery Place, built by Janet Livingston Montgomery, widow of the general who attacked Quebec in 1775, are reminders of the cool serenity of the 18th-century mind and the daring nature of its spirit. Robert Livingston, whose descendants include former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, and former U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston of Louisiana, administered the first oath of office to George Washington in 1789 and helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. On a visit to his land in the 1790s, James Madison and Aaron Burr welded the Virginia-New York alliance that set the course of American political history. The Hudson was also a center of American culture during the Romantic era. From Frederick Church’s Moorish mansion, Olana, one can see the still-unspoiled river landscape that inspired his art and that of others of the Hudson River School of painters. James Fenimore Cooper lived farther up the river, near the placid shores of Lake George, and his classic work The Last of the Mohicans abounds with descriptions of the area. Later, the photographer Alfred Stieglitz and his wife, painter Georgia O’Keeffe, drew inspiration from the same waters, woods, and hills.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The Hudson gave birth to America’s passionate party politics. Nearby is Kinderhook, home of Martin Van Buren, the innkeeper’s son who in alliance with Andrew Jackson invented the torchlight parade, the national party convention, and some argue the Democratic Party itself. Later in the 19th century, the Hudson was lined with the palaces of the nation’s first great millionaires and the comfortable country homes of New York’s gentry. One of the latter, Springwood in Hyde Park, was the birthplace and home of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He greatly expanded government at home and was the victorious commander-in-chief of American military forces throughout the world, but was most comfortable looking out over his sloping lawn down to the river, where he used to go iceboating during the winter.
The sprawling 20th Congressional District of New York circles the Albany metro area and includes much of the Hudson Valley—the grand river south of Albany and the smaller river, freshly fed by the Adirondacks, to the north. It includes four full counties (Warren, Washington, Columbia, and Greene), most of Saratoga County, and parts of five others (Dutchess, Essex, Rensselaer, Delaware, and Otsego). The northern extreme of the 20th extends right up to Lake Placid in the Adirondacks, site of the 1980 Winter Olympics. The southern extreme in Dutchess County is close enough for commuters from New York City to travel back and forth regularly. Just to the north is Columbia County, where city dwellers go to introduce their children to “the country.” The district extends west just short of Cooperstown, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but it includes Oneonta, home of the less-well-known National Soccer Hall of Fame. It also includes Saratoga Springs with its grand racetrack and the nearby battlefield where the British were decisively stopped in 1777. This area had been Republican territory since the Civil War. Indeed, Roosevelt never carried his home territory except when he ran for the state Senate in 1910. The 20th was one of only six New York districts to vote for Republican George W. Bush in 2000 and one of nine to vote for him in 2004. In recent years, the district has trended Democratic, like much of upstate New York. While registered Republicans still outnumber registered Democrats, the district voted for both Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Gov. Eliot Spitzer in 2006. Also that year, it elected Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, now a senator, over longtime Republican Rep. John Sweeney. In 2008, the district voted narrowly for Barack Obama, 51%-48%.