Rep. Michael Arcuri (D)
New York 24th District
One of the first American frontiers was the Mohawk River Valley of upstate New York. But from the establishment of Fort Orange in 1624 in what now is Albany until the Revolutionary War, white settlers did not dare move west along the Mohawk. The British used their Iroquois allies as a buffer against the French and in return kept New England Yankees from moving westward. Only after the French were driven from the colonies in 1759 did the pressures for westward settlement prevail. Once the Revolutionary War started, Iroquois dominion ended. Those events are the background of Drums Along the Mohawk and of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales. But there is little in these rolling hills today to evoke the bloody violence of the conflict or the later digging of the Erie Canal and the building of the New York Central Railroad. The canal was a staggering engineering feat. In 1811, it cost more to ship goods 30 miles inland from New York City than it cost to send them to England. But after eight years of work by 9,000 men, the canal opened in 1825, ahead of schedule and on budget, effectively tying together the nation and cementing the importance of New York City to America’s future. Then the New York Central built its water-line route, and the Mohawk Valley became one of the nation’s early industrial centers. The little Oneida County hamlets of Utica and Rome, where the canal builders had to dig through the route’s highest ground, became sizable factory towns. Even the utopian Oneida Community, with its believers in plural marriage and communal ownership, operated a stainless steel factory. First settled by New England Yankees, these towns attracted a new wave of immigration from the Atlantic coast in the early 20th century, including many Italian- and Polish-Americans.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 24th Congressional District of New York sprawls through parts of 11 counties in central New York, few of them heavily populated. The biggest towns are Utica and Rome in Oneida County and Auburn in Cayuga County, which sits amid the Finger Lakes. Nearby Seneca Falls was the birthplace of the women’s movement in 1848, when Boston transplant Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott produced a Declaration of Sentiments that initiated the push for women’s suffrage. Abolition and temperance were also popular here. Today, this is a part of upstate New York that feels itself bypassed by more recent economic growth. Young people increasingly see their futures in larger cities like Albany or Syracuse, rather than in Utica. Oneida County’s population fell 7% between 1990 and 2007 as the county lost many industrial jobs. Seven of the district’s counties have experienced population declines since 2000. The booming business here is the Oneida Indians’ Turning Stone Resort Casino, the largest employer in the area. At the south end of Otsego Lake is Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. In March 2009, the state announced plans to improve rail service in upstate New York as a way of potentially sparking more economic activity. The 24th District is historically Republican, but trended to Democrats in the 1990s. Republican George W. Bush carried it only narrowly in 2000 and by 53%-47% in 2004. In 2008, the district voted for Democrat Barack Obama 50%-48%.
Rep. Michael Arcuri (D)
Elected: 2006, 2nd term.
Born: June 11, 1959, Utica .
Education: S.U.N.Y. Albany, B.A. 1981; NY Law Schl., J.D. 1984.
Family: Married (Sabrina); 3 children.
Elected office: Oneida Cnty. D.A., 1993-2006.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1984-93.
The congressman from the 24th District is Michael Arcuri, a Democrat elected in 2006. He grew up in Utica and went to college at the State University of New York at Albany, where he distinguished himself as a Division III football star. Arcuri (ar-CURE-ee) got his law degree at New York Law School in Manhattan and returned home to open a law practice. In 1993, he was elected Oneida County district attorney, the first Democrat elected to the position in 40 years. During his tenure, he boasted of a conviction rate above 90% and sometimes pursued unpopular prosecutions, including the convictions of a veteran local politician and an assistant fire chief. He ran for the House after 12-term Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, a leading Republican centrist, announced his retirement in 2006. Democrats united behind Arcuri while Republicans chose state Sen. Ray Meier. Although Republicans had nearly 40,000 more registered voters than Democrats, the district’s nearly 72,000 unaffiliated voters and Democratic voting trends made this a highly competitive race.
|Michael Arcuri (D-WF)||130,799||(52%)||($1,616,138)|
|Richard Hanna (R-Ind-C)||120,880||(48%)||($1,090,713)|
|Michael Arcuri (D-WF)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (54%)
Arcuri and Meier hewed to the ideological center, but Arcuri most closely reflected Boehlert’s viewpoints. “I’ve been calling myself, much to my opponent’s chagrin, a Boehlert Democrat,” Arcuri said during the campaign. Meier opposed abortion rights, while Arcuri supported them as Boehlert had. Meier had Boehlert’s endorsement, and said that although he was more conservative than Boehlert, he would stand up to his party and seek bipartisan compromises in Congress. Arcuri had no legislative record to defend, making it difficult for Republicans to argue that he was too liberal for the district. Both veterans of Oneida County politics, Arcuri and Meier remained relatively civil for much of the campaign, even as the national parties spent millions attacking the candidates. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sponsored one direct-mail piece, titled “Spending like a Drunken Sailor,” that showed Meier holding a champagne bottle. The National Republican Congressional Committee ran a racy ad featuring the silhouette of a dancing woman that accused Arcuri of charging the county for calls to a phone sex line. The allegation was later discredited. Both national parties spent about $2 million apiece on the contest. In a strongly Democratic year in New York, Arcuri won decisively, 54%-45%, helped by landslide victories for Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
In the House, Arcuri’s voting record was among the most conservative among New York Democrats. He won a seat on the influential Rules Committee, a prominent posting for a freshman on the leadership-driven committee that sets the ground rules for legislation on the floor. He voted with his party on most issues, but backed tougher border security during the debate over illegal immigration in the 110th Congress (2007-08). He joined the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition. In February 2009, Arcuri and a group of Blue Dogs met with Obama to try to convince him to consider deep spending cuts and other belt-tightening measures. On local issues, Arcuri was involved in efforts to stop a proposed New York Regional Interconnect high-voltage power line from going through his district. The line is designed to deliver excess energy from upstate markets to power-starved New York City. He also tried to prevent the Interior Department from approving a request by the Oneida Indians to place 17,370 acres of nonreservation land into a federal Indian trust. Local governments in the area object to the plan.
The district remains winnable territory for the right Republican candidate. In 2008, Arcuri failed to respond to attack ads from GOP challenger Richard Hanna and did not take the threat from the self-funding multimillionaire as seriously as he should have, as he later acknowledged. Hanna, the owner of a construction company, spent $1.1 million against Arcuri, campaigned as a moderate, and criticized Arcuri for some of his votes with House Democrats. The two candidates agreed on their support for abortion rights and opposition to gun control. Arcuri was re-elected narrowly, 52%-48%, two weeks after the election when the results of absentee ballots came in. He carried all but Herkimer, Broome, and Tioga counties. In April 2009, the National Republican Congressional Committee ran ads in the district criticizing Arcuri’s support for the Democratic budget, a sign he will be a target again in 2010.
Upstate New York will likely lose at least one seat in redistricting after the 2010 census, and Arcuri could find his district squeezed by more-urban-based Democrats.