Rep. Eliot Engel (D)
New York 17th District
The Bronx, settled mostly in the early 20th century, was originally a collection of middle-class neighborhoods clustered around subway stops, places where the children of immigrants left behind Manhattan’s gloomy tenements and walk-ups and basked in the sunlight, wide avenues and hilly vistas. Different ethnic groups collected here: Irish in Kingsbridge, in the valley between Riverdale and the Grand Concourse; well-to-do WASPs and Jews in Riverdale, on the palisades above the Hudson River; middle-class blacks in Williamsbridge, in the north-central part of the borough. When neighboring areas in the South Bronx began to deteriorate, many of their residents fled to the southern cities of Westchester County, on the Bronx border. Others drove over the Tappan Zee Bridge to the pleasant suburbs of Rockland County, just north of Bergen County, N.J. In 2008, serious discussions began over the possible replacement—not repair—of the 52-year-old Tappan Zee; the cost likely would exceed $6 billion.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 17th Congressional District of New York includes the bulk of these Bronx neighborhoods, plus Baychester, Eastchester and Spuyten Duyvil. It has the century-old Van Cortlandt Park, at 1,146 acres New York City’s third-largest park. It also includes leafy Woodlawn, still a magnet for Irish immigrants and more like neighboring Westchester County than the Bronx. The district skips around Marble Hill, an African-American and Latino enclave on the Bronx mainland that was kept as part of Manhattan after engineers diverted the Harlem River around it in 1895, hoping to improve water flow for shipping. The 17th extends deep into the suburbs, taking in black-majority Mount Vernon, financially troubled Yonkers and a narrow strip of land running north from Yonkers along the Hudson River. Across the Tappan Zee, the district encompasses the southern half of Rockland County, including Nyack, Orangetown, Suffern, Ramapo and part of Clarkstown. In 2007, the minority population of the district was 31% African-American and 24% Hispanic. The Bronx casts 38% of the vote, Rockland casts 37% and Westchester 25%. In 2008, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama carried the district, 72% to 28%
Rep. Eliot Engel (D)
Elected: 1988, 11th term.
Born: Feb. 18, 1947, Bronx .
Education: Hunter-Lehman Col., B.A. 1969, C.U.N.Y., Lehman Col., M.A. 1973, NY Law Schl., J.D. 1987.
Family: Married (Patricia); 3 children.
Elected office: NY Assembly, 1977–88.
Professional Career: Teacher, guidance counselor, NYC public schl., 1969–77.
The congressman from the 17th District is Eliot Engel, a Democrat elected in 1988. He is the son of a welder and grew up in the Bronx. As a boy, he was a political junkie who memorized the names of all 100 senators. He graduated from Hunter-Lehman College, got a master’s in guidance and counseling from the City University of New York, then taught in the New York City public schools. He was also a guidance counselor. After 14 years, he went back to school for a law degree from New York Law School. In 1977, at age 30, he was elected to the New York Assembly in a special election to replace a convicted incumbent. He won election to the House in 1988, replacing Democratic Rep. Mario Biaggi, who’d been convicted of bribery.
|Eliot Engel (D-Ind-WF)||161,594||(80%)||($776,808)|
|Robert Goodman (R-C)||40,707||(20%)|
|Eliot Engel (D-Ind-WF)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (76%), 2004 (76%), 2002 (63%), 2000 (90%), 1998 (88%), 1996 (85%), 1994 (78%), 1992 (80%), 1990 (61%), 1988 (56%)
Engel’s once strongly liberal voting record has become more moderate in recent years, especially on foreign policy. On the Foreign Affairs Committee, he made his name as the backer of downtrodden ethnic groups. He has been a prime sponsor of the resolution to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He called for investigation of the internment of Italian nationals and other harsh restrictions in this nation during World War II, and he has co-chaired the Congressional ad hoc Committee on Irish Affairs to foster the peace process in that country. Engel is not a 1970s-style dove: He supported the Gulf War resolution in 1990, the bombing of Serbia to get a settlement in Bosnia, and the use of force in Iraq in 2002, though he criticized President George W. Bush’s handling of that conflict following the ouster of Iraqi Leader Saddam Hussein. As chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, he has criticized socialist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for his attitude toward the United States, accusing him of “provocation.”
On the Energy and Commerce Committee, Engel has pushed for energy conservation and steps to address climate change. With Republican Jack Kingston of Georgia, he worked across the aisle to promote alternative and renewable sources of energy. In 2008, he helped enact a bill renaming the research library in the Ellis Island immigration museum to honor longtime comedian Bob Hope.
Engel has a personal tradition of staking out an aisle seat many hours before the start of the annual State of the Union address so that he can shake the president’s hand or occasionally give a hug. In February 2009, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper called Engel “pathetic” for waiting 12 and a half hours for Obama’s address to Congress. Engel replied that Cooper was “pathetic” for failing to share his enthusiasm. At home, Engel relentlessly stays on top of constituent service.
Given his minority-majority district, Engel can never feel quite secure in his seat. In the 2000 primary, Assemblyman Larry Seabrook argued that the district needed “real leadership” and attacked Engel for living in suburban Maryland. Engel won 50%-41%. After redistricting made his district more suburban in 2002, Engel had vigorous competition from Rockland County Executive Scott Vanderhoef, a Republican who criticized Engel for voting against tax cuts and defense spending. Vanderhoef carried Rockland County by 53%-45%. But Engel won big in Westchester and the Bronx, for a 63%-34% overall victory. In 2004, New York City firefighter Kevin McAdams challenged Engel in the primary, denouncing his support of the Iraq War, but Engel won easily, 59%-20%. In the 2006 Democratic primary, progressive Jessica Flagg criticized his support of “Bush war policies,” but he got 83% of the vote. In 2008, he had no primary foe and only token Republican opposition. But redistricting after the 2010 census could pose a new set of challenges, depending on how much of the Bronx remains in his district.