Rep. Gary Ackerman (D)
New York 5th District
Queens is to most Americans the mystery borough, little explored even by many Manhattanites, although it contains both LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports. Some of it is almost suburban: Bayside, Douglaston, and Little Neck are upper-middle-income neighborhoods far beyond the subway lines, with detached houses with driveways and views across the water. Other Queens neighborhoods are more modest, with houses crowded together and plain-Jane apartment buildings lining the avenues. In the past two decades, Queens has become the No. 1 immigrant destination in New York City. Corona was once predominantly Italian and African-American (Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Malcolm X lived here). Today, there is a large Latin American community, with many Dominican immigrants and also many Asians—a modern-day melting pot. Flushing, long a modest-income Jewish and white ethnic neighborhood, is now the biggest Asian neighborhood in the city. West of 138th Street, Queens is dominated by Taiwanese and ethnic Chinese from Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand; shops have a more urban “Chinatown” feel and feature an amazing variety of delicacies. (New York City has three Chinatowns—one each in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the largest in Queens.) East of 138th Street is predominantly Korean, with development following a more suburban pattern. As Chinese businesses moved into Flushing’s Main Street commercial strip, Korean storeowners moved east to Union Street, a major north-south artery, and to Northern Boulevard. In most of the years since 2004, the area has been represented in the state Assembly by either Chinese businessman Jimmy Meng from Flushing or his daughter, Grace Meng. The city’s most ambitious Asian politician may be City Council member John Liu of Flushing, who ran for city comptroller in 2009. Just east of Flushing and its large new condominium development is Flushing Meadow, the huge drainage basin and former dumping ground that hosted two World’s Fairs (1939 and 1964) and now is home to the U.S. Open tennis tournament, a new Mets baseball park, and endless pickup soccer games played among Queens’ many immigrant groups.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Just a few miles but a world away is the North Shore of Long Island. For a century it has had an upper-crust ambiance—peninsulas jutting out into Long Island Sound, vast green lawns, and the great capitalist mansions that inspired East Egg and West Egg in The Great Gatsby. In the 19th century, millionaires commuted from Manhattan to their estates on steam yachts. During Prohibition, the richest people in business and entertainment spent their leisure time playing croquet while their servants unloaded bootleggers’ shipments at private docks. By the middle of the 20th century, the city had encroached, and the Great Neck and Sands Point peninsulas became affluent, predominantly Jewish suburbs with stately Tudor homes. Lately, many wealthy Asians have moved here.
The 5th Congressional District of New York takes in this territory in Queens and suburban Nassau County. The district includes most of Queens east of Flushing Meadow and north of Union Turnpike—Flushing, Bayside, Douglaston, Little Neck (but not the airports). And it includes the northwest corner of Nassau County—Great Neck, super-rich Sands Point, Lake Success, Port Washington, and Kings Point, home of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. The district’s population is 29% Asian and 24% Hispanic. Sixty percent of the people speak a language other than English at home. Both the Queens and Nassau County portions of the district have long voted heavily Democratic.
Rep. Gary Ackerman (D)
Elected: Mar. 1983, 13th full term.
Born: Nov. 19, 1942, Brooklyn .
Home: Jamaica Estates.
Education: Queens Col., B.A. 1965.
Family: Married (Rita); 3 children.
Elected office: NY Senate, 1978–83.
Professional Career: Jr. high schl. teacher, 1966–70; Editor & publisher, Queens Tribune, 1970–78; Pres., advertising agcy., 1972–78.
The congressman from the 5th District is Gary Ackerman, a Democrat first elected in 1983. Ackerman grew up in Flushing. His father was a cab driver and, true to the character of the district, his mother was a Polish immigrant. As a young man, Ackerman cultivated a variety of interests and careers. He graduated from Queens College, and taught social studies in junior high school. After he and his wife had their first child, Ackerman successfully sued the New York City school district for the right of fathers, as well as mothers, to take time off for a new child. For a time, Ackerman ran an advertising agency, and then started the weekly Queens Tribune in 1970, which he sold in 1978. That year, he was elected to the New York Senate. He won his seat in the U.S. House in a special election from a district that was then centered in the heavily Jewish apartment complexes in central Queens. Ackerman is a colorful character. In Washington, he lives on a houseboat on the Potomac River called the Unsinkable II, successor to the Unsinkable I, which sank. He hosts an annual “Taste of New York” fundraiser, featuring pastrami sandwiches and stuffed cabbage, with waiters imported from the city. Acerbic but humorous, he is a pungent speaker, with a humor that makes even opponents smile. He always wears a white carnation in his lapel, a habit he started as a teacher to remind his students that “every day is special.”
|Gary Ackerman (D-Ind-WF)||112,724||(71%)||($988,775)|
|Elizabeth Berney (R)||43,039||(27%)||($24,367)|
|Gary Ackerman (D-Ind-WF)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (100%), 2004 (71%), 2002 (92%), 2000 (68%), 1998 (65%), 1996 (64%), 1994 (55%), 1992 (52%), 1990 (100%), 1988 (100%), 1986 (77%), 1984 (69%), 1983 (49%)
Ackerman has a penchant for taking on worthy but neglected causes. His once solidly liberal voting record has moderated on foreign-policy issues. Despite opposition from many constituents, including his wife, Ackerman voted in 2002 to authorize war in Iraq; in 2005 he said he regretted it. He is the chairman of the Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee on the Foreign Affairs Committee, a panel of great interest to his constituents. He has met frequently with leaders in the region. Between 2006 and 2008, he helped win congressional approval of the nuclear energy deal with India, under which India gained U.S. expertise and nuclear fuel to meet its rapidly rising energy needs in exchange for opening its nuclear facilities to international inspections. A longtime supporter of India—Queens is home to a large Indian-American community— he also urged President George W. Bush not to sell sophisticated weapons and F-16s to Pakistan, although he has been willing to offer counter-narcotics, anti-terrorism, and peacekeeping aid to Pakistan along with intelligence information.
In 2007 and 2008, Ackerman won overwhelming House passage of five nonbinding resolutions on foreign policy, most of them dealing with the Middle East. They included measures calling for the release of Israeli soldiers held by the Muslim groups Hamas and Hezbollah and condemning Syria for taking control of the internal affairs of Lebanon. In the same period, he pushed a bill to freeze the personal assets of corporate executives whose companies invest in oil in Iran. “You can’t invest with Al Capone without underwriting gangsterism,” said Ackerman, deploying one of his trademark analogies. “And you can’t invest in Iran without underwriting terrorism.” Peace activists from the group Code Pink protested what they deemed his “provocative” anti-Iran rhetoric by blockading his houseboat with rafts. Ackerman came on deck and discussed the issue with the activists.
On domestic issues, Ackerman in 1995 helped to pass the “Baby AIDS” bill requiring HIV testing of newborns and disclosure of the results to the mother. The bill also bars insurers from terminating coverage because of HIV/AIDS test results. As one of five New York Democrats on the Financial Services Committee, Ackerman worked in 2007 to extend the terrorism insurance program. He occasionally stands out as a lonely liberal, such as when he was one of only three House members to vote against a resolution criticizing a federal Appeals Court that ruled unconstitutional the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Ackerman was an outspoken opponent of the short-lived publicity boomlet in 2008 to appoint Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the late president, to the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton when she became secretary of State. “I don’t know what Caroline Kennedy’s qualifications are, except that she has name recognition, but so does J-Lo,” he told a local radio station, referring to pop singer Jennifer Lopez. He twice has survived redistricting, and he takes pride in tending to constituent projects ranging from environmental issues to saving the Merchant Marine Academy. Ackerman regularly wins re-election by large margins. His chief political threat might be a candidacy from one of the fast-growing immigrant communities in his district. And redistricting in advance of the 2012 election could prove a problem. Population growth in his Nassau County base is stagnant while growing minority communities in Queens seek to wield more clout.