Rep. John Hall (D)
New York 19th District
The great interior of America can be said to begin where the Hudson River squeezes through the series of Appalachian ridges at the Hudson Highlands. This choke point became a barrier to British military power during the Revolutionary War, when American forces put a chain across the river to keep the British from sailing north. Benedict Arnold betrayed his country over control of this part of the Hudson, and the new nation built its Military Academy high on the cliffs at West Point. The Hudson was the impetus for the builders of the Erie Canal and the water-level New York Central Railroad, two great projects that made New York City the port of the American interior as well as the port for the builders of the nearby Croton Aqueduct, which provided the water without which New York could not grow. (It also carried the first cockroaches to the city.) Some distant day the great aqueduct may crumble, but the cockroaches will remain.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 19th Congressional District of New York covers much of the lower Hudson Valley, sprawling across parts of five counties. West of the Hudson, the district takes in much of Orange County, New York’s fastest-growing county from 2000 to 2007. There, old farming villages like Warwick adjoin mountains, farms and new, middle-income subdivisions on the nation’s biggest deposit of muck soil outside the Everglades. Orange County is also home to the Stewart Airport, which many have viewed as a possible alternate airport for New York City. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey took control the facility in 2007, but its service has remained scant. The county includes Kiryas Joel, a politically controversial Satmar Hasidic settlement where two-thirds of residents live below the poverty line. (Its 20,000 residents function almost as a single voting unit, without much regard to partisan affiliation, a fact that has not escaped the notice of the state’s top politicians, who regularly court local leaders.)
While the district excludes two of Orange County’s biggest population centers, Middletown and Newburgh, it takes in portions of northern Rockland County, including Stony Point. The district crosses the Hudson near West Point. East of the river, the district begins in northern Westchester County, including Croton-on-Hudson, Yorktown, Mount Kisco, and Peekskill, where Republican George Pataki was mayor before becoming governor. Farther north, the 19th takes in all of Putnam County and part of Dutchess County, including the suburbs, but not the center city, of Poughkeepsie and Wappingers Falls. Putnam has become popular with first-time home buyers who make the 80-minute commute to Grand Central Station. The region also has proved attractive to middle- and higher-income public and corporate employees seeking reasonably priced housing in safe areas, a trend that has led to robust growth at a time when other areas of New York state are losing population. Immigrants from Ecuador who have settled here find the farmland and mountains similar to those back home. Politically, this area moved toward the Democrats in the 1990s, voted for Republican George W. Bush for president in 2004, but switched again to vote for Democrat Barack Obama in 2008.
Rep. John Hall (D)
Elected: 2006, 2nd term.
Born: July 23, 1948, Baltimore, MD .
Home: Dover Plains.
Education: Attended U. of Notre Dame, Loyola Col. (MD).
Family: Married (Pamela); 1 child.
Elected office: Ulster Cnty. Legislature, 1989-91; Saugerties Bd. of Educ., 1996-99.
Professional Career: Singer/songwriter.
The congressman from the 19th District is John Hall, a Democrat elected in 2006. The singer-songwriter is the second professional rock musician to serve in Congress. (The late Sonny Bono, who represented a California district, was the first.) Hall was raised in upstate New York and began playing the piano at age 4. His father was a Westinghouse engineer, his mother a college professor. He entered Notre Dame University at age 16 and studied physics for just a year, later attending Loyola College in Baltimore. Hall dropped out of school to pursue a music career, performing in the West Village and writing music for Broadway musicals. In the 1960s and 1970s, he recorded with such top artists as Janis Joplin, Bonnie Raitt, and Jackson Browne. In 1972, he helped found the soft-rock band Orleans, which performed the smash hits “Still the One” and “Dance With Me.”
|John Hall (D-Ind-WF)||164,859||(59%)||($2,136,773)|
|Kieran Lalor (R-C)||116,120||(41%)||($612,220)|
|John Hall (D-Ind-WF)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (51%)
Even then Hall was a budding policy wonk and activist, occasionally holding forth on the dangers of plutonium production. He also became an activist for anti-nuclear and environmental causes. He founded the anti-nuclear group Musicians United for Safe Energy and in 1979 organized a series of “No Nukes” concerts. Hall won his first elected office in the early 1990s, when he served two years in the Ulster County legislature and then four years on the Saugerties School Board. In October 2004, he attracted fleeting national attention for noisily protesting the Bush campaign’s use of “Still the One” at campaign events. The Bush campaign did not have Hall’s permission and stopped using the song. Hall decided to challenge moderate Republican Rep. Sue Kelly of New York, he said, “because my wife told me to stop yelling at the TV.” He was egged on by Democratic Rep. Maurice Hinchey, who represents an adjoining district, and by Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who overheard Hall complaining backstage about the Iraq War during a concert in her state.
In the 2006 Democratic primary, party strategists preferred lawyer Judy Aydelott, a former Republican, because of her fundraising skills and apparent crossover appeal. Hall was viewed as too liberal for the district, but he had considerable grassroots strength, and his star power and music-industry contacts won him attention and enough money to remain competitive. He defeated Aydelott 49%-27% in the four-way primary.
Hall worked to tie Kelly to the unpopular Republican president. Kelly portrayed herself as an “independent voice” and attacked Hall as a tax-raising liberal who would vote to impeach Bush, advocate for socialized medicine and summarily withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. During the general election, a mailer surfaced showing the reprinted cover of the Orleans’ 1976 “Waking and Dreaming” album, in which Hall appeared bearded and bare-chested, a contrast to the pinstripes and wing tips he was sporting 30 years later as a congressional candidate. The caption read: “John Hall, wrong for America.” Against the advice of his advisers, Hall sang an impromptu duet of “Dance With Me” with television comedy host Stephen Colbert, a scene that played repeatedly on the Internet. Republicans have an 18,000-voter enrollment advantage in the district, and Kelly appeared well-positioned for another term. But late in the campaign, she became tarred by the scandal involving Florida Republican Rep. Mark Foley and the sexually explicit emails he had sent to former congressional pages. A former member of the board overseeing the page program, Kelly faced questions about whether she had been aware of Foley’s behavior, and a television crew filmed her running away from questions about the Foley scandal. Hall won the general election 51%-49%, by less than 5,000 votes, with the winning margin coming from Westchester County.
In his first term in the House, Hall established a relatively centrist voting record and kept a low profile for a former rock star. As a freshman, he chaired the Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, where in 2007 he won passage of a bill to increase the compensation rates for veterans with service-connected disabilities. In 2008, the House also passed his bill to modernize the disability-claims process. On a topic of personal interest, he supported the effort by Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., to require radio stations to pay an added fee for performance rights.
As the 2008 election approached, Hall was an early target of Republicans, who talked up Andrew Saul, a wealthy businessman and philanthropist, as a challenger. But Saul withdrew in November 2007 for unspecified personal reasons, after having raised $1.5 million, nearly half of it his own money. After failing to recruit another strong candidate, Republicans nominated Kieran Lalor, an Iraq War vet and political novice. The contest never became competitive, and Hall won 59%-41%. He easily carried all five counties in the district, outperforming Democratic presidential nominee Obama, who won only Dutchess and Westchester.