Rep. Steve Israel (D)
New York 2nd District
Shortly after World War II, hundreds of thousands of New York City residents, many of them young veterans and their families, moved to detached suburban houses built on the former potato fields of central Long Island. Those in the first wave of postwar migration settled in Nassau County, and they included a cross-section of all but the poorest New Yorkers. About half were Catholic, a quarter Protestant, and a quarter Jewish. As Long Island developed its own employment base, another wave moved farther east into Suffolk County. This group was more Catholic, less Jewish, and more blue-collar. Ancestrally Democratic, these voters were culturally conservative, and in the 1970s and 1980s, they tended to vote Republican. Since then, voters in Suffolk County have joined the rest of the New York metro area in shunning the Republican Party as it has increasingly drifted to the right.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 2nd Congressional District of New York includes most of western Suffolk County, part of the town of Islip and a small portion of Nassau County—Plainview, Woodbury, and part of Jericho. For the most part, the 2nd is the humbler part of Long Island: farther east than most of the fashionable commuter suburbs, well south of the picturesque North Shore, not as far east as the ritzy Hamptons, and, aside from a handful of ferry-only resort towns on Fire Island, located inland from the southern shore. With some of the lowest-priced housing on the Island, this area has been attracting minorities and immigrants. Brentwood, settled in 1851 as part of a free-love social experiment that lasted 13 years, is now more than half Hispanic. Once a destination for Puerto Ricans, it also has attracted large numbers of Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Mexicans. Illegal immigration has been a divisive issue in Suffolk. In 2006, officials barred day laborers from loitering on public roads while looking for work. Historically Republican, the 2nd District has not voted for a Republican presidential nominee since 1992. In 2008, Democrat Barack Obama won it with 56% of the vote.
Rep. Steve Israel (D)
Elected: 2000, 5th term.
Born: May 30, 1958, Brooklyn .
Home: Dix Hills.
Education: George Wash. U., B.A. 1983.
Family: Married (Marlene Budd); 2 children.
Elected office: Huntington Town Council, 1993-2000, Maj. ldr., 1997-2000.
Professional Career: Legis. asst., U.S. Rep. Richard Ottinger, 1980-83; Fundraising dir., Touro Law Ctr., 1985-88; Pres., Steve Israel Assoc., Inc., 1992-98; Pres. & CEO, Inst. on Holocaust and Law, 1998-2000.
The congressman from the 2nd District is Steve Israel, a Democrat first elected in 2000. He grew up in Wantagh and graduated from George Washington University in 1983. While in college, he worked full-time on Capitol Hill, first doing constituent work for Democratic Rep. Robert Matsui of California, and then as a legislative assistant for Rep. Richard Ottinger of New York, also a Democrat. After college, Israel returned to Long Island, where he was Suffolk director for the American Jewish Congress, fundraising director for Touro Law School, and assistant for intergovernmental relations to Suffolk County Executive Patrick Halpin for three years. Then he started his own public-relations and marketing firm and was president of the Institute on the Holocaust and the Law. In 1993, Israel was the only Democrat elected to the Huntington Town Council, where he built a reputation as a bipartisan leader who helped revive the town’s finances. After Republican U.S. Rep. Rick Lazio announced he was running for the Senate, Israel ran for Lazio’s seat and squeaked out a 45%-41% victory in the Democratic primary. In the general election, he faced Republican Joan Johnson, who had a compelling life story as a 66-year-old who grew up under segregation, moved to New York to become a schoolteacher, and later was elected town clerk of Islip. She would have been the first black Republican woman elected to Congress. She also had the Suffolk County GOP’s supposed organizational muscle behind her. But despite help from Lazio, Johnson was a disappointing candidate. She pulled a television ad attacking Israel for voting to raise taxes after Israel protested that he had opposed tax increases. Israel won by a surprisingly easy 48%-35%.
|Steve Israel (D-Ind-WF)||161,279||(67%)||($1,436,880)|
|Frank Stalzer (R-C)||79,641||(33%)||($15,500)|
|Steve Israel (D-Ind-WF)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (70%), 2004 (67%), 2002 (58%), 2000 (48%)
In the House, Israel’s voting record is moderate and a tad more liberal on cultural issues. In an early sign of his dexterity with House politics, he was elected as the freshman representative to the Democratic Steering Committee, which makes the all-important committee assignments. Israel joined the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition and was one of 28 House Democrats who voted for President George W. Bush’s tax cuts in 1981. Israel supported the use of force in Iraq but later said that the case for war was based on a “false pretense.” After irritating Democratic leaders by voting for the Republicans’ prescription drug bill in 2002 because of a provision that increased annual Medicare payments on Long Island, Israel redeemed himself with his party when he voted against the GOP’s Medicare prescription drug bill in 2003.
Israel believes that national Democrats can learn something from the successes of centrist Democrats on Long Island. They prevailed locally, he said, by taking positions that protected national security, balanced government budgets, and championed civil and human rights. The party icon, Israel added, should be former Sen. Scoop Jackson of Washington, a defense hawk in the 1960s and 1970s, whose views are hardly in today’s Democratic mainstream. In internal party politics, he favored Maryland’s Steny Hoyer over California’s Nancy Pelosi for minority whip as Pelosi was beginning her climb up the leadership. Pelosi won that contest, and went on to become House speaker. Although both are liberal, Hoyer is more conservative on defense issues than Pelosi.
In 2007, Israel snagged a seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, useful for delivering federal dollars back home, and a sign that he had mended fences with Pelosi. On the committee, he promoted international human rights and pushed for additional funds for renewable energy. With Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., in January 2009 he formed the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition to promote climate-change legislation and more funding for green technology projects. He also has a “next generation” energy plan designed to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign energy sources. Israel joined the select intelligence oversight panel on Appropriations, where he voiced concern about the anti-Israel views of Charles Freeman, who was nominated to chair President Barack Obama’s National Intelligence Council. Under pressure, Freeman withdrew.
When Lazio decided not to run again for this seat in March 2002, local Republicans grumbled about his delay in deciding, and quietly threw in the towel. Israel won 58%-40% and since then, he has become increasingly secure in the seat. After Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton resigned to become secretary of State in 2009, Israel was among the names discussed as a possible successor. But he did not line up as well in polling as others considered by Gov. David Paterson, including U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, who got the appointment. Disappointed, Israel talked openly about challenging Gillibrand in the 2010 Democratic primary for the Senate seat. In the House, he won additional assignments, including as head of candidate recruiting for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2009.