Rep. Peter King (R)
New York 3rd District
September 1947 was a pivotal moment in American history: 300 families moved into 750-square-foot houses that sold for $6,990, with no money down for veterans. The location was Levittown—America’s first mass-produced suburb, where delivery trucks dropped off piles of prefabricated materials 60 feet apart, to be picked up by roving teams of specialized workers with power tools. By the time the final house was sold for $9,500 in November 1951, Levittown, a former potato field, had become synonymous with instant suburbanization. Southern State Parkway, the road that drew New York City’s working- and middle-class families out to Long Island, was originally constructed in the 1920s by the legendary city-builder Robert Moses as a way of linking New Yorkers, at least those affluent enough to own a car, with the newly constructed Jones Beach State Park. Three decades later, Moses widened the parkway to accommodate the growing ranks of long-distance commuters who populated Long Island’s bedroom communities and worked in New York City. More than a half-century later, aging Nassau County is all but built out and is sometimes referred to as the nation’s “first mature suburb.” Its population, 450,000 in 1940, zoomed to 1.4 million in 1970. In recent years, it has stabilized at 1.3 million.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
As the prototype suburb, Nassau County created what may have been the nation’s premier county Republican machine. Among other pols, it produced three-term Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, a former Hempstead supervisor. The GOP-run county government, which was one of the highest-salaried, highest-spending in America, thrived until the late 1990s, when fiscal laxity dropped the county’s credit rating to near junk-bond status despite tax rates that were among the highest in the country. Voters rebelled in 1999, by giving Democrats their first-ever majority in the county legislature, and in 2001, by electing Democrat Thomas Suozzi as county executive. He shook up the local government and agreed to abide by the bipartisan legislative majority.
The 3rd Congressional District of New York includes roughly half of Nassau County. It covers much of the southern shoreline of Long Island, taking in the old railroad resort of Long Beach, plus Baldwin, Merrick, and Massapequa in Nassau County; and Amityville, Lindenhurst, most of Babylon, Bay Shore, and Islip in Suffolk County. Nearly one-fourth of the district’s population lives in Suffolk County. The district runs north all the way to Long Island Sound, where old estates—including Sagamore Hill, the home Theodore Roosevelt built on Cold Spring Harbor in 1885—alternate with more-modest homes and newer subdivisions. Most of the people in the district live in towns strung along either side of Sunrise Highway or just off the Southern and Northern State parkways: Levittown, Syosset, Hicksville (home to Billy Joel), and Bethpage (home to a major Northrop Grumman facility). For a district so close to New York City, its minority population remains low. Although few of Greater New York’s wealthiest live in the 3rd District, the overall level of affluence is high. Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore carried the district 52%-44% in 2000, but it broke for Republican George W. Bush in 2004, 52%-47%. In 2008, Republican nominee John McCain beat Democratic nominee Barack Obama by an identical 52%-47%.
Rep. Peter King (R)
Elected: 1992, 9th term.
Born: April 5, 1944, Manhattan .
Education: St. Francis Col., B.A. 1965, U. of Notre Dame, J.D. 1968.
Family: Married (Rosemary); 2 children.
Military career: Army Natl. Guard, 1968–73.
Elected office: Hempstead Town Cncl., 1977–81; Nassau Cnty. comptroller, 1981–92.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1968–72, 1978–81; Dep. atty., Nassau Cnty., 1972–74; Exec. asst., Nassau Cnty. exec., 1974–76, Gen. cnsl., comptroller, 1977.
The congressman from the 3rd District is Peter King, a Republican elected in 1992. King grew up in Sunnyside, Queens. His parents were Irish immigrants and Democrats, his father a New York City police detective. He went to St. Francis College and law school at the University of Notre Dame, and he clerked one summer at former Republican President Richard Nixon’s law firm with a Long Islander named Rudolph Giuliani. After law school, he followed the trek to the suburbs and became part of the Nassau County Republican machine. He worked as a lawyer and staffer in county government beginning in 1972, and in 1981, he became county comptroller. When 22-year Republican Rep. Norman Lent retired in 1992, King ran for the seat and won the Republican primary. In the general election, King ran as a political insider, fiscal conservative, and abortion-rights opponent. He won by just 50%-46%. He has not faced a close re-election since.
|Peter King (R-Ind-C)||172,774||(64%)||($875,084)|
|Graham Long (D-WF)||97,525||(36%)||($42,361)|
|Peter King (R)||6,847||(88%)|
|Robert Previdi (R)||897||(12%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (56%), 2004 (63%), 2002 (72%), 2000 (60%), 1998 (64%), 1996 (55%), 1994 (59%), 1992 (50%)
King’s voting record ranks him near the ideological center of the House. He is more conservative on foreign-policy issues than on economic or social ones, but with distinctive interests. He opposes abortion rights, racial quotas and preferences, bilingual education, and gun regulation. He supports English-only laws and opposes aid to illegal immigrants. He has been an ardent supporter of the Irish Republican Army. Within days of his election in 1992, he flew to Belfast to meet with leaders of Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political arm, and he had a role in 1998 peace negotiations carrying messages between the IRA and the Irish government. His activism on the issue led to an unusually close bipartisan relationship with President Bill Clinton, who helped broker the agreement. But in 2005, after Sinn Fein’s suspected involvement in a bank robbery and a highly publicized murder, King called for the IRA to disband. He often seemed more comfortable with Democrats and labor leaders—the sort of people he dealt with in Nassau County—than with Southern or Western Republicans. Over the years, King has been a provocative presence on radio and television chat shows. He also gained attention with two novels about politics and diplomacy in Northern Ireland. In one of them, Deliver Us From Evil, a thinly disguised Long Island congressman is the protagonist.
After the September 11 attacks, in which 160 of his constituents died, King became more of a Republican Party regular and focused on legislation to prevent a repeat of the attacks. After Republican Rep. Christopher Cox of California resigned to become chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2005, GOP leaders tapped King to succeed him as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. A major part of his job, he said, was to “articulate the Republican view on homeland security.” In 2006, he was the first House Republican to attack the Bush administration’s plan to give control of six major U.S. ports to a company in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and he subsequently helped to enact tighter controls on port security. During the debate over illegal immigration in 2007 and 2008, King criticized Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who called for an end to federal raids of work sites known to employ illegal aliens. “We need more enforcement, not less,” he said. In 2009, he bucked his friends in organized labor by opposing their “card-check” bill to facilitate union organizing by requiring employers to recognize a union if it persuades a majority of workers to sign union authorization cards. Secret-ballot elections would be held only if they were requested by the unions, which would have little incentive to do so. King originally supported the controversial bill but cited “the most severe economic crisis in 75 years” to explain his switch.
As one of the few remaining moderate Republicans in Congress, King has decried the party’s losses of local offices in Nassau County and said that the GOP had “no overwhelming vision or course.” Freshman Nassau County legislator David Mejias, a Democrat, ran against King in 2006 with an endorsement from the AFL-CIO. He sought to link King to President Bush and “special interests.” But in an otherwise dismal year for New York Republicans, King won 56%-44%, providing evidence of his hold on his district. He had another easy win in 2008.