Rep. Dan Maffei (D)
New York 25th District
Syracuse is a Middle American city in the middle of upstate New York, halfway between Albany and Buffalo on the Erie Canal and the old New York Central Railroad, which were for years the nation’s major east-west transportation routes. Built on a swamp that was a salt spring, Syracuse is the home of many practical-minded inventions—the dental chair, Stickley mission furniture, the drive-in bank teller, the serrated knife, and the foot measuring devices used in shoe stores. It is the site of the New York State Fair, which attracts 1 million visitors annually, and of Syracuse University, which plays basketball inside the Carrier Dome, the largest domed stadium on a college campus. The agricultural hinterland is rich with specialty crops like wine grapes, and its industrial jobs are mostly high-skill. But Onondaga County has been losing population since 1990, with a big loss in the 20-35 age group. Manufacturing jobs are being lost, but there are job gains in business services, education, and health care. Because local housing prices increased only modestly during the real estate boom, the area suffered little from the sharp decline in housing prices in 2008 and 2009.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 25th Congressional District of New York includes all of Syracuse and Onondaga County. West of Syracuse, it includes territory just south of Lake Ontario, northern Cayuga County, and Wayne County, where in the village of Palmyra, Joseph Smith had his vision of the angel Moroni and saw the golden tablets that led him to found the Mormon Church. The district’s western end is in the suburbs of Rochester in Monroe County, which is split up between four districts. Historically, Syracuse and Rochester have been heavily Republican, partly out of antipathy to New York City. But in the 1990s, economically ailing upstate New York trended sharply toward national Democrats even as it voted for Republican Gov. George Pataki. In 2007, Democrats had the majority of voter registrations in Onondaga for the first time. This district voted 50% for Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in 2004 and 56% for Democratic nominee Barack Obama in 2008.
Rep. Dan Maffei (D)
Elected: 2008, 1st term.
Born: July 4, 1968, Syracuse .
Education: Brown U., B.A. 1990; Columbia U., M.S. 1991; Harvard U., M.P.P. 1995.
Family: Married (Abby).
Professional Career: TV reporter, 1991-93; Press secy., U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley, 1996; Press secy., U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 1997-98; Aide, House Ways & Means Committee, 1999-2005; Campaign coordinator, Matt Driscoll for mayor of Syracuse, 2005; Sr. VP, Pinnacle Capital Management, LLC 2006-08
The congressman from the 25th District is Dan Maffei, a Democrat elected in 2008. He was born in Syracuse, the son of social workers, and grew up a self-described “nerd” who wrote computer code after school to make extra money. Maffei (Mu-FAY) earned three Ivy League degrees, from Brown University, the Columbia School of Journalism, and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. He briefly worked as a reporter for a local television station, and in 1996 Maffei went to Washington to pursue a career on Capitol Hill, working as press secretary to Sens. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., for a year each. He then spent six years as a press aide to the Democratic minority on the House Ways and Means Committee, where he forged a relationship with ranking Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel of New York. Maffei picked up valuable political experience as a coordinator for Democrat Matt Driscoll’s successful 2005 campaign for Syracuse mayor. In 2006, few observers gave Maffei much of a chance when he launched a campaign against nine-term Republican Rep. James Walsh. But his anti-war focus, coupled with the favorable national climate for Democrats, provided the ingredients for a near-upset. Maffei fell short by fewer than 3,500 votes.
|Dan Maffei (D-WF)||157,375||(55%)||($2,410,865)|
|Dale Sweetland (R-C)||120,217||(42%)||($403,189)|
|Howie Hawkins (Green)||9,483||(3%)||($6,132)|
|Dan Maffei (D-WF)||Unopposed|
With encouragement from Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and flush with cash from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Maffei was set for a rematch with Walsh in 2008. Then, in January 2008, Walsh unexpectedly announced he would not run for re-election, leaving open one of the few remaining districts in Republican hands that backed Democrat Kerry for president in 2004. Maffei avoided primary competition but weathered criticism over the generous campaign contributions he accepted from Rangel while the Ways and Means chairman was under investigation for charges of tax fraud. He had received some $75,000 from Rangel’s political action committee and from a birthday gala for Rangel at Tavern-on-the-Green in Manhattan. Maffei defended the contributions as proper and legal, and declined to return them. Republicans also criticized him for campaigning with national party figures like party Chairman Howard Dean, but the outcry failed to resonate in this liberal-leaning district. Outraised almost 6-to-1, GOP nominee Dale Sweetland, a farmer and former Onondaga County legislator, proved unable to replicate Walsh’s success. Maffei defeated him 55%-42%. In his election night speech, he cited one of Moynihan’s aphorisms: “America is a land of the second chance.” His victory over Sweetland nudged congressional Republicans further along the road to extinction in New York. In the past three election cycles, Democrats have picked up seven House seats in the state. After four years of practically uninterrupted campaigning for the seat, Maffei ended not only with a seat in Congress, but a partner to share it with—he married his fiancée, Abby Davidson, in July 2008.
In the House, he emphasized his moderate stripes and nonideological pragmatism. He joined the New Democrat Coalition, a group of moderate Democrats. He got seats on the Financial Services and Judiciary committees. During his first month in office, Maffei fought to include billions of dollars for school construction in the Democrats’ economic stimulus bill. He also sought to direct funds to his district for “green jobs” and high-tech development. In a sign that the GOP has not given up on the seat, the National Republican Congressional Committee aired a series of radio commercials in Syracuse accusing Maffei of placing pork-barrel spending over job creation. With an eye on re-election in 2010, Maffei got an early start on fundraising with $440,000 in the first quarter of 2009, ranking him the third-most-prodigious fundraiser among freshmen Democrats. (He says he keeps a photograph of hard-charging Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff and former Illinois lawmaker, in his office closet as a reminder of the need to raise money.)
Maffei says his district leans more Democratic than those of three other upstate Democrats, which should help him in the case of a likely Republican challenge in 2010. Another political goal for him is to keep Onondaga County whole during redistricting in 2012, in contrast to Rochester-based Monroe County, which was split into four districts in 2002.