Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D)
New York 4th District
By the mid-20th century, Nassau County had changed from being almost entirely rural to being almost entirely suburban. One of its first suburbs was Garden City, with its wide avenues and single-family homes. It was founded in 1869 by New York City retailer A.T. Stewart at a time when urban planners were urging that new communities retain the commercial vitality and social interaction of the city within a setting that preserved the healthful openness of the countryside. After World War II, freeways replaced highways, and shopping centers sprang up at intersections. But many of the middle- and upper-income residents there continue to depend on the Long Island Railroad to speed them to jobs in New York City. Garden City has maintained high real estate prices and is surrounded by some of Nassau County’s key institutions: the county seat of Mineola; Hofstra University in Hempstead; and Roosevelt Field, where Charles Lindbergh took off for Paris (it’s now a shopping center). In November 2008, officials announced plans to turn the former Northrup-Grumman complex in Bethpage into a high-technology industrial site.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 4th Congressional District of New York comprises Garden City and the towns around it. The district takes in several suburbs just north of the Jericho Turnpike—New Hyde Park, Mineola, Westbury—as well as a large swath of southern Nassau County east of the Queens County line. This territory includes Hempstead, Uniondale, Rockville Center, and ethnically diverse Valley Stream, as well as the “Five Towns”—the railway suburbs of Lawrence, Inwood, Cedarhurst, Hewlett, and Woodmere—many of which have more elementary and high school students in private schools (mostly yeshivas) than in public schools. Nassau County has traditionally been Republican, and both Garden City and heavily Catholic East Meadow remain that way. But the Five Towns are heavily Democratic, and more than a third of the district’s residents are African-Americans or Hispanics who generally vote Democratic. Elmont, near the Queens line and once heavily white, now has a large Caribbean and Latin American population. The traditional Republican heritage in the 4th District is becoming a dim memory. The county legislature is now led by a Democratic majority, something that would have seemed unimaginable just a few decades ago. Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama won easily here in 2008.
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D)
Elected: 1996, 7th term.
Born: Jan. 5, 1944, Brooklyn .
Education: Glen Cove Nursing Schl., L.P.N. 1964.
Family: Widowed; 1 child.
Professional Career: Nurse, 1964–93; Gun control activist, 1993–96.
The congresswoman from the 4th District is Carolyn McCarthy, a Democrat elected in 1996. She was born in Brooklyn, trained as a nurse, and then married and raised a family on Long Island. Originally, she was a Republican, but her life and politics changed dramatically in 1993. That year, her husband, Dennis, a stockbroker, was killed and her adult son, Kevin, was seriously injured in the “Long Island Railroad Massacre.” A gunman opened fire on passengers riding a commuter train as it crossed the Nassau County line. McCarthy spoke movingly at the killer’s trial, and her strength in tragedy won many admirers. She began campaigning for gun control laws and, in 1995, lobbied her congressman, Republican Daniel Frisa, to vote against repeal of the assault weapons ban. After Frisa voted for repeal, McCarthy inquired about running against him in the GOP primary. When Nassau County Republicans discouraged her, Democrats who had been eyeing the seat for some time recruited her. Initially, McCarthy knew little about politics. When told that Minority Leader Dick Gephardt wanted to meet her, she reportedly asked, “Who’s Dick Gephardt?” But she learned quickly. As the Democratic nominee, she called for stricter gun laws and attacked Frisa as too close to Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Georgia conservative. Frisa abruptly stopped campaigning the week before the election, did not show up at his election night party, and never made a concession statement. McCarthy won 57%-41%.
|Carolyn McCarthy (D-Ind-WF)||164,028||(64%)||($1,520,492)|
|Jack Martins (R-C)||92,242||(36%)||($496,029)|
|Carolyn McCarthy (D-Ind-WF)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (65%), 2004 (63%), 2002 (56%), 2000 (61%), 1998 (53%), 1996 (57%)
In the House, McCarthy has a voting record that is one of the least liberal among New York Democrats, especially on economic issues and on some foreign-policy issues. She backed the use of force in Iraq in 2002, and she voted for a Republican resolution supporting the war in 2006.
On guns, however, she has remained committed to liberal positions. She has called for childproof locks on handguns, fines for parents of children who get possession of handguns, and mandatory jail terms for crimes committed with guns. The House approved her bill to help states gain more access to the federal background check system for gun buyers. The 2002 sniper spree in the Washington, D.C., area gave her the opportunity to gain approval in the House of her bill—the Our Lady of Peace Act—to strengthen laws prohibiting the mentally ill from buying guns and requiring states to file records with the national background check system. In 2004, she led an unsuccessful effort to force a House vote on extending the assault weapons ban. Then-GOP Majority Leader Tom DeLay said there were not enough votes to extend the ban and refused to schedule a vote; McCarthy criticized President George W. Bush for “winking” at the National Rifle Association on the issue, but she also blamed Democrats for their lack of support. She has also called for a ban on .50-caliber sniper rifles.
With only limited success on gun issues, McCarthy has broadened her portfolio, using her experience as a mother and nurse to become active in education and health care. In 2002, Bush signed her bill giving incentives to hospitals to hire more nurses to remedy acute shortages. She chairs the Education and Labor Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities, which deals with issues ranging from child nutrition and gang violence to low-income energy assistance. In March 2009, she sponsored a bill to boost federal support for early child care. Also in 2009, she was the House sponsor of the successful Serve America Act, a bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts that represented a significant expansion of national service opportunities. It triples the number of federally supported volunteers to 250,000 and establishes new service corps for clean energy, education, health care, and veterans’ services.
McCarthy had a tougher than usual re-election in 2002, when she was challenged by ophthalmologist Marilyn O’Grady, a Republican who took a hard line on terrorism and immigration and opposed abortion rights. She also ran ads criticizing McCarthy for taking a 1998 contribution from actress and singer Barbra Streisand. Although O’Grady received little party support, she held McCarthy to a 56%-43% victory. Since then, McCarthy has been re-elected easily. She strongly criticized the appointment of Democratic Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to fill the Senate seat vacated by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. She cited Gillibrand’s “awful” record on gun control. She has some influential ties to the Obama White House. Her former chief of staff, Jim Messina, is Obama’s deputy chief of staff.