Rep. Scott Murphy (D)
New York 20th District
The Hudson River, an avenue of commerce in colonial days and an inspiration to artists in the new federal republic, is still one of America’s great sights, though it is no longer central, as it was, to the nation’s consciousness and politics. The classic mansions overlooking the river, like Clermont, whose builder Robert Livingston financed Robert Fulton’s first steamboat, and Montgomery Place, built by Janet Livingston Montgomery, widow of the general who attacked Quebec in 1775, are reminders of the cool serenity of the 18th-century mind and the daring nature of its spirit. Robert Livingston, whose descendants include former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, and former U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston of Louisiana, administered the first oath of office to George Washington in 1789 and helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. On a visit to his land in the 1790s, James Madison and Aaron Burr welded the Virginia-New York alliance that set the course of American political history. The Hudson was also a center of American culture during the Romantic era. From Frederick Church’s Moorish mansion, Olana, one can see the still-unspoiled river landscape that inspired his art and that of others of the Hudson River School of painters. James Fenimore Cooper lived farther up the river, near the placid shores of Lake George, and his classic work The Last of the Mohicans abounds with descriptions of the area. Later, the photographer Alfred Stieglitz and his wife, painter Georgia O’Keeffe, drew inspiration from the same waters, woods, and hills.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The Hudson gave birth to America’s passionate party politics. Nearby is Kinderhook, home of Martin Van Buren, the innkeeper’s son who in alliance with Andrew Jackson invented the torchlight parade, the national party convention, and some argue the Democratic Party itself. Later in the 19th century, the Hudson was lined with the palaces of the nation’s first great millionaires and the comfortable country homes of New York’s gentry. One of the latter, Springwood in Hyde Park, was the birthplace and home of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He greatly expanded government at home and was the victorious commander-in-chief of American military forces throughout the world, but was most comfortable looking out over his sloping lawn down to the river, where he used to go iceboating during the winter.
The sprawling 20th Congressional District of New York circles the Albany metro area and includes much of the Hudson Valley—the grand river south of Albany and the smaller river, freshly fed by the Adirondacks, to the north. It includes four full counties (Warren, Washington, Columbia, and Greene), most of Saratoga County, and parts of five others (Dutchess, Essex, Rensselaer, Delaware, and Otsego). The northern extreme of the 20th extends right up to Lake Placid in the Adirondacks, site of the 1980 Winter Olympics. The southern extreme in Dutchess County is close enough for commuters from New York City to travel back and forth regularly. Just to the north is Columbia County, where city dwellers go to introduce their children to “the country.” The district extends west just short of Cooperstown, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but it includes Oneonta, home of the less-well-known National Soccer Hall of Fame. It also includes Saratoga Springs with its grand racetrack and the nearby battlefield where the British were decisively stopped in 1777. This area had been Republican territory since the Civil War. Indeed, Roosevelt never carried his home territory except when he ran for the state Senate in 1910. The 20th was one of only six New York districts to vote for Republican George W. Bush in 2000 and one of nine to vote for him in 2004. In recent years, the district has trended Democratic, like much of upstate New York. While registered Republicans still outnumber registered Democrats, the district voted for both Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Gov. Eliot Spitzer in 2006. Also that year, it elected Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, now a senator, over longtime Republican Rep. John Sweeney. In 2008, the district voted narrowly for Barack Obama, 51%-48%.
Rep. Scott Murphy (D)
Elected: Mar. 2009, 1st term.
Born: Jan. 19, 1970, Columbia, MO .
Home: Glens Falls.
Education: Harvard U., A.B. 1992.
Family: Married (Jennifer Hogan); 3 children.
Professional Career: Aide, Roger Wilson for lt. gov., 1992; Aide, Gov. Mel Carnahan, 1992; Owner, Small World Software, 1993-98; COO, iXL New York, 1998-2001; Depty. chief of staff, Gov. Roger Wilson, 2000-01; Managing dir., Advantage Capital Partners, 2001-08
The new congressman from the 20th District is Scott Murphy, a Democrat elected in 2009 after Gillibrand was appointed to the Senate seat vacated by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Murphy is the son of a postal worker and a teacher and grew up in Columbia, Mo. After graduating magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1992, Murphy planned on working on Democrat Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, but returned home because his mother was ill. He instead worked on Democrat Roger Wilson’s successful campaign for Missouri lieutenant governor, and then worked as an aide to Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan. After that taste of politics, Murphy moved to New York City to work as a venture capitalist, with a focus on high-technology and Internet-related companies. He invested money in baazee.com, an Indian auction website that eBay later bought for $50 million. He also co-founded Small World Software, which developed the first online fantasy sports leagues. In 2000, after Gov. Carnahan’s death in a plane crash, Wilson became governor for a few months and asked Murphy to be his deputy chief of staff. Murphy commuted back and forth from New York for a few months and then returned to his work as a venture capitalist.
|Scott Murphy (D-Ind-WF)||80,833||(50%)|
|Jim Tedisco (R-C)||80,107||(50%)|
|Kirsten Gillibrand (D-WF)||193,651||(62%)||($4,489,391)|
|Sandy Treadwell (R-Ind-C)||118,031||(38%)||($7,038,552)|
|Kirsten Gillibrand (D-WF)||Unopposed|
Murphy’s opportunity to jump back into politics came when New York Gov. David Paterson appointed Gillibrand to the Senate in late January 2009, triggering a special election. Both national parties immediately took a strong interest in the race. Republicans saw an opportunity for a much-needed win in a GOP-friendly district, while Democrats very much wanted to hold the seat. Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee, both made the race a top priority. As Steele wrote to GOP insiders on March 19, “Some have advised me to downplay this race in case we lose. NONSENSE. We have to do all we can to win it.”
Republicans quickly settled on New York Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco as their candidate. Democrats first tried to recruit former New York Rangers goalie Mike Richter. Once he declined, they chose Murphy out of a weak field of three other Democrats, partially because of his ability to self-fund. Murphy started the race with very little name recognition and trailed. A poll conducted two days after he was nominated had him behind Tedisco by 21 points and showed only 17% of voters had an opinion of him. The Republican Party accused him of failing to pay taxes on some of the businesses he owned and charged that he was “part of the problem” on Wall Street, an issue with real resonance after the government’s massive bailout of financial services firms in 2008. National Democrats countered with charges that Tedisco had used a state-owned sport-utility vehicle and spent $21,000 of taxpayer money for his personal use.
The election turned on the state of the economy. Murphy called himself “Mr. Jobs” and argued that his business acumen would create jobs in the district. The NRCC in turn accused him of outsourcing jobs at baazee.com. Tedisco might have erred by refusing to take a stand on the $787 billion economic stimulus bill, arguing that since he wasn’t currently in Congress, the question was “hypothetical.” He eventually opposed the plan. Polls indicated that the NRCC’s negative campaigning was hurting Tedisco’s campaign, and he complained that he “didn’t have a handle about the information about [himself] going out.” He called for an end to the negative advertising. The NRCC ignored him and continued to run attack ads.
Pundits predicted a close race, and it did not disappoint. On Election Night on March 31, Tedisco led Murphy by a few dozen votes. As absentee ballots were counted and the tallies grew, Murphy built a small lead. Tedisco conceded on April 24, and Murphy’s final margin of victory was a mere 726 votes. The two candidates raised and spent more than $3.7 million, a large amount considering the entire race and vote tallying lasted fewer than three months. Murphy outraised Tedisco $2 million to $1.7 million. Total spending on the race topped $6 million.
Murphy credited his victory to his family, and for once this might not have been a political platitude: He dines weekly with more than 50 members of his wife’s extended family, and many were very active in the campaign. If each of them recruited 15 voters, Murphy’s entire margin of victory could be accounted for. Murphy said after the election that his primary goal was to help fix the economy, sticking with the issue he had focused on during the campaign. He was named to the Agriculture and Armed Services committees, taking prime slots previously held by Gillibrand. He will likely be a target in 2010.