Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D)
New York 8th District
Over the course of the 20th century, New York City spread so far beyond its original boundaries in lower Manhattan that, for a while, it became easy to forget how pivotal the southern end of the island had been in making the city what it is today. That all changed in an instant, on the morning of September 11, 2001, when Al Qaeda terrorists flew two hijacked jets into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, killing approximately 2,800 people and laying waste to 13 city blocks. The target had been chosen deliberately. The terrorists struck the tallest buildings in America’s biggest city, toppling a complex whose name embodied the reach of American capitalism. Lower Manhattan has long been home to Wall Street and the Financial District, but over the years it has represented America’s striving spirit in other ways as well. The Brooklyn Bridge, begun in 1867 just a few blocks east of the Twin Towers site and completed in 1883, was half again as long as any bridge then standing and seven times higher than any buildings in the adjoining boroughs. The Holland Tunnel, built in 1927, was the first underwater vehicular tunnel built anywhere in the world. Just offshore are Ellis Island, where members of the great immigration wave first set foot on American soil, and the Statue of Liberty, the symbol of freedom they saw as they sailed in.
2008 Presidential Vote
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The 8th Congressional District of New York includes all of these places. From the Battery, at the very southern tip of Manhattan Island, the 8th spreads north and south. As it moves up the west side of Manhattan, it takes in the Financial District and many of the neighborhoods synonymous with New York: Battery Park City, the attractive modern apartments and parks built on 32 acres of infill in an area that city planners now describe as a “harbor district”; sophisticated TriBeCa, with its artists’ lofts; SoHo, the international shoppers’ paradise; Greenwich Village; and Chelsea, with its many art galleries. Clinton is the new, economically diverse incarnation of the old slum known as Hell’s Kitchen. There is also the economically revived Theater District and the cleaned-up Times Square, where neon signs have been replaced by digital screens. The Upper West Side is home to the Lincoln Center and the American Museum of Natural History. Also in the district is the huge Port Authority bus terminal. South from the Battery, the 8th District crosses into Brooklyn, running along the waterfront before taking in the inland neighborhood of Borough Park and the waterside enclaves of Sea Gate, Brighton Beach and Coney Island, once known as the world’s largest playground and now the site of several thousand proposed apartments. In the Financial District, young families and wealthy professionals have filled new condos and hotel rooms despite the economic woes of the city’s financial institutions, which have not seemed to have trickled down locally. Endless infighting has frustrated redevelopment at Ground Zero. Although the 8th District has some of the world’s biggest concentrations of wealth, it also has a 17% rate of poverty. There are more Asians, 14%, than Hispanics, 11%, and the district is only 5% African-American.
Both parts of the 8th District have a strong Jewish heritage. The city’s Dutch founders hailed from a European country that was then most tolerant of Jews. German Jews came to New York in large numbers in the 19th century, and a few of them founded merchant banking, retail and clothing empires. Around 1890, Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe began arriving from Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Hungary and Romania. In the years after World War I, as many as 400,000 Jews a year debarked at Ellis Island until a 1924 law virtually shut down immigration. (Had a nativist Congress not done that, perhaps 2 million of the 6 million who perished in the Holocaust would instead have become Americans.) Ashkenazi Jews initially lived on the Lower East Side but moved out to Brooklyn and the Bronx almost as soon as the subways were built. Their children moved up faster than those of any new group in memory, despite the incredible odds against them given the widespread prejudice in the professions and in educational institutions. These immigrants invented new businesses, from the rag trade to showbiz—second-caste people from third-rate countries almost immediately becoming America’s elite. Today, New York has the largest Jewish population behind Tel Aviv.
The venerable apartment buildings along Central Park West, West End Avenue and Riverside Drive, and the brownstones on the cross streets, house some of the country’s most dedicated liberals (and radicals). These professional people—lovingly satirized on Seinfeld, the long-running sitcom that resonated far beyond Manhattan—include a mix of wealthy and less-affluent intellectuals. In the 1950s, West Siders took up the reform banner and eviscerated the old Tammany Hall Democratic machine. In the 1960s, they protested the Vietnam War. Another big voting area is Greenwich Village, which in the 1910s was America’s original Bohemia but now has a mix of expensive apartments and cheaper dwellings. Politically, the Village has long had a taste for the radical, though some of its ideas are now mainstream, such as the historic preservation and urbanist policies developed in the Village’s successful fight against a proposed lower Manhattan expressway. The effort was led by Jane Jacobs, author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
The Brooklyn part of the district is probably more Jewish than the Manhattan part. Brighton Beach (“Little Odessa”) and Coney Island house the largest concentration of recent Russian Jewish immigrants in New York. Here one can see Cyrillic as well as Roman letters on store signs. Borough Park has one of the nation’s largest Orthodox communities, with Yiddish-language ATMs and Russian bathhouses. The political attitudes in these neighborhoods are quite different from those of most American Jews, who are liberal on both cultural and economic issues. The Russians, many of whom live close to poverty, are anti-socialist. The Hasidic Jews of Borough Park are conservative and hostile to racial preferences, and they favor tough police treatment of crime. Still, voters in these areas tend to register as Democrats and vote Democratic in most elections. In 2008, the district voted 74%-26% for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama over Republican nominee John McCain, although McCain prevailed 55%-44% in the Brooklyn part of the district, which cast 29% of the total vote.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D)
Elected: 1992, 9th full term.
Born: June 13, 1947, Brooklyn .
Education: Columbia U., B.A. 1970, Fordham U., J.D. 1978.
Family: Married (Joyce Miller); 1 child.
Elected office: NY Assembly, 1976–92.
Professional Career: Legis. asst., NY Assembly, 1972; Law clerk, 1976.
The congressman from the 8th District is Jerrold Nadler, a West Side liberal Democrat elected in 1992. He was born in Brooklyn and moved around with his family as a child. His parents bought a chicken farm in New Jersey, but the business failed, and they moved back to the city. His father ran a gas station on Long Island and owned an auto parts store. Interested in politics from a young age, Nadler campaigned for Democrat Eugene McCarthy for president while at Columbia University, where he roomed with Dick Morris, who would later become a top adviser to President Bill Clinton. The two were at Columbia during the 1968 campus riots. After getting his law degree from Fordham University, Nadler ran for the New York Assembly in 1976, at age 29. In the primary, he beat Ruth Messinger, the Democratic nominee for mayor in 1997, by 73 votes. In 1992, he was suddenly presented with the opportunity to run for Congress. Ted Weiss, long an Upper West Side icon, died the day before the September primary, which he won posthumously. The nomination was decided by a convention of almost 1,000 county Democratic committee members. Nadler won 62% of the votes to secure the nomination and thus the election. He has not been seriously challenged since.
|Jerrold Nadler (D-WF)||160,730||(80%)||($1,044,454)|
|Grace Lin (R-C)||39,047||(20%)|
|Jerrold Nadler (D-WF)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (85%), 2004 (81%), 2002 (76%), 2000 (81%), 1998 (86%), 1996 (82%), 1994 (82%), 1992 (81%), 1992 (100%)
Nadler’s voting record has been among the most liberal in the House, with a strong civil libertarian bent. In 2007, he became chairman of the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, where he has been a counterweight to lawmakers of both parties seeking expanded police powers to crack down on terrorism. It is not because Nadler, as the representative of the site of the September 11 attacks, is unsympathetic to their cause. But he has worked to narrow the definition of “enemy combatants” and to remove restrictions on detainees to protect their habeas corpus rights. In 2008, he sponsored a bill requiring the Federal Bureau of Investigation to surmount higher legal hurdles before being allowed to use “national security letters,” which are government demands for information not subject to judicial review. He vigorously opposed the USA PATRIOT Act, which was the Bush administration’s centerpiece anti-terrorism law. On foreign policy, he has been a staunch supporter of Israel, but he opposed the Iraq war resolution in 2002.
In early 2009, Nadler held hearings to document what he viewed as the “criminal” abuses of the Bush administration and demanded that former Bush aide Karl Rove testify about the “politicization of the Justice Department” after the firing of several U.S. attorneys around the country allegedly for political reasons. As the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee when Republicans were in control, Nadler opposed proposed constitutional amendments to overturn court rulings and legislation to curb abortion rights. He also led the fight in the House against the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, which would ban same-sex marriage. With Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, he sponsored a 2007 bill to permit gay and lesbian Americans to sponsor their foreign-born partners for legal residency.
In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Nadler found that his work life became both sad and frenetic. When the second airplane struck the tower, he rushed to catch a 10 a.m. train from Washington to Manhattan. After delays en route, he finally arrived at 6 p.m. and saw a scene he later described as “surrealistic.” He worked with city, state and federal officials as well as local business leaders to identify immediate needs and then to secure $20 billion for rebuilding. He spearheaded numerous actions on behalf of affected families and small businesses.
On other local issues, he successfully fought developer Donald Trump’s attempts to alter the West Side Highway to accommodate his luxury housing project on old rail yards between 59th and 72nd Streets. In a book, Trump termed Nadler “one of the most egregious hacks in contemporary politics.” As a senior member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Nadler has fought to get more rail competition east of the Hudson and to save Amtrak. His biggest project has been a rail-freight tunnel under the Hudson. Lack of a rail-freight line means that New York gets only a tiny share of its freight by rail; a new line could mean cheaper freight and therefore lower consumer prices. The cost would be billion of dollars. Nadler’s proposal was ridiculed for years, but he persisted and got $12 million for a two-year design and environmental study of a tunnel. And in 2007, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey agreed to spend more than $100 million in federal funds on an environmental-impact study. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has sided with neighborhood groups in Queens that object to the plan because it would increase noise.