Rep. Louise Slaughter (D)
New York 28th District
Rochester, with a metro area of just over 1 million, is one of the major cities of upstate New York. Located where the Erie Canal crosses the Genesee River, Rochester became a major industrial city—the Flour City—in the 1830s, as it milled the wheat produced by western New York farmers. Then, it was one of the early high-tech cities, after a bank clerk named George Eastman began making photographic dry plates and marketed the first still camera and film for Thomas Edison’s motion picture camera. Later, Bausch & Lomb developed its lens business in Rochester, and the optics and imaging industry continues to be a significant regional employer. Its great industries—Bausch & Lomb, Eastman Kodak, and Xerox, which started here as Haloid—have thrived on technical innovation, precision workmanship, high reliability, and customer service, giving Rochester an affluent and well-educated population as well as fine civic institutions, including the George Eastman House, one of the world’s leading repositories of photographic and motion picture history. Rochester was also the home base of women’s suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. This was the city that in 1918 invented the Community Chest and at one time had the nation’s highest United Way contributions. Unhappily, Rochester’s big employers have fallen on hard times, and young professionals have been leaving the area. Kodak, hard hit by competition from digital cameras, employed 60,000 people in the Rochester area in 1981; by 2008 that was down to 9,200. Xerox jobs in the area were down to half of what they once were, from 16,000 to 7,400. The city’s population—332,000 in 1950—dropped below 207,000 in 2007. That decline has been accompanied by an increase in crime and poverty in areas only a few blocks from historic homes.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Not far west of Rochester is a very different part of upstate New York, the Niagara Frontier—the local name for the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area. The Niagara Frontier was once an armed frontier, between the United States and British-held Upper Canada, where American troops crossed the raging Niagara River during the War of 1812 to fight the Battle of Lundys Lane. Later in the 19th century, Niagara Falls became a prime vacation spot, a must-see sight for European tourists and American honeymooners. Few tourists today notice the huge water intakes farther up the river or the hydroelectric power lines strung out on giant pylons fanning out in every direction, providing cheap public power for the chemical and steel factories that made the Niagara Frontier one of the heavy-industry capitals of America. But the city of Niagara Falls has suffered hard times. Tourists tend to stay on the Canadian side, which has better views of the Falls and loose enforcement of sex and gambling laws that make it, as some say, the “Las Vegas of the North.” Niagara Falls has lost much of its manufacturing since the 1960s and has suffered double-digit unemployment and population losses. The downtown, leveled by urban renewal, remains troubled.
The 28th Congressional District of New York, created by redistricting in 2002, includes Rochester, Niagara Falls, and part of Buffalo, all connected by a thin strip of land along Lake Ontario and the Niagara River. A bit more than 46% of the district is in Monroe County, and a bit less than 37% is in Erie County. Most of Rochester’s suburbs are in three other districts, but the 28th includes Grand Island, Tonawanda, and the northeast quadrant of Buffalo, where it takes in much of the city’s downtown and its fine cultural institutions. This is mainly a central city district. Twenty-nine percent of residents are African-American, the highest percentage in any upstate district. Politically, this is a solidly Democratic district.
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D)
Elected: 1986, 12th term.
Born: Aug. 14, 1929, Harlan Cnty., KY .
Education: U. of KY, B.S. 1951, M.S. 1953.
Family: Married (Robert); 3 children.
Elected office: Monroe Cnty. Legislature, 1976–79; NY Assembly, 1982–86.
Professional Career: Regional coord., Lt. Gov. Mario Cuomo, 1976–79.
The congresswoman from the 28th District is Louise Slaughter, a Democrat elected in 1986 and the chairman of the powerful Rules Committee, which sets the ground rules for debate that can make or break a piece of legislation on the House floor. A coal miner’s daughter and a descendant of Daniel Boone (and a cousin of Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo.), she grew up in Kentucky and still speaks with the accent and distinctive phraseology of the mountains. She wound up in New York in the 1950s when she moved there with her husband. Her involvement in community issues led to a career in government. Slaughter became a staffer for Mario Cuomo when he was lieutenant governor in the 1970s, and she won a seat on the Monroe County legislature in 1976. She was elected to the New York Assembly in 1982. Four years later, she beat one-term conservative Republican Rep. Fred Eckert, 51%-49%, after charging that he did nothing to free Associated Press reporter Terry Anderson, a Rochester native held hostage in Lebanon. She secured what had been a marginal seat by tending carefully to local problems and by winning the support of area businessmen and the local Democrat & Chronicle newspaper.
|Louise Slaughter (D-Ind-WF)||172,655||(78%)||($756,579)|
|David Crimmen (R-C)||48,690||(22%)|
|Louise Slaughter (D-Ind-WF)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (73%), 2004 (73%), 2002 (62%), 2000 (66%), 1998 (65%), 1996 (57%), 1994 (57%), 1992 (55%), 1990 (59%), 1988 (57%), 1986 (51%)
Slaughter, the first woman to chair the Rules Committee, has a solidly liberal voting record. She backs feminist causes and is active on health issues. In 2008, she capped a years-long campaign by winning enactment of her bill to bar discrimination in employment or health insurance based on the use of genetic information. “Americans can finally take advantage of the tremendous potential of genetic research without the fear that their own genetic information will be used against them,” she said. A microbiologist by training, and consistent with the Rochester-area research mindset, Slaughter opposed proposals to ban human cloning and was an outspoken proponent of federal support for embryonic-stem-cell research, which uses excess embryos from in vitro fertilization. In 1991 she was one of the seven women House members who marched on the Senate to protest its treatment of Anita Hill, the law professor who accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.
As a loyal lieutenant of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Slaughter became an outspoken critic of Republican policies and the management of the House during 12 years of Republican control. She was among the most outspoken critics of the Republican “culture of corruption,” a prime talking point in Pelosi’s campaign message in 2006. She accused Republicans of “strong-arm tactics” and a “win-at-all-costs mentality” to move legislation. In January 2007, she helped to bring the first legislation to the House floor for the new majority: an overhaul of House rules, largely dictated by Pelosi and her lieutenants. Slaughter hailed the result as “a Congress people can be proud of again.” But Republicans quickly cried foul when Democrats next moved to the floor six bills from their campaign agenda, without committee action and with no opportunity for amendments. Her dismissal of procedural objections led to regular flare-ups with ranking Republican David Dreier of California and other Republicans. But there also has been occasional Democratic criticism of the committee’s strong-arm tactics. Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., in September 2007 voiced “regret” that the Rules Committee had barred Republican amendments to a flood insurance bill. But Pelosi—whom Slaughter termed “the best politician that I have ever seen”—seemed satisfied with her assistance in helping to manage the House.
Slaughter’s ascension to the chairmanship of Rules capped several years of struggle to move up in the Democratic leadership. In 1994, she lost to Barbara Kennelly of Connecticut in the race for vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus, and in 1996 she was defeated by John Spratt of South Carolina for the ranking Democrat post on the Budget Committee. She became the ranking Democrat on the Rules Committee in 2005.
In 2002, redistricting was a perils-of-Pauline nightmare for Slaughter. Sluggish population growth meant that upstate New York had to lose one congressional district, and after much political maneuvering, Slaughter was placed in the same district with Democratic Rep. John LaFalce, the party’s ranking member on the Banking Committee. Luckily for Slaughter, LaFalce decided to retire. In the general election that year, she campaigned on much new territory, but most of it was Democratic. She won 73% of the vote in Monroe County and 60% in Erie County, for a 62%-38% victory against an inexperienced Republican challenger.