Rep. Gary Ackerman (D)
Elected: Mar. 1983, 13th full term.
Born: Nov. 19, 1942, Brooklyn .
Home: Jamaica Estates.
Education: Queens Col., B.A. 1965.
Family: Married (Rita); 3 children.
Elected office: NY Senate, 1978–83.
Professional Career: Jr. high schl. teacher, 1966–70; Editor & publisher, Queens Tribune, 1970–78; Pres., advertising agcy., 1972–78.
The congressman from the 5th District is Gary Ackerman, a Democrat first elected in 1983. Ackerman grew up in Flushing. His father was a cab driver and, true to the character of the district, his mother was a Polish immigrant. As a young man, Ackerman cultivated a variety of interests and careers. He graduated from Queens College, and taught social studies in junior high school. After he and his wife had their first child, Ackerman successfully sued the New York City school district for the right of fathers, as well as mothers, to take time off for a new child. For a time, Ackerman ran an advertising agency, and then started the weekly Queens Tribune in 1970, which he sold in 1978. That year, he was elected to the New York Senate. He won his seat in the U.S. House in a special election from a district that was then centered in the heavily Jewish apartment complexes in central Queens. Ackerman is a colorful character. In Washington, he lives on a houseboat on the Potomac River called the Unsinkable II, successor to the Unsinkable I, which sank. He hosts an annual “Taste of New York” fundraiser, featuring pastrami sandwiches and stuffed cabbage, with waiters imported from the city. Acerbic but humorous, he is a pungent speaker, with a humor that makes even opponents smile. He always wears a white carnation in his lapel, a habit he started as a teacher to remind his students that “every day is special.”
|Gary Ackerman (D-Ind-WF)||112,724||(71%)||($988,775)|
|Elizabeth Berney (R)||43,039||(27%)||($24,367)|
|Gary Ackerman (D-Ind-WF)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (100%), 2004 (71%), 2002 (92%), 2000 (68%), 1998 (65%), 1996 (64%), 1994 (55%), 1992 (52%), 1990 (100%), 1988 (100%), 1986 (77%), 1984 (69%), 1983 (49%)
Ackerman has a penchant for taking on worthy but neglected causes. His once solidly liberal voting record has moderated on foreign-policy issues. Despite opposition from many constituents, including his wife, Ackerman voted in 2002 to authorize war in Iraq; in 2005 he said he regretted it. He is the chairman of the Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee on the Foreign Affairs Committee, a panel of great interest to his constituents. He has met frequently with leaders in the region. Between 2006 and 2008, he helped win congressional approval of the nuclear energy deal with India, under which India gained U.S. expertise and nuclear fuel to meet its rapidly rising energy needs in exchange for opening its nuclear facilities to international inspections. A longtime supporter of India—Queens is home to a large Indian-American community— he also urged President George W. Bush not to sell sophisticated weapons and F-16s to Pakistan, although he has been willing to offer counter-narcotics, anti-terrorism, and peacekeeping aid to Pakistan along with intelligence information.
In 2007 and 2008, Ackerman won overwhelming House passage of five nonbinding resolutions on foreign policy, most of them dealing with the Middle East. They included measures calling for the release of Israeli soldiers held by the Muslim groups Hamas and Hezbollah and condemning Syria for taking control of the internal affairs of Lebanon. In the same period, he pushed a bill to freeze the personal assets of corporate executives whose companies invest in oil in Iran. “You can’t invest with Al Capone without underwriting gangsterism,” said Ackerman, deploying one of his trademark analogies. “And you can’t invest in Iran without underwriting terrorism.” Peace activists from the group Code Pink protested what they deemed his “provocative” anti-Iran rhetoric by blockading his houseboat with rafts. Ackerman came on deck and discussed the issue with the activists.
On domestic issues, Ackerman in 1995 helped to pass the “Baby AIDS” bill requiring HIV testing of newborns and disclosure of the results to the mother. The bill also bars insurers from terminating coverage because of HIV/AIDS test results. As one of five New York Democrats on the Financial Services Committee, Ackerman worked in 2007 to extend the terrorism insurance program. He occasionally stands out as a lonely liberal, such as when he was one of only three House members to vote against a resolution criticizing a federal Appeals Court that ruled unconstitutional the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Ackerman was an outspoken opponent of the short-lived publicity boomlet in 2008 to appoint Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the late president, to the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton when she became secretary of State. “I don’t know what Caroline Kennedy’s qualifications are, except that she has name recognition, but so does J-Lo,” he told a local radio station, referring to pop singer Jennifer Lopez. He twice has survived redistricting, and he takes pride in tending to constituent projects ranging from environmental issues to saving the Merchant Marine Academy. Ackerman regularly wins re-election by large margins. His chief political threat might be a candidacy from one of the fast-growing immigrant communities in his district. And redistricting in advance of the 2012 election could prove a problem. Population growth in his Nassau County base is stagnant while growing minority communities in Queens seek to wield more clout.