Sean Patrick Maloney likes to describe himself as a “Bill Clinton Democrat,” and for good reason. The new House member from the closely divided 18th District worked as a staffer on both of Clinton’s presidential campaigns, served as a top West Wing aide, and now will become his former boss’s representative in Congress. Clinton’s brand of centrism—and his endorsement—helped the 46-year-old lawyer win his first bid for elected office, against freshman Republican Rep. Nan Hayworth.
Maloney was born in Quebec, Canada, where his father was working in the lumber industry. He grew up in a middle-class section of Hanover, N.H., in what he described as a “small Irish-Catholic family” that included five brothers and one sister. In high school, Maloney played soccer and became interested in 20th-century history, especially the civil-rights struggle. He attended Georgetown University for two years and then transferred to the University of Virginia, where he studied international relations. He stayed on to earn a law degree from UVA.
Maloney delayed taking the bar exam to work on Clinton’s 1992 campaign as a deputy to Susan Thomases, then the chief scheduler. In 1996, he again joined the campaign, this time as director of surrogate travel. Following Clinton’s reelection, Maloney snagged a job in the administration as the No. 3 official under Chief of Staff John Podesta. Maloney later ascended to the job of staff secretary, responsible for coordinating the flow of information to the president.
When Clinton left office, Maloney took a break from politics and served as chief operating officer at Kiodex, a firm that developed risk-management tools. The company was sold to SunGard in 2004, and Maloney went back to legal work. But he caught the political bug again, and in 2006 he ran, and lost badly, to Andrew Cuomo in the primary race for New York attorney general.
In 2007, Maloney was tapped to serve in a senior role as first deputy secretary in the administration of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and, later, that of his successor, David Paterson. Maloney worked to raise revenues by leasing state assets to private companies. A scheme to release damaging information about then-Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno’s travel that involved the state police brought Maloney under a cloud of suspicion. But the former chief of staff for then-Attorney General Cuomo told The Wall Street Journal in 2012 that the idea that Maloney obstructed the investigation would be “misinformed to the point of being laughable.”
Still, in the five-way Democratic primary in June, The New York Times editorial board remained skeptical, saying that during the investigation, Maloney “appeared to be most interested in holding back the staff’s personal e-mails from investigators.” Still, he defeated his closest competitor, Cortlandt Town Council Member Richard Becker, 49 percent to 33 percent.
In the general election, Maloney’s challenge to Hayworth was considered an important one for the national party, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and independent super PACs put money behind his campaign. Maloney and Democrats worked to paint Hayworth as a conservative tea party extremist, citing her votes for Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plans and attempts to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood. Maloney argued that his moderate politics better suited the people of the Hudson Valley. Hayworth outraised Maloney nearly 4-to-1, but he emerged victorious.
Maloney, who is gay, has three adopted children with his longtime partner, Randy Florke, a prominent realtor and interior designer.