Connecticut: Fifth District|
Rep. James H. Maloney (D)
Last Updated July 18, 2002
Central Connecticut's stony hills are physically isolated, the climate is forbidding, local manners are frosty, there is nothing to suggest lavishness: this might be the Switzerland of America. Yet in the last 200 years, the mountains of Switzerland and the hills of Connecticut have been transformed from subsistence farmland to some of the most productive and affluent places on earth. Their secrets have been thrift, hard work, inventiveness and an intolerance for imprecision. But Switzerland has prospered by closing others out, while Connecticut, like the rest of America, is an open society, welcoming newcomers and imbuing immigrants with the Yankee knack for tinkering and precision work. It has also been quick to adapt to market changes. Danbury was once the nation's leading producer of hats; now it cuts almost no felt but is a major corporate headquarters and has reinvented itself as a commercial mecca with the 200-store Danbury Fair Mall plus a $9 million ice skating complex. Meriden once made ivory combs, clocks, cutlery, and silver; now it produces electrical signaling equipment, jewelry, biotech filters, and nuclear instruments. Waterbury, once the nation's largest producer of brass, saw the last of its big three brass fabricators shut down in 1985, but has replaced that with health care and two local hospitals are the city's biggest employers; the old Scovill brass factory is now a shopping mall. And it is one of America's political cockpits: as a former Democratic state chairman said, "Waterbury is one of the toughest political places that you can find. It's got a lot of Southie in it and a lot of Charlestown, too. If you can make it in Waterbury, you can make it anywhere."
The 5th Congressional District is an irregularly shaped slice of central Connecticut, entirely inland, from Meriden west through Waterbury to Danbury and the high-income havens of Ridgefield and Wilton. This was the Federalist heartland in the early 19th Century. It voted Republican for nearly a century, then became Democratic as Catholics started outnumbering Protestants. Now cultural conservatism and economic growth have tilted it toward Republicans again; it produced the lowest margins of any Connecticut district for Bill Clinton in 1996 and the Gore-Lieberman ticket in 2000. But it is closely balanced enough to be marginal often, and has voted out incumbent congressmen of both parties in 1972, 1978, 1984, 1996, and came close to doing so in 1998. In recent years the 5th was represented by Republicans John Rowland, reelected governor by a wide margin in 1998, and Gary Franks, who lost to Senator Christopher Dodd by a wide margin the same year.
The congressman from the 5th District is now James Maloney, a Democrat who defeated Franks in 1996 and withstood tough challenges in 1998 and 2000. Maloney grew up in Danbury, and after college and law school spent a year as a Vista volunteer. From 1974-78 he headed Danbury's antipoverty agency. In 1986 he was elected to the state Senate, where he worked on a family leave act, voted against the state income tax, and supported business tax cuts. In 1994 he decided to run against Franks, then the only black Republican in the House. Maloney held him to a 52%-46% margin in 1994, the second lowest margin for a Republican incumbent that year, and in early 1996 decided to run again. Helped when a primary opponent dropped out, Maloney ran on a somewhat conservative platform: for the balanced budget amendment, favoring job opportunities and no cash payments for welfare recipients. Maloney criticized Franks for receiving a $100,000 advance from HarperCollins for a book; unperturbed, Franks spent much of summer 1996 on a 17-city book tour. Franks lost 52%-46% in 1996.
Maloney proceeded to compile a moderate voting record. He supported a tax cut and the partial-birth abortion ban. He sponsored a bill, which passed the House in 1998, to spend $20 million on hiring police officers who would be stationed in schools. With Christopher Shays, he sponsored a brownfields bill to help finance new construction on old factory sites in Danbury, Meriden, Derby, Seymour, and Waterbury. He submitted a $122 million proposal to restore electric power along a 23-mile Metro-North rail line from Danbury to South Norwalk.
Not surprisingly Maloney had serious opposition in 1998, from 34-year-old Danbury state Senator Mark Nielsen. Republican leaders called the 5th "one of our top targets in the nation," and Nielsen, whose opponent for the nomination dropped out before the primary, had nearly as much money as the incumbent. Scandal issues played some role. On August 18, the day after Bill Clinton's grand jury appearance, Nielsen called on him to resign; Maloney voted for the Republican motion to hold impeachment hearings. Maloney also was dogged by campaign finance charges. In January 1998 his brother was convicted of reimbursing contributors to his 1996 campaign, and fined $256,000, though James Maloney was not implicated. Then in October the Maloney campaign returned $5,000 and redesignated $29,000 of contributions classified as pre-primary, but which were contributed between the July convention and the September primary where Maloney had no opposition; Nielsen ran ads attacking these irregularities. More positively, he called for welfare reform and tax cuts and called himself a "John Rowland Republican." This was not quite enough, and Maloney won 50%-48%. He carried Meriden in the east and Danbury in the west, plus the Naugatuck valley factory towns narrowly, but he scarcely carried Waterbury and lost most of the smaller towns.
Nielsen tried again in 2000, with the charges at least as nasty as in 1998: Nielson depicted Maloney as a corrupt puppet on strings pulled by union bosses, while Maloney attacked his opponent for vicious ads. Although he was one of only five Democrats voting for the Republican's prescription-drug measure and he split from Democrats on ending the marriage penalty on taxpayers plus estate and gift taxation, Maloney decided in the final hour to oppose permanent normal trade relations with China. But the contest in this swing district wasn't as close, with Maloney winning 54%-44%, easily taking the industrial centers plus 17 of 27 towns overall; Nielson fared best in the western towns.
Now Maloney's problem is redistricting. Connecticut lost one House district in the 2000 Census, and a bipartisan commission is tasked with drawing up the redistricting plan. One obvious solution is to divide the elongated 5th District among its neighbors. This would not be entirely to Maloney's detriment: the current 5th is the least Democratic of Connecticut's current six districts in presidential elections, and he would surely not mind losing heavily Republican towns at its southern edge. But he could then be forced into a contest against 6th District Republican Nancy Johnson. For 2002 Maloney could find himself, as he did in 1998, in one of the most seriously contested House races in the cycle.
Highly Competitive. The 5th District, already the most marginal district in the state, stands out as the biggest target for line drawers in the state to eliminate. Tucked into the middle of the state, the 5th has no major city to anchor it, and could be parceled into the three surrounding districts. It is also conceivable that the 5th and the 6th are combined into one seat. But Maloney, who has beat back two very serious challenges in 1998 and 2000, is no stranger to tough races and is likely to run regardless of how this district looks in 2002.
Update: July 18, 2002
Connecticut lost a seat in reapportionment, causing an incumbent face-off in the new 5th district between Jim Maloney (D) and Nancy Johnson (R). The district has a slight Democratic tilt, but Johnson is sitting on a significant war chest.
- Pop. 2000: 581,903; Pop. 1990: 547,907, up 6.2% 1990-2000.
- 85.3% White,
0.2% Amer. Indian,
2.1% Two+ races,
10% Hispanic origin.
|2000 Presidential Vote|
|1996 Presidential Vote|
National Journal Group offers both print and electronic reprint services, as well as permissions for academic use, photocopying and republication. Click here to order, or call us at 877-394-7350.