Earlier this month, I had the privilege of speaking at the ceremonial swearing-in of newly elected US Rep. Anthony D’Esposito. Sitting on the stage that evening, I thought back to when I was first sworn in 30 years ago, and how different this night was from that one, and how different the world had become.
This ceremonial event was held at the Nassau County police training center, in East Garden City, instead of in Washington, and the oath was administered by former Senator Al D’Amato instead of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
D’Esposito had been officially sworn in by McCarthy the week before, but that was at 2 am on Jan. 7, following over four days and 15 ballots of voting in the most acrimonious contest for speaker since the 1850s, the decade preceding the Civil War. During my 28 years in Congress, I cast 14 ballots for speaker — one every two years. D’Esposito exceeded that total in his very first week in Congress!
This rancor and chaos is a sign of what Congress has become, and what D’Esposito must work through. Don’t get me wrong — Congress wasn’t all peace, love and harmony when I was elected. Soon-to-be House Speaker Newt Gingrich and President Bill Clinton were firing political rockets at each other, and fiery cable news shows were emerging. But there wasn’t this level of intra-party disunity.
Nonetheless, D’Esposito’s situation isn’t entirely different from what I faced. We have several things in common. We both won close, hard-fought races. I won by 8,000 votes, a margin of 3 percent; D’Esposito by 10,000, or 3.9 percent. The bulk of my district was in the Town of Hempstead and Long Beach. D’Esposito’s district is entirely within those boundaries.
And the challenges he will confront are similar to what I faced during my latter 20 years in Congress: preventing another Sept. 11, and fighting to get New York and Long Island their fair share of revenue. Fortunately, D’Esposito’s committee assignments — Homeland Security and Transportation & Infrastructure — position him well for the struggles ahead.
The Homeland Security Committee was created in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 to coordinate federal, state and local counterterrorism efforts, and to provide necessary funding to areas at highest risk.
Every threat analysis showed the New York City-Long Island region as the highest-ranked terrorist target in the country. Yet we had to fight off other states, which had zero threat levels, for every penny.
As a former New York City police detective and Island Park fire chief, D’Esposito has the credentials and the gravitas to win those funding fights, and also to ensure that the committee’s legitimate concern about border control and illegal immigration doesn’t distract attention from the still very serious terrorist threat.
He will have similar struggles on the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, to get fair and necessary funding for Long Island’s roads, highways, beaches and waterways.
Over the years, New York has been consistently shortchanged in federal funding, sending far more money to Washington than we get back.
My shorthand political analysis for this inequity was that Democrats took New York for granted and Republicans felt they couldn’t win it, so our hard-earned tax dollars were disbursed elsewhere — most notably, and disproportionately, to southern states. This shortfall in turn increased our state and local tax burden, which was exacerbated when a Republican Congress voted to dramatically reduce our SALT income tax deduction. D’Esposito has pledged to fight hard to restore that deduction.
Besides Homeland Security, infrastructure funding and restoring the SALT deduction, he will have to deal with countless other issues, including senior citizen and veterans benefits, 9/11 health care, tax relief for hardworking middle-income families and supporting law enforcement.
Being a member of Congress, and representing the people of Long Island and addressing their needs and challenges, was the experience of a lifetime for me. No one is more connected to his constituents than Anthony D’Esposito, and I know he will take their thoughts and concerns to the halls of Congress and get the job done. Good luck, Congressman.
Peter King is a former congressman from Long Island and was chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security. He is a columnist for LI Herald Newspapers.