Carolyn Maloney has a technique for chasing the blues that only another New Yorker would really understand.
“When I get depressed, I get on a Second Avenue subway and just ride it,” she explains. “It’s quiet.”
A New Yorker can surely understand how hope can be revived by riding a new subway line that some people said would never be built. But more than just the relative calm of a spanking clean and less crowded train, Maloney feels New York’s newest subway line is a physical manifestation of her thirty years in Congress.
“If I hadn’t pushed for it–we got the federal money before we ever got any state money–it would never have happened. So, I’m very proud of that accomplishment. I love infrastructure. It’s in my DNA.”
It would be understandable to find Maloney riding her Second Avenue line all the time these days, to get over her bitter defeat at the hands of fellow Democrat and long time colleague Jerry Nadler.
“I was devastated when I lost, because I loved my job,” Maloney says. “I loved helping people. I loved bringing federal funds home to New York. We always send more money to Washington than what comes back. So every dollar is deeply appreciated and needed by our great city.”
While she is wounded by her defeat, she shows no signs of wallowing aboard the Second Avenue line, or anywhere else. “I had to find two things that were even more important than what I did in Congress,” she explains from her new office at Eleanor Roosevelt House, where she is now Leader-in-Residence at the City University’s Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute.
Those two new projects truly embody the range of Maloney’s career.
The first is to campaigning to win ratification of the Equal Right Amendment, a fight that spans the entire arc of her career. The other is proselytizing to link New York City to Albany, Buffalo and Boston by high-speed rail, the ultimate infrastructure project for this self-proclaimed lover of infrastructure.
The arc of history took a strange bend for Carolyn Maloney. She came to office as a Democrat with a gift for winning over Republicans on the East Side, where there were still a lot of them thirty years ago. She won accolades from Democrats for “turning the East Side blue,” as well as the ear of Republicans in Congress who found she could speak their language.
“The reason I was able to pass so many bills was that I would build coalitions, with Republicans, and pass them,” Maloney said.
But times changed. The art of compromise became less admired on the left wing of the Democratic party, even as Democratic ascendency increased their influence in New York. When Democrats in Albany overreached in their efforts to draw favorable congressional districts, and lost control of the redistricting process, Maloney found herself thrown into a district with Nadler, her long time colleague from across Central Park.
They were both very senior committee chairs in Congress, the kind of power most state political parties would move heaven and earth to protect. Yet somehow the dysfunction of New York politics pitted them against each other.
A Democrat who came to power by besting Republicans, was then brought down by other Democrats.
“What can I say, I was defeated,” Maloney shrugs.
“They drew me into a West Side district that’s very heavily Democratic. So I didn’t have a favorable district and the West Side outvoted the east side two to one.”
But she refuses efforts to bait her into publicly criticizing Nadler or the Democratic Party. When a reporter asks if she thinks her defeat is a reflection of Democrats in New York focusing more on partisan purity than legislative accomplishment, she remains silent. For 15 seconds.
At which point, the reporter changes the subject and asks about a part of her life and career that was both historic and indisputably progressive.
Long before Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand, weren’t you the first elected official to give birth while in office when you were a member of the City Council, the reporter asks?
Her energetic voice reemerges from the previous silence:
“I’d say my whole career was a series of firsts,” she said. “When it started out I was usually the only women in the room, for years. I was the first women to represent my Council-manic seat. The first women to represent my Congressional seat. The first women to chair the Joint Economic Committee. The first women to chair the Oversight Committee.”
Yet, the work is unfinished, she notes. “If you don’t think there’s a lot left to do, just look at the Dobbs decision,” the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning the federal guarantee of legal access to abortion.
Which leads naturally, of course, to the first of her two post-congressional projects.
“Women’s rights should not be dependent on who is the President, or who is the head of the Senate or the House, or on the Supreme Court. It should be enshrined in our Constitution, and that what I’m working with the ERA coalition to do.”
“A government where women can’t make health decisions about their own health care is not a fair democracy. It’s a very discriminatory one. No one is dictating to men what health procedures they can get or not get. Or health care they can get or not get.”
From that profound thought, Maloney has no trouble moving to the far more prosaic idea that New Yorkers should be able to travel from the city to Buffalo in three hours, a speedy rail trip common in Europe or Japan but unheard of in the United States.
As in adviser to the North Atlantic Rail Alliance, Maloney is urging Governor Hochul to find the money for a study to show the feasibility of building such a high speed rail network, which would revive the upstate economy, she says, and create construction jobs in the process.
Which, as she explains, is what it has all been about. “I’ve had a wonderful time working to help other people and I’m not stopping,” she says. “I’m going to continue.”