Where’s This Woman? Fighting for the Upper East Side

Written by Megan Finnegan Bungeroth on . Posted in OTTY Awards, Our Town, Politics.


Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the 2012 East Sider of the Year OTTY award winner, pulls no punches fighting for her Upper East Side district.

Maloney on the roof of the Azure building. Photo by Andrew Schwartz.

Some politicians get themselves noticed for the things they say. Others work quietly, hoping to gain attention for the things they do. The rare breed of national legislator is able to land in the spotlight both for their pithy turns of phrase and for their hard-won accomplishments. Rep. Carolyn Maloney is that kind of lawmaker.

The Upper East Side congresswoman has been enjoying national attention lately for her mantra “Where are the women?” a non-rhetorical question posed first to fellow Rep. Darrell Issa when a panel he chaired on religious freedom and birth control was devoid of female speakers and subsequently to every media outlet that would listen as a general indictment of Republican-led policy that seeks to legislate women’s rights.

It’s a catchy and of-the-moment question, but it’s one that Maloney has been asking for decades, as a chief sponsor and continual champion of the Equal Rights Amendment, as the author of the Debbie Smith Act, which allocates $151 million in federal funding a year to process DNA evidence in sexual assault cases and as a reliably unyielding proponent of women’s rights on the national stage.

Maloney has proven she can walk the walk (often in heels) and talk the talk (often with wry jabs at right-wingers and the few political opponents who have challenged her). In her almost 20 years as a congresswoman, she has also been able to strike an impressive balance between advocating for national issues and supporting local ones.

One of her signature measures has been fighting to get federal transit dollars pumped into the overcrowded East Side public transportation system.

“I am very proud of finally finishing the Second Avenue Subway,” Maloney said in reference to funding the first phase. “For those of us who ride the good old Lexington Avenue line, one of the most overcrowded in the nation, there really is a limit to how many people you can stuff into that subway car.”

Over the years, she’s helped secure $4 billion in federal funds for the project, which has generated approximately 38,000 jobs, and she said that when she first began pushing for it, she faced an uphill battle.

“I got $5 million to do a study and then another $5 million for an engineer’s report, and then I just kept pushing it,” Maloney said. “Then we finally broke through, and every day I worked on it.”

She said one of the efforts of which she is most proud is her work on the Anti-Terrorism Intelligence Reform Act, the law that changed the structure of the intelligence system in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and on the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

“I think it’s an example of how this government can really get things done when we’re determined to get things done. We completely reorganized our government and made homeland security our No. 1 top priority,” Maloney said. She also isn’t shy about insisting that New York deserves the lion’s share of anti-terrorism funding.

Maloney, originally from North Carolina, got her first taste of community leadership when she became president of the 92nd Street Block Association, representing the street she has lived on since 1976. In 1982, she was elected to the City Council and in 1992, she ran for Congress, shocking many by ousting incumbent Republican Bill Green and becoming the first woman to represent the 14th District.

She’s been re-elected nine times and recently kicked off her 10th re-election campaign, this time for the renamed and redrawn 12th District, encompassing parts of north Brooklyn (which she used to represent) as well as the Upper East Side and eastern Queens. Maloney doesn’t bat an eyelash at the potential challenges inherent in representing both Williamsburg and Park Avenue.

“I have to study the area and work with the other elected officials, and my work is really a result of what the needs are,” Maloney said of her 100,000 potential new constituents. “When I represented that area, they had an incinerator and I called for the first federal hearing on the incinerator and literally closed it down, so that was a major environmental victory.”

Recently named Public Official of the Year by Earth Day New York and the New York office of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Maloney doesn’t back away from issues she sees as vital for the environment. She’s currently embroiled in battling against the Marine Transfer Station planned for East 91st Street, citing concerns for the East River as well as about public health conditions in the surrounding neighborhood.

“Sometimes it’s not what you do, it’s what you stop. When they tried to close the veteran’s hospital on 23rd Street, that became a goal and a passion of mine to keep it open,” Maloney said—and she succeeded. She also successfully lobbied against the closure of several post offices in her district.

She’s been heavily involved in creating new schools for the Upper East Side, working to form the East Side Task Force on education that led to the formation of several local schools.

“I can remember meetings where I said, if you can’t give us a school, I’m going to have to open up my home and move the kids in, because we really need it,” Maloney said.

Maloney lives near her office on East 92nd Street, a fact she said she relishes because she loves that part of the Upper East Side. She spends as much time in the neighborhood as she can.

She has two daughters, Virginia and Christine, with her late husband Clifton Maloney, a wealthy investment banker who died in 2009 pursuing one of his passions, mountain climbing, in Tibet. Now that her children are out of the house, she focuses even more on her career—though she admits she takes time for gardening and is even planning to get back on a bicycle this spring to promote new bike lanes—and seems undaunted by the premise of a three-borough campaign in a contentious election year. She credits her staff for helping her maintain a local focus.

“One of the reasons I ran for office was that after 12 years of Bush and Reagan, federal aid to the city was cut by 74 percent,” she said. “It got so that we could hardly do anything. You could see the importance of the federal government for doing anything local, particularly big projects such as housing, transportation, major investments…

“To this day, we do send more in tax revenue than what comes back, and it’s my job to try to get every penny of it,” she said.

The hundreds of commendations lining the walls of her office and her obvious pride in her work clearly speak to the seriousness with which she takes her job in Congress, but Maloney admits that she relishes creating legislation and finds it, well, fun.

“It’s sort of like a game to me,” she said, explaining how she can introduce so many bills (70 in the last full session, tying her for the most from any representative). “There’s a problem and I just sit in front of a fire or a pretty view and I think of a legislative fix.”

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