An Interview with Bedford & New Canaan Magazine’s Congressmen
Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY 18) & Jim Himes (D-CT 4)
Bedford & New Canaan Magazine (B&NC):
Sean, you represent New York’s 18th congressional district, including all of Bedford, Katonah, Pound Ridge, South Salem & Waccabuc, and Jim you represent Connecticut’s 4th congressional district, including New Canaan. So you’re from different State delegations, but we understand you guys have a friendship that crosses over the State line?
Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney – NY-18 (Maloney): Well, Jim is smarter and better looking, so it’s not easy to be around him, but yes we’re good friends, and he has an amazing family. We serve on the Intelligence Committee together, so we spend a lot of time in some wild, undisclosed locations around the world and, when in DC, working down there in the SCIF (“Sensitive Compartmentalized Information Facility”). Our districts share a lot of common interests too, so he’s a great ally for helping our region.
Congressman Jim Himes CT-4 (Himes): That’s right, except for the ‘better looking’ part. We see things similarly. We’ve both spent most of our careers outside of elected office, including in the private sector, and we both flipped Republican districts and have managed to keep winning. That makes us a little different from most of our colleagues. We have no choice but to listen to and respect different perspectives and to handle disagreements in a civil and constructive way. And I’d like to think we both have well-above-average senses of humor. That’s important when you’re standing on the Venezuelan border or driving through a Peshawar chicken market together.
B&NC: Yeah, so you both serve on the Intelligence Committee. Tell me about that.
Himes: Sorry we can’t do that.
Maloney: Well, we could, but then, you know, we’d have to kill you.
Himes: In all seriousness. It’s a huge responsibility. The country is spending some $80 billion a year on intelligence activities, including things that are hugely controversial like surveillance and lethal activities, and they’re pretty much all secret. So we’re two of a handful of people who are asked to keep an eye on that stuff so that it stays consistent with the law and with our values.
B&NC: How have you responded to COVID?
Maloney: My office has a simple, three-word mission statement: “We help people.” When this virus first hit New York, we were calling every hospital, every school district, and every health center in the Hudson Valley to make sure they had what they needed to meet the height of this crisis.
Another key element of our effort has been helping families and small business owners who are struggling. For example, we helped one local business recover $20,000 in lost income from a canceled trip to Costa Rica by getting United Airlines to refund their tickets. We also helped them get an Economic Injury Disaster Loan. That’s pretty typical.
I want to remind everyone in NY-18, call my office (845.561.1259) if you need help. We’ll do our best to get your problem solved.
Himes: We’re both really about getting things done rather than talking about getting things done, or demanding that things get done, or complaining about why things don’t get done, which is too much of politics these days. We’re both in the orbit of New York City, so we had no choice but to go to work 24/7 solving everything from shortages of PPE to financial aid for the people and businesses in our districts. Because so many people stepped up to do the right thing, our districts are in much better shape than they were in March. But March and April really were tough.
B&NC: You’ve both focused on the environment as a critical issue for everyone. But we know you also work to protect our local environment. Can you give us some specifics?
Maloney: We have so much work to do, which is why I support the Green New Deal and a refundable tax on carbon. In addition, protecting our drinking water and preserving the Hudson River are top priorities. I’m about to pass legislation that will permanently prevent the Coast Guard’s proposal to locate 43 new oil barge anchoring sites between Yonkers and Kingston on the Hudson River. We are stewards of this national treasure and I intend to protect it.
Himes: My district is bisected by the Merritt Parkway and 95. Open space is increasingly rare. We have dirty decaying industrial sites that hold real promise for redevelopment. The Long Island Sound is critical to my district. One of my hobbies is harvesting oysters, clams and mussels from the Sound. So being a strong environmentalist is critical and personal to me. I make a point of leading wherever I can on conservation, responsible reuse of land and sustainable practices from our agriculture to our transportation.
B&NC: That’s good stuff. What else should we know about how your Congressional offices are having a direct impact in and on our community?
Maloney: I think a lot of folks don’t know that their congressperson is there to help them. There is no problem to little or too big for us. We exist to serve you, and if you come to us with an issue that isn’t in our jurisdiction, we’re going to connect you with folks who can help. So never hesitate to call.
Himes: Those resources are also available to my New Canaan constituents, through my website at himes.house.gov or by calling my office at 203-333-6600 and speaking with a staff member. And, as far as direct impact in the community, it’s Federal dollars that have improved the beaches, protected the Long Island Sound, kept the MTA running, and supported the phenomenal New Canaan public school district, to name a few things.
B&NC: When you get local in our area, what do you like to do?
Maloney: When I’m home in the District, I’m often holding town halls, community meetings, business walks, and press conferences – in-person, socially distanced and virtual. We even had an in-person town hall at drive-in theaters, where folks texted me their questions, and I answered them on a sound system connected to their car radios. We’ll keep trying new ways of talking to our constituents.
Just the other week I checked in on newly reopened small business owners in Bedford. About 11,000 businesses in my congressional district who employ about 100,000 workers have received small business loans, under the federal programs. So, I wanted to find out how that’s working for people and what else they need from Congress. These business tours allow me to bring the voices of Hudson Valley’s small business owners – including places right here like Jewel Corner, Inc., Bedford Village Hair Design, the Bedford Playhouse, and School of Rock Bedford – down to Washington with me, so we can make sure places like Bedford come back stronger and better in the wake of this pandemic.
Himes: Covid has dramatically increased the urgency of problem-solving and local communication. I’ve been hosting frequent Facebook Live conversations and Q&A talks, meeting with business owners, and explaining federal aid and resources. We’re still working very hard. In my free time, I like to shake off stress outdoors. I love to run, ride and hike around Fairfield County, and am kind of a hobby farmer with a vegetable garden, a couple of beehives. And, as I mentioned before, I like to shellfish in season. If you haven’t had an oyster 30 minutes out of the Sound, you haven’t really lived.
B&NC: Is there any one message you have for our readers?
Maloney: Yes – get out there and vote! Exercise your sacred right. We’re working hard in Congress to make sure mail-in ballots are available everywhere this November. People need to be able to participate in our democracy without sacrificing their health.
…AND STAY SAFE! The virus is still with us. Wear a mask.
Himes: We’re living in really difficult political times. I see President Trump as a real danger to our democracy. But a significant number of Americans support him, some strongly. We need to grapple with that. It is not OK to call the President’s supporters deplorable or to dismiss them. They’re coming from somewhere, and we all need to work harder to understand where each of us is coming from. The way we fix our poisoned politics is to have some humility about our own beliefs and some desire to walk in the other guy’s shoes. If all of us do that, we can convert destructive tribalism into constructive debate, worthy of our country.
B&NC: What do you miss most about pre-pandemic times?
Maloney: Besides crowded bars? Everything.
Himes: Amen, buddie.