By Sabina Mollot
With the presidential election still a recent memory and New York City races for mayor and the City Council now heating up, Town & Village turned to Carolyn Maloney, who’s represented Manhattan’s East Side in Congress for nearly a quarter century, for some advice for would-be elected officials.
Note: While this article was actually supposed to be a guide for women seeking office, all the tips that were shared by Maloney would work just as well for male candidates. For some background, prior to first getting elected in Washington in 1992, the Upper East Side Democrat served for 10 years as a member of the City Council.
Read on for her guide to success at the voting booth and upon getting elected, success as a lawmaker.
Q: What advice would you give women running for office?
A: First, you have to have a reason for running. It can’t just be ‘I don’t have anything else to do.’ It’s not fun. It’s a lot of hard work and you have to have a calling. I was pregnant with my first daughter Christina when I asked about what the policy is for family leave. I was working for the New York State legislature for the Democratic leader. They said, ‘We don’t have one. You just leave.’ They didn’t expect you to work again. They said I could apply for disability and I refused because I didn’t consider pregnancy a disability. So that gave me a reason (to run for office). I wanted paid family leave for the birth of a child.
Q: What is the current status of your paid family leave act?
A: There are only two countries that did not pass family leave. One of them is the United States of America and the other is Papua New Guinea, so we are alone in the industrialized world. It’s a national scandal. Ivanka Trump has said this is one of her priorities so I’m hopeful this will become law.
(Maloney also said she ran for office to get more affordable housing in New York City and to keep the federal government from slashing funds intended for the city.)
In one year during my term (in the Council) we put up 7,000 units of affordable housing, but that was from money already in the pipeline from President Carter. After Reagan and Bush, the federal government slashed funds and all we were doing was voting on what we were going to cut next. You can’t provide housing without a federal role or provide transportation, so it was very depressing to decide what you’re going to cut next. So I ran against Republican Bill Greene, a very good man, but he voted to cut aid to New York. (Since I’ve been elected) I’ve steered dollars towards the Second Avenue Subway, transit and construction. (Another motivator was) Roe v. Wade. (While protesting) at City Hall, I said I’m going to run for Congress because I’ve seen inequity towards women and I’ve seen the economy impacted by cutting the budget of the City of New York.
Secondly, it’s very important that you gain experience. Volunteer in an office or take an internship. See that it’s not easy and it’s not glamorous. It’s a lot of long hours and hard work and a lot of it is taking care of problems for people and serving the district. Make sure that’s what you want to do.
The third thing is look at who you are as a person and see if you really want to confront the kind of opposition that will come your way, not only in the race (from an opponent) and that’s always painful, but you have to get used to facing defeat. You will face it over and over and over again in politics. I’ve give you an example of my 9/11 bill (the Zadroga Act providing health coverage for first responders). Little did I know it would take 10 years to pass it. I thought everyone would want to provide healthcare to 9/11 heroes. Well, they didn’t. And it didn’t become a permanent program until 2015. You have to be in it for the long run, and you have to be able to work with people whose opinions are different than your own. The best legislation is bi-partisan. You have to work across the aisle, because if you don’t, your legislation won’t become permanent. They’ll roll it back. You see it now (rollbacks to President Obama’s legislation). The first 100 days (of Donald Trump’s presidency was all) basically overturning democratic initiatives.
The fourth thing is what do you want to accomplish? I wanted to protect women who were fired when they had a child. Look at yourself and see if you are able to work a long time on a project.
Q: What’s the biggest obstacle women candidates face?
A: It’s not easy. You have to put (a campaign) together like an executive. Obviously raising money is important. You have to have issues you’re passionate about. You have to build a network of friends that will campaign on your behalf. If you’re serious, join a political club. Those people will be a valuable resource and a network of support for your campaign. It’s (also) important to have a mentor. A lot of women don’t look for mentors like they should.
Q: Is this where working for an elected official comes in?
A: If you can afford it, take an internship and learn from (someone. Additionally) I have called women and men I didn’t know that I admire and talked to them and asked for their advice.
Q: Do women tend to get talked out of running for office?
A: I’ve never lost an election, but more people have told me not to do it than to do it. You have to be able to block out the negative voices.
Q: Since you’ve been in office, has the number of women running for office gone up or flatlined?
A: There’s definitely more women running for office. (When I was first elected) there were 48 women elected to the House and Senate and I got so excited to see women walking down the aisle, not to get married, but to take the oath of office. It was 10 percent (female) in 1992 and now it’s 19 percent; almost doubled. Right now there are 104 women in the House of Representatives and when I was elected there were 33. We have made a difference because we’re focused on children and family issues.
Q: You were a big champion of Hillary Clinton. Do you agree with people who said sexism was a factor in the election?
A: I asked her if she experienced discrimination and she said she did not feel it was a factor in the race. She ran into (many issues) but she did not experience that. I believe that there is a high level of underemployment and (lack of) opportunity for many workers in our country due to loss of manufacturing jobs. That segment of people who are unemployed or underemployed did not feel like they had a future and Trump came in with a plan for jobs for people in what were traditionally Democratic states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. They switched to Republican on the jobs issue. The message of jobs was the main point in shifting those critical states from what the pundits and the pollsters and professional politicians were predicting were hers.
Q: In a local race for City Council, most of the candidates are women, but so far no women have run for mayor. Thoughts?
A: It’s still early. Maybe one will run. We’ll see. It’s been proven that when a woman succeeds, a village succeeds, a state succeeds, a country succeeds. The countries that treat their women well have less problems, less terrorism. When women succeed, America succeeds.