By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
Crowley has grown up.
met him in the very early 80’s; he was in a band and on the periphery of
the family business — politics.
he’s almost 10 feet tall, has mastered the issues, charmed all he meets
and become a sophisticated artful political practitioner.
sat down last week to chat with my friend about his new district, his
future, politics and his job as a Congressman.
Photo by Tamara Hartman
was a good time; he was quick, glib, charming and fun.
knew his stuff.
Q & A that follows is my interpretation of Trib reporter
Angela Montefinise’s notes (quotation marks indicate exact quotes) —
the rest, well, is my reconstructed version of Joe’s story.
picture is accurate; perhaps the rhythm and the words are edited.
How did you first win election?
“I went to each classroom and told each student what I’d do for them
as student body president.” Seriously, in Oct. 1985, I became district
leader when my uncle Walter Crowley died. I also ran for City Council at
23 years of age, but lost. Six months later, Assemblyman Ralph Goldstein
died, I ran and won 30th
And your Congressional seat, how did you win that?
In 1998, after I just bought a house in Albany, I had plans to be married,
Tom Manton stepped down. I went to Congress.
It was handed to you [avoiding a real election]? Is that okay?
“The reality is nothing is ever handed without the potential of having
it lost. I think my survival so far has been a tribute to what I’ve been
able to accomplish.”
Would you want your successor to get the seat that way?
“I don’t think that’s how I would envision the next person I see
representing the seat that I vacate.”
Would you advocate that the process be changed so as not to allow moves
like that in the future?
“That’s up to the powers that be. I’m not in the State Legislature.
There are some instances when we have to have the ability to substitute
The way you got the seat caused considerable animus with three of your
colleagues who thought they were entitled to be the candidate:
[Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, former Councilmen John Sabini and Walter
McCaffrey]. What is your relationship with them today?
relationship with John is excellent . . . my relationship for Cathy is
fine . . . Walter was at my last fundraiser. “The wounds there have been
healed tremendously. I think the job I’ve been doing has helped to heal
I know we all hate labels, but where on the political spectrum — left to
right — would you place yourself?
view myself probably as a moderate, probably being more left. “I’m
probably more open-minded than people give me credit for.
cell phone rang and he apologized as he took a brief call from his wife to
schedule his three-year-old son’s birthday party, closing with “Bye
sweetheart, I love you.”]
It’s a new 7th
Congressional District. Discuss the changes.
is still the old base in Maspeth and Woodside of non-Hispanic, white,
Irish, Italian and Polish. There’s a growing Asian and Latino
population. Jackson Heights has the second largest gay population in the
City; the largest of Colombians, lots of Dominicans, Ecuadorians and the
second largest concentration of South Asians behind Richmond Hill.
Redistricting took away about nine per cent of the Asian population from
Flushing. It has more blacks from the Bronx. But it lost lots of Elmhurst.
What does all of it mean to your job?
The neighborhoods that I’m going to be expanding in are in the Bronx . .
. I’m going to have to spend a good deal more attention and time in the
Bronx considering they’re the majority of the district. It may mean
shifting some of my resources, like part of my district office, there.
Are the rumors true? Are you heir to the leadership of the Queens County
heard the rumors. You know, I’m a District Leader.”
Do you want it?
don’t know. I’d have to see what the circumstances are.”
Can you do both jobs well?
don’t think I’d want to do it if I couldn’t do both jobs well. I
like to be with my family. Tom [Manton] certainly did both well.”
What if it’s offered in the next election cycle?
“I don’t think it will be. Tom is here for a while.”
Do we live in a racist society? And is the government — city, state or
federal — racist?
“There are always going to be people who are going to stoop to the
lowest level. I think that government or any business or anything else for
that matter in many respects can be a microcosm of that society as a
whole. The difference being that there are rules and laws in government,
hiring practices. . . that makes it more difficult for individuals who are
racist per se.”
Do minority districts get their fair share?
monies are divided... is not based on fairness, per se, it’s based on
who’s in control.” Minorities are usually not, though. We divide up
dollars politically. “It is and has been the way in which government has
run in the US since its inception.
I think it has some good points and some bad points. I think it’s
not always fair.... Money is used to keep people in line.”
Should it be stopped?
don’t know if it should be stopped because I think to a degree that’s
how resources are expended and that’s how some communities do benefit by
the intelligence of their members.... It’s a system that has worked
fairly well for the last 200 some-odd years . . . The system’s not
perfect but it’s better than any other system.”
Aren’t other countries better at taking care of the underclass?
“There are a lot of things that they do better than we do” – smaller
countries. “There are ways in which we have to address the issues of the
underclass.” The [Democratic] party is doing it? “I don’t
know if it’s doing enough.” And school construction is very important
part of the solution.
Immigration and illegal aliens must be an issue of great concern to the
people in your district.
We should legalize the immigrants who are here. It’s complicated. “We
are founded on immigration.... The illegals live in a substandard world,
in a subculture. My proposal would legalize the people here. They’d
still have to have a Green Card and wait five years for citizenship. Then
we would do whatever we can to stop illegal immigration. “We don’t
know who all these people are.” We have to maintain a real border with a
safety valve for legal immigration.
The Middle East — will we see peace?
“I was very hopeful a little over two years ago.” I’ve been to
Israel twice. “I think someday it will happen. I think in my
Will we soon be at war with Iraq?
we approve war, “I want to know exactly the capability of Sadam. The one
thing we do know about him is that he’s willing to do crazy things
including bombing Israel if it means getting to us.”
Evaluate the job being done by the Mayor and Governor.
Mayor’s done well. I’m not sure on swapping the airports for the WTC
site. “The Governor is a friend of mine I’m not endorsing him for
reelection. But he’s done a “masterful” job politically.
Why are you supporting McCall?
Carl McCall deserves the chance to run.
Does his candidacy excite you?
can’t say I’m terribly excited about anything happening in politics
In politics, should race matter?
has since the origin of this country.” I think people’s co-experience
is something that brings people together. Would I vote for an Irish guy?
“It would depend on the job they’ve done....A lot goes into who
someone is....I think someone should vote for someone based on their
tone of the interview changed as I asked Angela for the next question and
the topic of abortion came up, Crowley’s demeanor changed. He appeared
uncomfortable. His body language – which had for the past hour conveyed
a relaxed at-home friendship – began to scream discomfort.]
do you stand on a woman’s right to chose?
am under no illusions that Roe v. Wade will change in the near or distant
future. I will not vote to change it. I don’t think the people are ready
for that. I don’t like abortion. I try to find ways in which I can limit
it.” I’m a supporter of Title 10 funding here and overseas to help
women control when they become pregnant. “If a bill came on the floor
tomorrow to change Roe v. Wade, I will not vote for that bill.”
deplore the whole debate that’s taken place on the issue because it has
come down to ‘are you with us or against us.’ And I think that my
record has been more reflective and I’m more open-minded than people
think I am. I’m not in a box and I will not be cornered. At the same
time, I have my own strong personal feelings on it and convictions on it.
I don’t think abortion’s good. I wouldn’t want my wife or daughter
or someone that I love or is close to me to go through that procedure. But
at the same time, I recognize that it’s been the law of the land since
the early 1970s, and I don’t foresee that it’s going to change. I’m
not necessarily sure that at this point in time it should be changed.”
Any distinction - rape?
and the life of the mother, “I would support it.... I’m opposed to
partial birth and I voted to ban partial birth abortion.”
Are you uncomfortable with this topic?
I hate this topic. I think it’s one of the worst topics that’s ever
intruded on to the American political scene.... It’s an uncomfortable
Joe, What are you most proud of?
for homeland security to the White House —100 pages — I’m extremely
proud of the work. Also, my work on West Nile encephalitis, the Asian
longhorn beetle, Flushing Bay — I’d like to get that resolved.
so we moved from the uncomfortable back to the more relaxed, but we saw
Joe Crowley at his best.
uncomfortable, we watched the four-year Congressman battle his worst
nightmares as he struggled with a moral question and came to grips with
permitting the status quo of a woman’s right to choose without endorsing
the concept that was personally repugnant to him.
was no longer the young kid with a band and a family political business.
was a mature accomplished Congressman, well versed in every subject
was, for the most part, relaxed, at ease, informative and entertaining.
Crowley has grown in the two decades in which I’ve known him.
intellect, his knowledge and his heart have grown to a size formidable
enough to fill his six-four-plus frame. Joe is no longer that kid in
is a very vital part of a Queens Congressional delegation, which speaks
with compassion for the needs of the people and works tirelessly to
improve their lot and bring home the bacon.
also is sitting and watching as the Queens County Democratic Organization
continues to build its power in the City and country as he perhaps counts
the days – or is it years
– until he wears the title “boss.”
likely to happen, and then politics and compassion will cause Joe many a
contributor: Angela Montefinese
by Dom Nunziato