Remember to vote today - June 26 - in the primary: Congresswoman Nita Lowey has represented Scarsdale for as long as I can remember – in fact she is now serving her 12th term, in Congress. I thought change would come to the district when Lowey, now almost 75 years old, retired. But redistricting brought a surprise to lower Westchester -- and as a results, Scarsdale will now be part of the 16th district where Eliot Engel is running for the seat. In the upcoming Democratic primary, this Tuesday June 26th, Engel faces challenger Aniello A. M. Grimaldi. (Neil) Grimaldi is a lawyer who has served in the Bronx District Attorney’s Office and as a NYC Special Narcotics Prosecutor. Like Engel, before beginning his political career he was a teacher. He is also an ordained reverend and has written a book on wisdom and religion called The Book of Life and Love. It is interesting to note that his website says he is a candidate for U.S. Congress as well as President.
In an effort to learn more about incumbent Eliot Engel, we asked him the following questions and here is what he shared with Scarsdale10583:
Please tell us about yourself: Where you grew up, went to school and what you did before being elected to Congress:
I grew up in a New York City housing project in the Bronx, attended NYC public schools before graduating from Hunter-Lehman College with a BA in History and a Masters in Guidance and Counseling from Herbert H. Lehman College of the City University of New York. Later, I received a law degree from New York Law School. Before election to Congress, I worked as a teacher and guidance counselor in the NYC public school system, and was elected to the NYS Assembly, where I served as an Assemblyman for 12 years.
How did you come to run for Congress and how many years have you served?
After serving for 12 years in Albany, I believed my record was strong enough to embark on a bid for Congress. I wanted to continue serving the people of New York, only now on the federal level. In 1988, I ran against Mario Biaggi in a primary after he had been charged with racketeering in the Wedtech scandal. I began serving in January 1989 – in fact, my dear friend and colleague, Nita Lowey and I were elected on the same day - and have served the people of New York ever since.
What legislation are you must proud of?
I wrote the Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Act in 2003 which imposed sanctions on Syria. This was not only important then, but it is relevant now. We must stand up against the Assad regime’s massacres of its own people. The time has come for serious sanctions on Syria by the international community. We must protect our own national security by encouraging stability in Syria and eliminating their support of terrorism. I also wrote the ALS Registry Act in 2008, which established a national registry for the collection and storage of data on those suffering from ALS. This registry brings new hope to thousands of patients and their families that ALS will one day no longer be a death sentence.
Your new district is economically diverse … what are the challenges in serving the residents of both the Bronx and suburbs like Scarsdale?
I have always represented an economically diverse district and redistricting has not changed that. The challenges are less than one would imagine because families from all over New York – and the country – have the same basic concerns: Providing a good life and strong education for our kids, food on the table, safety for our family, affordable health care and good paying jobs. In other words, a positive quality of life for everyone. The big issues facing our country affect everyone no matter what town they live in and regardless of their background. Since my first day in Congress I have tried to represent each and every one of my constituents as best as I could no matter who they are – and I plan to do the same thing for NY-16.
What is your view on the affordable housing settlement in Westchester and do you feel that Westchester is doing enough to comply?
As a federal representative, it is not my role to tell local governments how to go about their business. What I can do in such cases is help facilitate positive communications between local governments and the federal government to enable both sides to come to an agreement which is acceptable. Should either side need my assistance on facilitating a dialogue, I will be ready and willing to help in whatever manner I am able. I will be listening to my constituents to hear what role they would like me to play in this negotiation. I don’t believe I should be starting out telling them what we should be doing, instead I would like for them to tell me the direction to go.
What are your views on the Race to the Top and new educational mandates for local districts?
The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education (ESEA) and reform of the No Child Left Behind program are two of my top priorities. Race to the Top was an attempt by the President to motivate schools to reform in order to help better educate our children. However, many of the reforms are taking a financial toll on school districts and we must avoid additional cuts to our K-12 education system. Like NCLB, it was rooted in a good idea and the best of intentions but there were serious implementation problems. The best way to address school reform would be through comprehensive reform of ESEA, NCLB and in listening to the experts on the ground – teachers, administrators and parents. This is the best way to reform our education system nationwide. I will continue working with my colleagues to achieve this goal.
Is there anything that can be done on a federal level to help Scarsdale alleviate flooding?
Flooding in Scarsdale is a perfect example of how issues in Washington affect everyone no matter where they reside or their background. Rushing waters know no political affiliation or household income. This is why when Hurricane Irene hit last year, I was on the ground the very next day in my district to assess the damage and to pressure FEMA to set up a headquarters in all regions affected. In Washington, the Republican-controlled House has made cutting the Army Corps of Engineers budget a priority, but a major function of the Corps is flood control. We cannot afford to consider cutting only the cost of programs without remembering their value. People in need of help are left to fend for themselves. We are all Americans, regardless of our differences, and we must help each other in our time of need.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing the House of Representatives today?
Right now, the biggest challenge facing the House is the inability to get past ideological differences. Years ago, both sides would remember why we were elected in the first place – to govern the country and solve its problems. I have always remembered that and I enjoy close relationships with members of the Republican Party and have accomplished a great deal in bipartisan manners. However, politics has become hyper-partisan in recent years, and the 2010 election of the Tea Party faction of the GOP majority has taken things to new levels. It has become impossible for Speaker Boehner to control his majority, and even more impossible for them to be willing to compromise with Democrats in the House, Senate and White House to accomplish anything at all.
How do you think the House leadership can facilitate compromise between disparate factions?
I don’t really know how Speaker Boehner can control his majority. One strategy he could take – although it would be one which would likely end his reign as Speaker – would be to work directly with Democrats to pass legislation which would have a chance of support in the Senate and White House. We could accomplish a great deal if we worked together.
What do you do in your leisure time? What's the last book you read or movie you saw?
I am not someone fortunate enough to have a great deal of leisure time – it’s the nature of the job I am proud to hold. When I do have down time, I enjoy spending time with my family and watching baseball on TV or in person. For obvious reasons, political stories have always been of interest to me – I recently saw on DVD “The Ides of March” with George Clooney, which was a very enjoyable film. I also read many newspapers, magazines and non-fiction publications on policy, domestic issues, politics, history, foreign affairs and other such topics.