Years after U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Long Island) first spent much time in Queens, newly drawn Congressional maps are sending him back to his childhood roots.
“I spent every Sunday of my youth in Queens,” Israel, who is running for re-election in a district that will now include parts of northeast Queens, said during a sit-down interview with the Chronicle on Thursday. “My grandparents lived in Flushing. I feel I have Queens in my blood.”
A panel of federal judges in March approved new political boundaries for New York’s Congressional districts, which added Bay Terrace, Beechhurst, Whitestone, Douglaston and Little Neck to the district for which Israel is vying. Israel currently represents the 2nd Congressional District, made up solely of neighborhoods in Suffolk and Nassau, and is running to represent the newly drawn 3rd CD.
Republican Stephen LaBate, a Deer Park resident who graduated from St. John’s University in Jamaica, is challenging Israel.
During Israel’s interview with the Queens Chronicle, which we’ll be writing about more extensively in this week’s paper, the congressman said he immediately began meeting with civic leaders, borough politicians and other Queens residents after the judges approved the new lines.
“I said, ‘Gary, I’ve got a lot to learn,’” Israel said in reference to U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Queens, Long Island), who recently announced he would not be running again.
After being drawn into the new 3rd Congressional District, Ackerman announced he would not run against Israel, nor would he make another bid for the 6th Congressional District, which represents much of northern Queens.
“It won’t be very long until people in Queens say, ‘We can’t get rid of this guy,’” Israel joked.
Describing himself as leaning right on issues regarding Israel and national security, and left on civil rights, gay rights, education and the environment, Israel was tapped by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) to head the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2012. Now the fifth highest-ranking Democrat in the House, Israel said he has particularly focused on veterans’ issues, infrastructure and middle-class economics while in Congress.
His focus on economics has not always landed him in the same camp as President Obama, Israel said.
“The president said, ‘We should raise taxes on the rich,’ and I said, ‘Fair enough, but what’s your definition of rich?’” Israel said. “He says $250,000. Two hundred fifty thousand dollars may make you rich in Nebraska, but $250,000 does not make you rich in Little Neck, where you’re paying the highest cost of living in America.”
As for other local issues, Israel said he would likely not be a fan of expanding the JFK Airport’s runways into the Jamaica Bay.
“I would lean against anything I’d consider to be potentially degrading to the environment,” Israel said.
On a more international scale, Israel said he believes the U.S. “should use all the tools in our tool box” when it comes to addressing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, including keeping the possibility of a military strike on the table.
“Right now the sanctions are crippling the Iranian regime,” Israel said. “We need to continue applying those sanctions.”