The borough’s congressional delegation added three new faces to its roster on Jan. 3 with the swearing in of Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn), Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and Steve Israel (D-Long Island)
Queens’ new legislators entered the 113th Congress at a time of deep partisan division and mounting fiscal headaches. All three promised to ignore the Democrat-Republican divide in the House of Representatives so as to put their constituents first.
Israel is the lone veteran of the trio, having spent a dozen years on Capitol Hill. He sits on the Appropriations, Armed Services, Financial Services and Science Committees, and is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman.
He hit the ground running in his new district, which includes parts of Northeast Queens, attending a press conference decrying FEMA’s lackluster aid to co-ops and condos following Hurricane Sandy. It’s the sort of meat-and-potatoes work Israel said he relishes.
“I made a decision early on in my career in Congress, instead of getting hung up on the lofty and polarizing debates inside the Beltway, I would just focus on solving people’s problems at home,” he said.
After redistricting gave his home base a chunk of Queens, Israel said he ran himself through a crash course in the needs of his new “customers,” as he call constituents. He met with community leaders of various stripes at Panera Bread in Bay Terrace and spoke with long-time colleague, retiring Rep. Gary Ackerman.
Jeffries called being sworn in “awe-inspiring.” He previously represented parts of Brooklyn in the state Assembly and in November was elected to represent the newly configured 8th Congressional District, which includes Howard Beach and Ozone Park along with wide swaths of central and eastern Brooklyn.
“I take this responsibility seriously,” Jeffries said. “I look forward to doing everything I can to justify the confidence the people have placed in me.”
Only about 47,000 of his roughly 717,000 district residents live in Queens. When the new lines were released, some residents expressed concerns that their needs would be forgotten since the vast majority of the district’s constituents live in Brooklyn, many in lower-income minority communities like East New York and Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Nevertheless, Jeffries said the district is a perfect microcosm of what New York City is, and he promised to advocate for the few residents he represents in Queens.
“It captures the wonderful diversity of New York City,” he said. “Every single neighborhood deserves the highest level of representation and I certainly will provide vigorous, active and visible representation to every resident of Brooklyn and Queens.”
He is planning to visit the Queens neighborhoods he represents in his first 30 days in office.
The first bill Jeffries cosponsored was the one passed last week to provide $9.7 billion in flood aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy, including those in Howard Beach.
“It is a down payment on the resources that will be needed in Howard Beach and other communities for recovery efforts,” the congressman said.
As congressman-elect, Jeffries met with civic leaders in Hamilton Beach and helped arrange for FEMA to establish a mobile office in the neighborhood to help facilitate the recovery from the storm.
“I was pleased to help bring that about,” he said.
Jeffries serves on the House Budget and Judiciary committees, which will give him an important seat during negotiations on the debt ceiling, gun control and immigration reform in the 113th Congress.
He also credited his colleagues, namely Reps. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) and Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), for helping with his transition to Congress and noted he has a good working relationship with Meng from their time spent working together in Albany.
The former Assemblywoman called the Chronicle as she was settling into her new Washington, DC studio apartment — with zero intention of making it her permanent residence.
“My whole support system is back in New York; my family, my constituents, everyone pitches in,” she said. “One thing that I tried to do in Albany is try to spend as much time in the district as possible. That’s where the real work is.”
The commute from DC isn’t nearly as arduous as the trip to Albany either.
“Door-to-door, it only takes about two-and-a-half hours,” she said.
Meng enters Congress as the first Asian-American member of the New York delegation. She has made an effort to hit the ground running. A day after being sworn in, she announced her first piece of legislation: a gun control bill that would close a loophole allowing firearm merchants with revoked licenses to transfer their inventory to a private collection, which allows them to sell without background checks. She expects to introduce the bill in about a month.
In the meantime, she’s just learning the ropes. Many more names to remember, and many more issues to learn.
“There aren’t many moments in our lives that we can work on issues to help improve our country,” she said.