Five Questions With U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey
John Jordan | November 19, 2020
WHITE PLAINS—When the 117th Congress convenes on Jan. 3, 2021, an era in Hudson Valley politics will come to an end.
Real Estate In-Depth thought it only appropriate to honor a woman who has spent the past 32 years tirelessly advocating in the halls of Congress for her constituents in the 17th New York Congressional District—U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey.
Congresswoman Lowey, who in 2018 became the first woman to chair the House Appropriations Committee, announced last fall that she would retire and not run for re-election to Congress in 2020. Beginning in January 2021, Democrat Mondaire Jones will represent the 17th New York Congressional District, replacing Rep. Lowey, who held the office for 16 terms beginning in 1988.
As the text of our conversation with the Congresswoman below will clearly reveal, Rep. Lowey represented the 17th District, which consists of a portion of Westchester and all of Rockland County, with distinction. She broke glass ceilings and was a strong advocate for human rights, education, health care and so much more.
Lowey in 2001 and 2002 was selected as the first woman and the first New Yorker to chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. She has been a leading Congressional proponent of educational opportunity, health care quality and biomedical research, improved homeland security preparedness, stricter public safety laws, environmental protection, women’s issues, national security and a champion for the United States to play a leading international role and national security.
An outspoken supporter of transportation, nuclear, and infrastructure security, Lowey was appointed to the Select Committee on Homeland Security and was recognized for her leadership in securing more than $20 billion for recovery efforts after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. She has also helped to obtain more than $68 million in federal funds to develop local bioterrorism response plans and to provide local first responders with interoperable communication devices, rescue equipment, and personal protective gear. Under Rep. Lowey’s leadership, federal funding for after-school programs has increased from $1 million in 1996 to $1 billion today.
Among her many accomplishments, Rep. Lowey, as a candidate for Congress in 1988, pledged to clean up the Long Island Sound and in 1990 she passed legislation establishing a special Environmental Protection Agency office for Long Island Sound and has obtained millions of dollars in federal funding for local clean-up efforts. A co-founder of the Hudson River Caucus, Lowey has also taken a key role in protecting the New York City watershed and in preserving strong environmental laws like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.
A native of the Bronx, Rep. Lowey graduated from the Bronx High School of Science; and received a Bachelor’s Degree from Mount Holyoke College. She served as Assistant Secretary of State for the State of New York before being elected to Congress. She and Stephen Lowey have been married for more than 50 years and have three grown children and eight grandchildren.
Let’s find out Rep. Lowey’s views on her past work, the upcoming Biden Administration and the chances for repeal of the SALT Cap and for enactment of a much-needed COVID relief package by Congress in the near future.
Real Estate In-Depth: You are now into your 16th term representing your constituents in the 17th Congressional District. Looking back, what would you say were your biggest accomplishments? Was there anything you would have liked to accomplish in your time in Congress that for whatever reason was not fulfilled?
Rep. Lowey: First of all, becoming the chair of Appropriations (Committee), especially breaking the glass ceiling for women. I also broke the glass ceiling becoming the first woman to chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2001 and 2002. Legislation that actually saved and improved lives here in the Hudson Valley and around the world, such as .08 (blood alcohol content) drunk driving standard; food allergy labeling, which requires the main eight food allergies to be disclosed in plain language; investments in gender equity in federal medical research; record funding and a U.S. strategy for basic education, especially for girls around the world… women’s health funding at home and abroad; Title X and international family planning and at every level from pre-school to Head Start through higher education, record levels of support to improve access and equality.
Some of my most poignant memories were working to rebuild after Sept. 11th. That was really quite an extraordinary opportunity for me and again after Superstorm Sandy. Another was storming the Senate in 1991 to insist that Anita Hill be allowed to testify in Clarence Thomas’ nomination hearings (for the U.S. Supreme Court). We were just fighting for what was right at the time and now nearly 30 years later that is seen as a pivotal moment in the fight for women’s rights and equality. And then I have to include bringing “Bert” and “Ernie” to testify at a 1995 Labor-HHS hearing to support PBS (funding). I never got so much press in my life than that one. That was for saving PBS.
Before I finish my term in Congress I would like to get all of our appropriation bills passed and negotiate a final coronavirus package as well.
Real Estate In-Depth: Post-Election, do you believe that President Biden will be able to finally negotiate a multi-year infrastructure bill with a likely split Congress?
Rep. Lowey: Investments in infrastructure are long overdue and the Biden campaign put together a comprehensive plan to build a more resilient and sustainable infrastructure system that is suited to combat the effect of climate change. With a clear majority in the House and the Senate still to be determined, I am confident the new administration will be able to work with both Democrats and Republicans to negotiate and pass an effective bill. I am always an optimist and with President Biden in the White House and hopefully this current President will take a good long vacation.
Real Estate In-Depth: One of the more damaging pieces of the Federal Tax Cut and Jobs Act bill was the imposition of the SALT cap. Do you feel that under the new administration there is a good chance of repealing the SALT cap?
Rep. Lowey: Well, capping state and local tax deductions at $10,000 is shameful, particularly when you consider the high tax burden in New York and the fact that Westchester and Rockland families and businesses already send more to the federal government than they get back in federal investments. The Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors hosted several roundtables and spoke at my press conferences in support of my legislation that Rep. Peter King (R-Long Island) introduced to remove the cap. Simply put, this tax scam places a target on the backs of New York taxpayers, including many of my constituents and the bottom line is capping the SALT deduction is forcing some to leave New York State, leading to higher taxes or a significant reduction in vital local services, such as first responders and health care. So, I will continue to fight for the full restoration of the SALT deduction to protect taxpayers for the remainder of my term and I certainly hope the Biden Administration will work with Congress to do the same.
Real Estate In-Depth: Now that the election is over, do you feel there is a greater chance for another coronavirus stimulus bill that would include the necessary state and local government aid? If no such aid is forthcoming, what will the consequences be for the state and Hudson Valley region?
Rep. Lowey: President-Elect Biden has already proven that he is taking this crisis seriously by forming the Coronavirus Task Force and since the Senate failed to take up the House-passed Heroes Act, the House then passed an updated Heroes Act last month and Senator Mitch McConnell refused to bring the bill to the floor for consideration and negotiation. Just after the elections, Republicans signaled they would be willing to negotiate a bill, including significant state and local government aid. I am hopeful that they will stay true to their word and help New Yorkers in these difficult, tough economic times.
Editor’s Note: When asked if no such aid is forthcoming, Rep. Lowey said such inaction would have a tremendous adverse impact on New York and the nation.
Real Estate In-Depth: Do you feel that President Elect Biden will approve the New York City congestion pricing plan that has been delayed by the current administration?
Rep. Lowey: Well, that is something that New York and the Biden Administration will have to work out. I look forward to see what they decide to do.