Joe Carvin challenging Nita Lowey's long political tenure

Rye Town Supervisor and Congressional candidate Joe Carvin, Rye Town Supervisor and Congressional candidate Joe Carvin, left, participates in a debate against U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey at the JCC Rockland in West Nyack. (Oct. 21, 2012) Photo Credit: Faye Murman

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Since Nita Lowey first was elected to the House of Representatives nearly a quarter century ago, her congressional district has been altered twice by redistricting, and each time she has been re-elected by a wide margin.

A long life in politics has taught the Democrat a thing or two about how to run for office.

"It's local, local, local," Lowey told Newsday during a recent interview. "So many of the issues that I've worked on over the years are rooted in local concerns from people who come to see me and talk to me about it."

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Jovial but modest, by turns chatty and contemplative, Lowey presents a grandmotherly persona that works well amid the crowds that have surrounded her during the fall campaign. At political events and community gatherings -- and she attends many -- she locks into solid eye contact with nearly everyone she passes, frequently stopping for a hug and a kiss, or to chat with a familiar face.

Yet knowledgeable observers speak of her as a shrewd political operator, expert at navigating the Beltway's partisan divide.

Now seeking her 13th term in office, at age 75, Lowey must cope with a redistricting again this year. This time, her district has lost much of southern Westchester County, an area she had represented since 1988, most recently as the 18th Congressional District congresswoman. The district has expanded to the north and now includes portions of Rockland County as well as much of Westchester.

Lowey says she is "confident that the new voters will support her" in the Nov. 6 election.

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FIVE LANGUAGES, TWO GRAD DEGREES

Her main rival this time around, Republican Joe Carvin, said he respects Lowey's long service to the state and country but argues it's time for a change. He said the problems facing the nation require younger, more business-minded leaders.

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"Our problems are mathematical, not ideological," the Rye Town supervisor and hedge fund manager said during a recent interview. "We're all in trouble if we don't get serious about the national debt and our annual operating deficits."

Out on the campaign trail, Carvin has played the brainy technocrat to Lowey's matronly warmth. He frequently shows up in khakis, with rolled-up sleeves, always wearing glasses, these days. He projects a scholarly air but is down-to-earth about it, amiably describing himself as "a numbers guy." Always talkative, he engages constituents one on one any chance he gets, typically on one of his favorite subjects, American competitiveness and the state of the economy.

He said he speaks five languages fluently, including Spanish, Portuguese and French. Born and raised in Port Chester, he went to college at Tulane, then earned an master's degree in business administration from NYU and a master's degree in public administration from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He talks mostly about fiscal, not social issues, focusing heavily on the economy and the federal budget.

"If you're looking for a congressman focused on anything other than the economy, I'm not your guy," he said.

Carvin likes to explain how, as supervisor in Rye since 2007, he has reduced town spending by more than 25 percent while refusing to accept the supervisor's $17,000 annual salary. He has been pushing to dissolve the town's part-time government altogether, calling it a redundancy whose only useful functions could easily be taken over by the town's constituent communities. Last year, Carvin was re-elected to another four-year term as supervisor, winning 72 percent of the vote in the Democratic-leaning town.

Carvin opposes President Barack Obama's health care act, acknowledging a unique perspective on the law -- his brother, Michael Carvin, was the lead attorney in the Republican-led lawsuit to repeal the act. That effort failed in June, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the law constitutional. As a congressman, Carvin said, he would seek to replace the president's approach with an alternative plan.

Carvin lives in Rye with his wife, Roz, a nonpracticing attorney, and two daughters, Keira and Rhianna. His son, Michael, lives and works in Manhattan.

MAKING TIME FOR FAMILY, TOO

Lowey grew up in the shadow of Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and raised three children -- Dana, Jackie and Douglas -- in Queens. She now lives in a $2 million home in an affluent Harrison neighborhood with her husband of 51 years, Stephen, a White Plains attorney. She frequently puts aside the affairs of state to be with her eight grandchildren, she said.

"I always make some time for my grandchildren," Lowey told Newsday. "They are a big part of my life."

It mostly has been a life in government and public service. A 1959 graduate of Mount Holyoke College, she went to work for Mario Cuomo, father of the present governor, in the mid-1970s, when Cuomo was secretary of state in New York. She eventually became assistant secretary of state. Her work with Cuomo sold her on a life of public service.

"My whole life has been devoted to helping people," she said. "I'm the kind of person who sees something wrong and tries to do something about it. That's something my mother taught me."

Ask her to list her accomplishments and Lowey mentions her pushes for a national driving-while-intoxicated blood-alcohol limit of .08 and warning labels about food allegories.

"It's very gratifying, because it saves lives," she said.

As the ranking Democrat on the appropriations, state and foreign operations subcommittee, Lowey has secured millions of dollars in federal funds for road repairs, medical research and infrastructure projects across Westchester County.

In the past six months alone, she has announced a $452,500 federal grant to the Burke Medical Research Institute for brain repair research, a $4.375 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help Bronxville address flooding and $875,000 in federal grants for anti-substance abuse initiatives.

Lowey is one of the wealthiest congressional lawmakers in the nation, according to the Hill newspaper, which placed her at No. 22 in its annual "50 wealthiest lawmakers" list with an estimated net worth of $14.3 million. Her husband, Stephen, brings home a sizable share of the couple's income as a partner in the law firm Lowey, Dannenberg, Cohen & Hart.

Carvin's campaign has tried to make Lowey's personal wealth an issue and has called on her to "give back" her state pension; but he, too, is wealthy, with tens of millions of dollars in equity and investments he has built up during his career in the financial services industry.

Early in the race, Carvin loaned his campaign $1 million in personal funds. He has raised only about $230,000, compared with Lowey's $1.6 million. Carvin called on Lowey to cap spending at $500,000. So far, she has spent $1.7 million this election cycle.

MORGANTHALER WARNS ON SECURITY

A second challenge to Lowey comes from Frank Morganthaler, 64, a retired FDNY lieutenant and Marine corporal who fought in the Vietnam War. Morganthaler lives in Hawthorne with his wife and daughter and works a private investigator and emergency management consultant in New York City.

A former campaign manager for Jim Russell -- Russell ran against Lowey in the 2010 election and lost to Carvin in the June 26 GOP primary -- Morganthaler has been critical of both Lowey and Carvin, as well as President Barack Obama's policies. Political observers say his congressional bid poses no real threat to Lowey but likely will siphon away conservative Republican votes from Carvin.

"Our freedoms are at risk, our economy is in turmoil and our security has been compromised. We must unite and make America strong again," Morganthaler wrote on his campaign website, which is festooned with U.S. flags. "Together, we will protect our constitutional freedoms, rejuvenate our economy, and reinforce national security."

SHARP DIFFERENCES OVER ENTITLEMENT PROGRAMS

The three candidates have clashed publicly at debates and candidate forums across the Hudson Valley, primarily over differences of opinion about Obama's health care act, which includes reductions in Medicare spending of $700 billion over 10 years, and over proposed cuts to the federal budget put forward by vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

At a forum Sunday at the Jewish Community Center Rockland in West Nyack, Carvin blasted Lowey for supporting Obama's health care law and opposing cuts to entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

"Over the past 24 years, she's put on us a reckless path of spending that destroys jobs and puts our nation at risk," Carvin told 100 mostly older voters who attended. "She has made promises to seniors that she cannot possibly keep."

Lowey then took the microphone and criticized Carvin for calling Ryan his "hero" in previous campaign statements.

"My opponents want to turn Medicare into a voucher system," she said. "They just want to cut, cut, cut."

Morganthaler blamed both candidates -- and Obama -- for the country's mounting fiscal problems and said he would repeal "Obamacare" if elected.

Where they stand on the issues:

• National deficit

Lowey pointed out that she voted for federal spending cuts and supports pay-as-you-go budget rules to restore fiscal sanity in Washington and reduce the federal budget deficit. She opposes deep cuts to entitlement programs proposed and further tax breaks for the wealthy. She suggests that Republican proposals to reduce the federal budget deficit would "eviscerate" educational and environmental funding.

Carvin wants to reduce spending for farm subsidies and entitlement programs. He also wants to improve the federal government's accounting, which he argues has hidden unfunded mandates for Social Security and Medicare spending.

Morganthaler has said he wants to control spending to reduce the national debt.

• Job creation and the economy

Lowey said she has fought successfully for tax credits that help small businesses expand and bring on new workers.

Carvin says he wants to focus on removing barriers to economic growth by loosening regulations and lowering the tax burden on small-business owners.

Morganthaler wants to repeal regulations that restrict the growth of private-sector businesses and expand oil drilling in offshore locations.

• Indian Point nuclear plant

Carvin wants to keep the plant open. He argued that move will save local jobs, help local businesses and protect the environment.

Lowey wants the plant to be relocated, calling it a safety hazard because of its proximity to heavily populated areas.

Morganthaler said he also supports keeping the facility open to preserve jobs and domestic energy production.

• Social issues

Carvin is moderate on social issues. He opposes same-sex marriage and federal funding for late-term abortions but considers himself a supporter of abortion rights. He supports requiring parental consent before teens can get abortions.

Lowey is liberal on social issues. She supports federal funding for reproductive services and same-sex marriage.

Morganthaler said he is anti-abortion and supports traditional marriage.

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