Congressman Pete King at the Library of Congress in Washington...

Congressman Pete King at the Library of Congress in Washington DC on March 13, 2018. Credit: PA Wire/PA Images/Niall Carson

Over much of his nearly 30 years in Congress, Peter King was the spitting image of a popular vision of suburbia. 

The son of Irish immigrants who grew up in Sunnyside, Queens, is retiring next year. He was part of a generation of often blue-collar families who dreamt of gaining a piece of land and life outside of New York City. In 1992, the then-Nassau County comptroller beat a wealthy New York City Democrat he accused of carpetbagging. Said King that election night, "It's a rejection of out-of-town bosses and liberal money." 

King's father worked for the NYPD, and the son reminisces about unloading trucks during college. He had an iconoclastic streak familiar to families that argue around kitchen tables, as when he supported radical factions of the Irish independence movement and voted against the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.

King’s best moments in Washington were often when he stood up for residents of his district in need. He fought against his Republican Party to help guarantee medical benefits for 9/11 first responders, and he was on the right side of history pushing for relief after superstorm Sandy. He has been a vocal supporter of law enforcement and opposed the disastrous Republican tax bill of 2017.

These common-sense positions, a keen street-fighting political sense and some appetite for bipartisanship buoyed him in Congress. King flirted with runs for U.S. Senate and the presidency but never made the leap, instead becoming a respected delegation member and a long-standing voice for his Long Island community.

But the suburbs are now more than the Irish- and Italian-American enclaves that launched King’s career. Over time, King’s district has been redrawn away from his Nassau County power base as the face of this suburb changed to become more Democratic and diverse. It was that portion of suburbia that King too often failed.

His attitude toward Muslims since 9/11 has been a dark mark on his time in office. He helped raise fears about the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero and presided over much-criticized House Homeland Security Committee hearings about Muslim radicalization in 2011. Often his remarks about Muslims were inflammatory or hardly based in fact, including the idea that the majority of mosques were run by extremists. King supported President Donald Trump’s travel ban, which disproportionately affected Muslim countries.

He has shown no appetite to bridge the divide between communities and law enforcement, a role he might have very credibly played. 

King also has tried to have it both ways with Trump. Though he has been less of a defender than neighboring Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin, he has indicated already that he plans to vote against impeachment without hearing the evidence and tends to keep his criticisms quiet if they come at all.

King has more than a year left in office, and his long service to Long Island deserves much recognition. It would be a crowning achievement if he uses his remaining time in Washington to embrace his more maverick tendencies. The country needs leaders who will make the hard choices and not leave any of their constituents behind. — The editorial board