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Mission control

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and her

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and her family at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. Credit: Newsday/Rita Ciolli

Daily Point

Pelosi on cruise control

A noticeable absence from the celebrations of Nancy Pelosi’s return to power and the dynamism of the new freshman class of women sworn in Thursday in the House was that of Kathleen Rice. That only fueled the speculation on Capitol Hill about Rice’s future.

Several prominent Democrats who attended the multiple receptions ahead of the speaker’s vote said they would support primary challengers to the Garden City Democrat solely because of her opposition to Pelosi. Others wondered how effective Rice would be in advancing causes or issues because she is on the outs with Democratic leaders and has no clear path out of the lonely cul de sac she has backed herself into.

Rice, whose popularity nonetheless remains high in her district, kept a low profile Thursday. She sat quietly in the chamber, on her cell phone, while the new majority Democrats celebrated their majority. Rice was one of the few in the party not to vote for Pelosi, instead softly casting her vote for Democrat Stacey Abrams, who lost the race for Georgia governor in November and whom Rice doesn't know.

Rice said she doesn't regret taking the long view about the need for new and younger leadership, and said she welcomes any primary challenge. “Bring it on,” she said, citing her popularity in her district.

Rice said there was little Pelosi could do to retaliate against her, acknowledging that she would not get any change in committee assignments. But she also said there were issues like healthcare, guns and immigration that she could support Pelosi on.

While Californians ruled the day, New Yorkers were not far behind. Hakeem Jeffries, who put Pelosi’s name in nomination, was wildly cheered when he reffed Pelosi’s initials and said, “down with NDP,” earning a thumbs-up from Sen. Chuck Schumer, who appeared on the House floor to congratulate Pelosi. Jeffries, smiling broadly, said later that he was “delighted with the response” from his colleagues.

Also savoring the moment was former Rep. Steve Israel, who remains close to Pelosi, as well as New York’s Jerry Nader, Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey, who will hold important committee chairmanships. Tom Suozzi had a big greeting for Pelosi, with whom he made a deal to get his vote.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents Queens and the Bronx, was measured in her debut –  in contrast to the way her brilliant white pant suit stood out among the many red and blue outfits and suits. Still, she clearly enjoyed the spectacle. At one point, AOC got up to offer her seat to veteran Rep. John Lewis, who during the vote chose to stand in the aisle. He declined, but it was a respectful and smart gesture for a rookie on her first day.

But Rice remained as removed from the love fest as did Pete King and Lee Zeldin, who sat quietly in their seats in the GOP-minority wilderness on the other side of the House floor.

Rita Ciolli

Talking Point

The Young Turks

While some in Washington speculated about Rice's future, some local progressives are lobbying renewed attacks against Rice, who opposed Nancy Pelosi’s successful campaign for House speaker.

The Young Progressives of Nassau County are even attempting to draft a primary challenger against the Garden City Democrat: Nassau County Legis. Siela Bynoe.

“We believe she is one of the most progressive elected officials in Nassau County and has an excellent record in the Legislature,” Deana Davoudiasl of the Young Progressives writes in an email to The Point.

Davoudiasl praised Bynoe’s background and her experience running the Huntington Housing Authority. “We believe a progressive person of color who has a record of fighting for working families should lead this district in Congress.”

The group has launched a fundraising effort on Donors’ cards will only be charged if Bynoe runs for the congressional seat, according to the site.

Bynoe says she hasn’t spoken to the Young Progressives about their draft. “I’m learning like you are,” she told The Point on Thursday. “Right now I’m focused on serving the constituents of Legislative District 2.”

The Young Progressives hope that changes. As of early Thursday afternoon, there were more than $1,000 in pledges. And the group points to an online survey of 300 likely Democratic primary voters in the 4th CD done by Slingshot Strategies and commissioned by Data for Progress, whose co-founder Sean McElwee has used polling data to highlight and advance progressive causes.

The late December survey, which Slingshot says allows respondents to answer only once and was weighted to be representative of likely Democratic primary voters, found Rice with a 70 percent favorability rating. Fifty-three percent of respondents said they’re likely to vote for her in the 2020 primary. Twenty-one percent said they were likely to vote for a different Democrat, and 26 percent said they weren’t sure.

But the likely numbers dropped after questions that indicated a lack of support from Rice for issues like a Green New Deal.

In a statement, Rice expressed support for elements of what is proposed as a Green New Deal, including federal investment in energy-efficient infrastructure projects and training for green energy jobs: “I look forward to reviewing the policy proposals and legislation that the incoming Democratic majority introduces, including a potential Green New Deal bill . . . In my view, there is no plan too bold or too ambitious.”

As for Pelosi and a primary challenger, Rice said she promised voters to stand up to her own party when necessary. “But I would gladly put up my progressive record against any potential challenger in 2020.”

Mark Chiusano

Pencil Point


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Reference Point

Old Congress new, again?

With the 116th Congress convening Thursday in Washington, we trolled through Newsday’s archives to a similarly auspicious occasion 70 years ago — the beginning of the 81st Congress, on Jan. 3, 1949.

On that day, the editorial board unleashed its “Curious Cameraman” to ask Long Islanders what legislation they wanted Congress to tackle first.

Not surprisingly, finances seemed to be top of mind.

Nick Grande of Rockville Centre urged Congress to cut taxes first, and institute a national lottery to make up the difference. Bob Cooper, a cesspool contractor from North Merrick, wanted to “raise the old age pension,” presumably a reference to Social Security.

“The old people need help and I think we should give it to them,” Cooper said. “I think Congress should do something about the high cost of living.”

Similarly, Huntington Station tavern proprietor Dominick Fusaro urged Congress to lower the age limit to collect Social Security and increase the payout. “Sixty-five years old is too long to wait to retire,” said Fusaro, who probably was not happy that the age eligibility moved in the other direction.

And, yes, there also was a touch of “America First” in the responses.

Waitress Dorothy Schulz of Islip Manor proposed a cutback or elimination of the lend-lease program, a World War II creation that allowed the president to give military aid to countries whose defense was considered vital to U.S. security. Schulz, presaging our current president, said, “I don’t think the people on the other side appreciate the handouts they are getting from us.”

Cooper echoed that sentiment: “Instead of spending so much money in Europe, we should be taking care of our own first.”

The more things change ...

Michael Dobie

Bonus Point

A second chance for the L train?

Another New Year, another chance for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to save the day for commuters on the NYC subway system. This time, it’s the L train and its hundreds of thousands of riders who may benefit from his superpowers.

Saying he wanted to focus on “highly impactful” issues, Cuomo unveiled a plan Thursday that would avoid shutting the L train tunnel between Manhattan and Brooklyn for 15 months, as had been planned. The tunnel requires significant repairs and upgrades after it was damaged during superstorm Sandy. But the plan would allow L train service to continue while repairs are done.

Cuomo’s sudden interest in the L train is reminiscent of the last months of the Second Avenue Subway construction, when he pushed to get the project done, and was there for its grand opening on New Year’s Day 2017.

But don’t be mistaken. Even as he introduced his plan, Cuomo made one thing clear: “No. I am not in charge of the MTA.”  

Or, maybe he’s just in charge when he can be “highly impactful.”

Randi F. Marshall