NY-22 Minute: Former Congressman Michael Arcuri Discusses House Campaigns, Then and Now By Luke Perry
“New York state is serving as a key litmus test for the House this year,” wrote Maggie Haberman in 2010. Republicans were trying to retake seats in portions of the state that looked more like the rest of the country than New York City. The Democrats had extended their Congressional majority statewide to near total dominance after retaking the House in the 2006 wave election. This wave helped elect Michael Arcuri in NY-24 (redistricted into the NY-22 in 2012), the first Democrat to hold the seat in decades. Arcuri was reelected in 2008, then lost in 2010 as the Republicans reclaimed the House in a landslide victory of their own.
Nearly a decade later, Democrats still seek to rebound from the 2010 midterm and recreate the 2006 wave. I recently interviewed Michael Arcuri to get his view on the current electoral situation and will share insights from that conversation in two segments. This first segment will focus on lessons winning and losing in NY-24.
“Congressional races have turned national,” Arcuri began, “they are not about you. Opponents make them about the leaders of your party.” The resulting electoral dynamic becomes who is in power and what party can nationalize issues that people feel strongly about.
Arcuri made his 2006 campaign about the Iraq War, which his opponent Raymond Meier, was left trying to defend. “People were ready for change,” Arcuri explained, six years into the Bush administration. Arcuri was reelected in 2008 as Congressional Democrats benefited from Barack Obama’s sizeable victory over John McCain.
“I thought history wouldn’t happen to me,” Arcuri stated, “but that’s what it did in 2010.” Controversial votes can be difficult to overcome. Arcuri compared his situation to House Democrats from central New York who faced backlash for New Deal policies, even while Franklin Roosevelt was reelected by large margins.
For example, Arcuri recalled Henry Paulson, President Bush’s Treasury Secretary, “begging us to bail out the banks.” Arcuri was conflicted, but consultations with family members who lived through the Great Depression helped persuade him that this must be avoided. “They (Republicans) wanted us (Democrats) to bail them out,” Arcuri explained, “then they threw it into our face.”
Arcuri and the Democrats had to take a lot of controversial votes that he believes created electoral challenges. Republicans successfully mobilized around The Affordable Care Act, which Arcuri did not vote for. Arcuri contends that both Claudia Tenney and Anthony Brindisi have a record, but “Brindisi is harder to hit” because he has not been involved in as many controversial votes.
Arcuri referenced Representative Tenney’s vote for The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which divided New York’s GOP House delegation. Arcuri said the tax bill is “devastating for New Yorkers.” He believes as a member of Congress one has to “vote based on who you represent,” even if the representative may personally like a bill.
This is not always easy, which Arcuri knows from experience. Arcuri explained how he could not vote for a cap and trade bill supported by Democrats (The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009), who controlled Congress and the presidency at the time. He was personally supportive of the proposal, but it was devastating for New York because the state would not have gotten credit for the large amount of clean energy it was already producing.
Arcuri believes that “Trump helps Democrats” and “Claudia plays right into that.” At the same time, he still thinks Trump is “kind of popular” and is a strong marketer. “The sad thing,” according to Arcuri, “is that it’s not about what you do, but what you say you do.”
The second segment will focus on Michael Arcuri’s insights regarding paths to victory in NY-22.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College.
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