The mood in Washington and abroad is hopeful after the first 100 days of the Obama administration, U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D−Bayside) said in an extended interview with TimesLedger Newspapers.
The 12−term congressman, who represents a large swatch of northeast Queens and part of Long Island, said morale has greatly improved in the nation’s capital since the junior Illinois senator became the 43rd president in January.
“There is a trust there,” he said, regarding the new president’s reputation with Congress and the public. But he added that it was crucial for Obama to further the administration’s agenda while the goodwill lasts. “Of course, people are impatient. You get what you want and you realize it wasn’t quite what you wanted.”
Ackerman added that the Republican Party has “sullied its brand” through decisions it made during the Bush administration and, consequently, the GOP lost many of its more moderate representatives in crucial swing districts during the 2008 election.
“The only strategy they have, because they can’t change anybody’s mind to their position ... is they try to block things [in Congress],” he said in a wide−ranging discussion at the newspaper’s offices late last month.
But he also emphasized the need for bipartisanship at a time when the Democrats have nearly enough power by default to steamroll legislation through both houses.
“The world changes and the situation changes,” he said. “And if there’s any time you should cut a deal, it’s not when you’re the needy party, but cut it when you’re at the strength and the height of your game. You’ll get a good deal and you’ll be magnanimous because you want to cut it.”
The Democrats’ rise is not due only to Obama’s momentum, Ackerman said, but also to the party’s strategy of courting candidates in swing states that were more conservative than what the traditional makeup of the party.
“Democrats from Southern states or conservative parts of the country who wouldn’t vote with us on fiscal matters, who wouldn’t vote with us on taxes ... would still vote for Nancy Pelosi if she were running for speaker, which is the only vote that counts,” Ackerman said. “You figure that out, and you say, ‘We’re really a big tent.’ The Republicans couldn’t figure that out because they had their litmus tests.”
Ackerman, who occupies the 5th Congressional District seat, is chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia and vice chairman of the Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance, and Government−Sponsored Enterprises
He said there was no political motivation behind his opposition to the location of a marine waste transfer station in College Point directly opposite the runway at LaGuardia Airport.
“This is the ideal site for a politician to have this place,” he said. “I haven’t got one call at my office by somebody living near there who says, ‘I don’t want it,’ because there’s nobody living there.”
But the facility, which some fear will attract seagulls and other birds into the direct flight path of aircraft taking off and landing from LaGuardia, is a safety hazard, Ackerman said. USAir flight 1549 crashed in the Hudson River after birds struck its engines shortly after it took off from LaGuardia.
The proposed site of the waste station currently sits outside the runway safety zone, but the airport is working on installing aircraft guidance systems that will change air traffic patterns, Ackerman said.
“Planes are going to be able to take off at a lower angle and the runway protection zone ... is going to be containing that garbage plant next year,” he said. “If you know it’s going to happen, why are you approving it?”
The congressman also expressed some remorse over his grilling of American International Group CEO Edward Liddy during congressional hearings on the company paying $165 million in bonuses to its employees after accepting $200 billion in federal bailout funds.
Liddy, who had been appointed by the government to helm the faltering insurance giant without taking a salary, asked the recipients to give at least half the money back.
“It’s really unfair because he’s really heroic ... and a great citizen to try to do this,” Ackerman said. “There is zero upside for him. But the other guys who worked for General Motors and the other auto companies saying they’re getting a dollar a year? If last year and the year before and the year before, I made $20 million a year ... I’m averaging $15 million a year for the last four years.”
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at jewalsh@cn
©2009 Community News Group
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