A crowd of many dozens were on hand in Tribeca on January 19 to meet and support Matt Alexander, the openly gay mayor of upstate Wappingers Falls, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge incumbent Republican Congresswoman Nan Hayworth in the November election.
Alexander was hosted by Wickham Boyle and Zachary Minor in their North Moore Street apartment, and the congressional hopeful was joined at the fundraiser by two Democratic House veterans –– East Side Representative Carolyn Maloney and Barney Frank, the out gay Massachusetts representative who recently announced his retirement after 16 terms.
Noting the swing nature of New York's 19th congressional district that Hayworth represents, Frank said the November contest “will be one of the most watched races of the year. If Matt doesn’t win, we won’t retake the House.”
Democrats need a pickup of 25 seats to regain the majority they lost in the 2010 elections. John Hall, a two-term incumbent Democrat, lost to Hayworth that year by a five-percentage point margin. Hall was first elected in 2006 by ousting six-term Republican Sue Kelly in a tighter race, but he won his first reelection race, in 2008, by a wide margin.
Alexander, an Alabama native who grew up in upstate Orange County, is a graduate of Notre Dame University and was a certified public accountant, with experience auditing the financial services industry, prior to entering politics. The 45-year-old is currently serving his third term as mayor of Wappingers Falls, a municipality of 5,000 in Dutchess County, just east of the Hudson River.
An avid conservationist, Alexander told the crowd at the fundraiser that, as mayor, he clashed with Hayworth over watershed regulation, among many issues.
He recalled that in his first meeting with Hayworth after her election, she said, regarding the scope of the federal government’s responsibilities, “We’re only here for interstate highways and national defense.” When Alexander raised his concerns about the Hudson watershed and pollution in Wappinger Lake, which borders his municipality, Hayworth, he said, responded by saying regulation was stifling business in the area.
“Sue Kelly was not the monster this woman is,” Alexander said.
Maloney agreed with Frank about the importance of Alexander’s challenge to Hayworth, saying the 19th congressional district race was one of the 25 Democrats needed to win.
If Hayworth has a conservative vision about the role government should play, she has steered a more moderate course on LGBT rights. The Human Rights Campaign, which issues report cards on Congress ever two years, has not yet compiled its report on the 2011-2012 session, but in June of last year the group lauded Hayworth for being one of four House members –– two Democrats and two Republicans –– who introduced the Tax Parity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act, which would end taxation of employer-provided domestic partner health insurance of the type exempt if provided to a different-sex spouse.
The Lower Hudson Valley Journal-News reported that in a Republican primary debate in 2010, Hayworth was vague about her position on marriage equality, saying simply, “I will not seek to force a definition of marriage on the states.” She has not, however, signed on to fellow New Yorker Jerrold Nadler's bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal recognition of legal same-sex marriages, such as those now available in the Empire State. Florida's Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is the only Republican to have done so.
Pointing to her sponsorship of the tax parity legislation, the Log Cabin Republicans honored her at their September 2011 Spirit of Lincoln Awards Dinner in Washington. Hayworth also appeared that month at a celebration of the official end of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy hosted by Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a leading repeal advocacy group. Though Hayworth took office after repeal legislation was enacted, she was one of nine House Republicans who voted against the effort to bar service chaplains from receiving training about the policy's elimination. Conservatives objected to military guidelines that said they could officiate at same-sex partnership ceremonies and weddings.
Alexander may face two Democratic opponents in the primary election –– cardiologist Rich Becker, who has been on the Town Board in Cortlandt, a Westchester community of roughly 42,000, since 2007, and Tom Wilson, the mayor of Tuxedo Park, an Orange County community with just over 700 residents.
New York is losing two House seats in the wake of the 2010 census, but the new district lines have not yet been drawn, nor has the primary election been scheduled.