The nine Democrats seeking re-election each won their 2010 congressional bids by claiming 70 percent or more of the vote, and even Charles Rangel, the 21-term veteran who faced a tough primary in June, is a shoo-in for the general election.
Meanwhile, GOP freshman Rep. Michael Grimm's race against Democratic challenger Mark Murphy is more competitive than other Houses contests in the city; but Grimm has far outraised his opponent, and a Siena poll last month gave him a ten-point lead over Murphy.
While a seat in New York City's congressional delegation may remain one of the safest jobs around, it's also a role that has changed significantly in the last two years. The Democrats are back in the minority, unable to advance or alter legislation. And starting in the session that began in 2011, all members of Congress have lost a powerful tool: earmarks for millions of dollars in funds they once steered to their district.
Grimm, while a member of the majority party in the House, is in his first term, which means he lacks seniority that could give him sway among hundreds of fellow members.
Races elsewhere in New York State could help decide who controls Congress in the next session, and if Democrats retake command it would reboot New York City's power in Washington. But in the meantime, how is a voter supposed to weigh options at the polls?
New York City's congressional delegation may have lost its most potent powers, but members still have a few ways of making their influence felt, in the city and in Washington. Here's how members running for reelection have wielded them in the last two years and—though they're not running against one another—which members have performed best and worst in each category.
Show Me the Money
WINNERS — Reps. Crowley, Maloney, and Velazquez
LOSERS — Reps. Meeks and Clarke
The Democrats may be the minority party in the House this term, but Democratic members of New York's delegation are working hard to change that. "The first thing that matters to a minority party is to not be a minority anymore," said Matthew Green, an associate professor of politics at the Catholic University of America who has studied the role of minority parties in the House. "A trend among party leaders in the minority is trying to get everyone in the party to participate in that process of helping the party win a majority in the next election."
The city's nine incumbent Democrats who are seeking re-election have raised just over $1 million for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), which has received almost $130 million in contributions this election cycle. Some, like Rep. Gregory Meeks and Rep. Yvette Clarke, did not contribute to the DCCC (Clarke told The New York World that she intends to make a donation to the committee this election cycle). But most of the city's Democratic representatives have already donated, and the bulk of the money came from Reps. Joseph Crowley, Nydia Velazquez and Carolyn Maloney, each of who contributed more than $200,000. The seniority of New York City Democrats makes them important fundraisers for the committee; the DCCC can then use the funds to help candidates nationally.
New York's incumbent Democratic candidates are also donating directly to other House races. For example, Crowley has contributed more than $170,000 to candidates running in at least 30 states. The delegation's Democrats have also contributed to candidates within New York State who are running in much tighter races, including Tim Bishop, Kathy Hochul, Louise Slaughter and Bill Owens — Democratic incumbents facing fierce opposition. Each received a total of $8,000 or more from the city's incumbent candidates, and in some cases additional money from their leadership PACs. Murphy also received about $14,500 from the city's incumbent Democratic candidates and their leadership PACs. But this has done little to close the gap between Murphy, who has raised almost $700,000, and Grimm, who has pulled in just over $2 million.
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The Bully Pulpit
WINNERS — Reps. Maloney, Crowley, and Clarke
The minority party has two jobs: to raise money and raise hell. The city's Democrats have found a few opportunities to do the latter this term.
In February, Maloney helped fuel a political controversy about contraception during a hearing on a federal requirement that all employers cover the cost of birth control, when she asked a panel of male religious leaders, "Where are the women?"
Democrats had wanted female Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke to testify at the hearing, a request that House Republicans denied. The ensuing controversy helped keep the issue of contraception in the media for weeks, giving Maloney an opportunity to speak about the issue repeatedly.
Maloney is not the only member of the city's delegation with the ability to command the media's attention. Last year, Crowley gave a "silent speech" on the house floor to protest what he saw as the GOP's failure to pass a jobs bill. The congressman pulled sheets of paper off an easel claiming that the GOP's failure to prioritize jobs left him "speechless." Politico likened the performance to Bob Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues video.
Congressmen may spend a lot of time in Washington, but that does not keep them from making their voices heard on local issues. Yvette Clarke, whose Brooklyn district includes parts of Crown Heights, Brownsville, Flatbush and Park Slope, has repeatedly criticized the city's stop-and-frisk policing practices. In July, she wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, asking the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene in two court cases and to investigate the NYPD's policing, a request that is now under review at the agency. The letter was also signed by other members of Congress, including New York City's Maloney, Velazquez, Rep. Charles Rangel and Rep. Jose Serrano.