With his victory in hand, Mike Lawler pledges to work in bipartisan fashion in Congress

November 9, 2022

The Journal News

By David McKay Wilson

Congressman-elect Mike Lawler declared victory Wednesday afternoon in front of the Rockland County Courthouse, vowing to work across party lines, oppose politically motivated Congressional investigations, and deliver for the families of Rockland.

He did so just two hours after Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-Cold Spring, the embattled chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, conceded to Lawler, ending a decade representing the Hudson Valley in Congress.

Lawler, R-Pearl River, made his remarks, surrounded by Rockland, Westchester and Putnam County Republican leaders, members of the Orthodox Jewish community, Rockland supporters, and representatives of police unions whose support the Pearl River state assemblyman had courted.

He thanked Maloney for his service, and reprised his stump speech, which touched on public safety, parents’ rights, illegal immigration and the state of New York’s much-maligned bail reform policies. He also noted a bipartisan approach is essential in the 17th District, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 70,000 voters.

“I can assure everyone that I will do the best to represent all of the people from every community, from every walk of life, whether you voted for me or not and whether or not you agree with my politics,” Lawler said. “I will do my level best to fight for your family, fight for your children, to make sure your voices are heard.”

He will take office as national Republicans, depending on how several closely contested races turn out, could take control of the House of Representatives. Several Republicans have already announced their intentions to commence investigation of Hunter Biden, impeach President Biden, or launch an inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state.

Lawler, who has a quick political wit, noted he will, in fact, become Hillary Clinton’s representative in Congress, as the Clintons’ home in Chappaqua lies within the 17th Congressional District.

“I am not looking to immediately commence investigations,” he said. “At the end of the day, if there are incidents or information that warrants oversight, of course that is a role of the House of Representatives and it should be utilized. But we’ve seen what happens with these partisan food fights. I don’t think it necessarily serves the country well.”

Lawler made his comments after Maloney had called Lawler Wednesday morning, pledging to cooperate with the Rockland Republican during the transition while insisting it’s too early to say that Democrats will lose their U.S. House majority.

“My opponent won this race, and he won it fair and square,” said Maloney, speaking on Zoom from the DCCC headquarters in Washington, D.C. “That means something. So I’m going to step aside. I’ve had a good run, and I have an incredible husband who has been with me for 30 years, including right now. And we have three great kids and we have been blessed beyond anything I could imagine for this young man.”

Maloney, who served five terms, said he wasn’t going to “whine” about his defeat.

“I’m going to do this the right way,” he said. “And the right thing to do is to say that the other guy won, and to wish him well.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi lauded Maloney for his representation in Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess and Orange counties.

“Over his decade in the House, Congressman Maloney has represented upstate New York families with distinction,” she said. “As a valued voice on the Intelligence Committee, he has helped strengthen our national security. On the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, he has been an outspoken advocate for the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. As a Member of the Agriculture Committee, he has been an unwavering ally of farmers in upstate New York and beyond.”

Maloney’s concession came after Lawler, New York Republicans, and big money from national political action committees made Maloney one of the GOP’s biggest targets nationally.

When the dust settled Wednesday morning, Lawler led by 3,250 votes, according to the state Board of Elections and county boards of election, with Lawler taking 50.5% of the vote, compared to 49.5% for Maloney.

Westchester Board of Elections Commissioner Doug Colety said only about 500 absentee ballots remained uncounted.

Lawler estimated as much as $20 million was spent on the race − by both campaigns and independent political action committees.

Maloney faced an onslaught of negative campaign ads, funded by more than $8 million from national Republican political action committees, and Lawler’s unrelenting focus on public safety and inflation. Though a deficit of more than 20,000 votes for Maloney trimmed overnight, he still trailed Lawler Wednesday morning, and there weren’t enough outstanding ballots to change the result.

Lawler climbed up the ranks

Lawler, 36, who runs a Rockland County political consulting firm, grew up in Suffern, and graduated from Suffern High. He served as an aide to Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, worked on Astorino’s campaigns, and later served as executive director of the New York State Republican Committee. He voted Tuesday with his wife, Doina, and infant daughter.

Lawler opted to run for Congress instead of seeking a second term in the state Assembly. He ran an aggressive campaign that tapped into voters’ concerns with inflation, rising energy prices, undocumented immigrants, and crime in New York City. He backed a proposed federal bill that would let crime victims sue New York state if they were injured by someone charged with a crime, and not required to post monetary bail.

Lawler, a former lobbyist for the natural gas industry, called on New York to open up fracking in the state and criticized President Joe Biden for using the nation’s strategic petroleum reserves to moderate the rise in gasoline prices at the pump.

He appeared on national cable television networks, with frequent interviews on FOX News to push his narrative that Maloney had failed to deliver for the 18th Congressional District.

He told FOX News Tuesday voters in the district should elect a Republican to provide a check on one-party rule, with Democrats now in control in Washington, D.C, Albany and New York City.

“They want balance and common sense restored to every level of government,” Lawler said.

He echoed the campaign rhetoric of Rep. Lee Zeldin in his failed battle against Gov. Kathy Hochul.

“We need to get crime under control,” said Lawler. “People don’t feel safe in New York because they are not safe. The Democrats have failed to do anything about it. They own this mess.”

On Wednesday, he vowed to push forward with a federal bill that would allow crime victims to sue the state of New York if they were injured by someone who had been charged with a crime but released before trial without having to post cash bail.

“If New York state does not take its responsibility seriously to protect its citizens, then I will use the full force of the federal government to force them to make change to their bail laws,” he said.

Big money flowing through race

Maloney, 56, has spent the last two years working to maintain the Democrats’ slim majority in the House of Representatives. On Election Night, Maloney was in Washington, D.C., overseeing the national results as the Democrats clung to hope they would retain their slim House majority in the midterms.

It was the region’s most expensive race, with Maloney spending about $5 million from his campaign and receiving more than $1 million from political action committees. Lawler, meanwhile, spent $1 million from his campaign committee, and received an estimated $8 million in support from GOP political action committees, which filled district mailboxes with a slew of negative mailings and targeted Maloney with tv ads as well.

Both Lawler and Maloney triumphed in August primaries before facing off in the November election. Maloney survived a challenge from a candidate from the political left in an August primary while Lawler romped in a five-candidate GOP field for the nomination.

Lawler wins northern areas

The district includes Rockland and Putnam counties, Westchester County north of I-287 and three towns in southern Dutchess County. The district includes a large community of Hasidic Jews, whose votes were courted by both candidates.

Lawler won the district’s three towns in Dutchess by 63% to 37% and all of Putnam, 59% to 41%. He won his home county of Rockland, 55% to 45%. Westchester went to Maloney by 58% to 42%.

The highest voter turnout came in Dutchess, at 59%, followed by Putnam and Westchester at 57% and Rockland at 52%.

Challenging term, race

Maloney, who was New York’s first gay Congressman, portrayed himself as a family man, with his husband, three young adult offspring, and his first grandchild on the way.

He championed his record during his fifth term, which unfolded during the COVID pandemic, with historic stimulus bills passed in large part by Congressional Democrats. There was the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion economic stimulus initiative to address the impact of the COVID pandemic; the $670 billion Inflation Reduction Act, with the nation’s biggest investment ever in efforts to combat climate change that also levied a minimum 15% income tax on corporate profits; and the bipartisan $550 billion Infrastructure and Jobs Act, which provided funding to repair our nation’s road and bridges, mass transit, as well as sewer and water systems.

While Lawler railed against the state’s bail reforms, Maloney spoke of delivering $7 million to local police departments and his support for a ban on assault weapons.

After casting his ballot with his husband Tuesday morning, Maloney said the infusion of outside money from the national Republicans changed the dynamic in the Hudson Valley election. He said the Congressional action on gun safety and prescription drug pricing earned him some deep-pocketed enemies.

“When you take on big drug companies and big gun companies and you take on the most powerful political interests in the country, you are going to get a lot of money into your race,” he said. “So what’s  different is that you’ve got $10 million coming into this race in dark MAGA money, and that’s made it harder, for sure.”

As for Lawler’s college friends and colleagues, they recall May 2009 valedictorian’s speech at Manhattan College in the Bronx, which has played out on the political stage, 13 years later. In that speech, he told his classmates running for public office “with conviction and integrity” was a way to live out the Lasallian ideals taught at the college.

“Let’s go make history!” he declared.

And with the election now decided, that’s exactly what he did.