Peter King

From a House committee room to the Valbrook Diner


Last week I was at two events that, in very different ways, encapsulated significant aspects of my life. The first was in Washington, where I was invited to testify before the House Intelligence Committee, along with four other retired members of Congress — two Republicans, Frank LoBiondo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and two Democrats, Jane Harman and Jim Langevin, who had also served on the committee. Except for a few fleeting hours in February, this was my first time back in Washington since late December 2020, just days before my retirement.
The chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Republican Mike Turner, and the ranking member, Democrat Jim Himes, wanted our perspective on what the committee’s current focus should be, and on the need to restore bipartisanship, which has been sorely lacking over the past six years. In my testimony, I stressed the necessity of not losing sight of the continuing threat of Islamist terrorism. None of us wants to experience another 9/11, and the terrorists are in many ways as lethal as they were on Sept. 10, 2001.
I also joined my former colleagues in strongly urging bipartisanship. The committee is a vital component of our national security, and should not be politicized.
Besides testifying, I met with Long Island Representatives Andrew Garbarino, Anthony D’Esposito and Nick LaLota and joined Speaker Kevin McCarthy at a meeting in his office with elected officials from Northern Ireland. I also ran into various congressmen, Capitol Police officers and reporters I knew from my days on the Hill. And I went to my old haunt, the Dubliner, to have dinner with staff members from my office and the Homeland Security Committee.
Being back in the halls of Congress with current and former members brought back 28 years of memories encompassing victories, tough losses and challenges as well as meetings with presidents and world leaders. While I made the decision to retire from Congress and turn the page, I never regret even a day that I was fortunate to be there. Those were almost three decades of unparalleled moments that I had never imagined I would experience.

Back on Long Island two days later, I relived different, but equally meaningful memories. Several times a year, Tom Dewey, my Brooklyn Prep classmate and a Fordham Hall of Fame track coach, organizes a get-together of a group of guys I hung out with during my high school years, just blocks from fabled Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. Meeting at the Valbrook Diner in Valley Stream with Tom, Charlie, Allen, Johnny and Jackie is like going back in time.
For better or worse, no one has changed. There’s the same banter, sarcasm and stories, with no one allowed to take himself seriously. In the past few years, we’ve been joined by retired Nassau County Police Department Detectives Jim Skopek and Melissa Zimmerman, who were on my security detail when I was in Congress and fit right in. Before his days as a Nassau cop, Skopek was an NYPD officer patrolling the Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, neighborhood where these guys grew up.
Zimmerman’s classic moment last week was when she asked my old friends what they thought of my recent successful cancer surgery, and she was met with blank looks, grunts and smirks. Not a hint of sympathy or concern.
Behind all this tough-guy talk, though, there is genuine friendship and loyalty, as well as a real knowledge of life and reality. These guys have all done well, but never brag about it. I’m not one of those guys who say the good old days were perfect or so much better. But during these diner reunions, I’m struck by the true authenticity of these guys — an authenticity I sense is diminishing in today’s world.
During my years in Congress and politics, I was known for not backing down or caring about what was said about me. This thick skin — or thick-headedness — was in many ways attributable to the street smarts I learned from these old friends. It’s reassuring to see nothing has changed.
All this interconnection of experiences came together for me again during those few days last week. Thanks for the memories.

Peter King is a former congressman, and a former chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security.