Earlier this month I had the privilege of speaking at the ceremonial swearing-in of newly elected U.S. Rep. Anthony D’Esposito. Sitting on the stage that evening, I thought back to when I was first sworn in 30 years ago, and how different this night was from that one, and how different the world had become.
This ceremonial event was held at the Nassau County police training center, in East Garden City, instead of in Washington, D.C., and the oath was administered by former Senator Al D’Amato instead of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. D’Esposito had been officially sworn in by McCarthy the week before, but that was at 2 a.m. on Jan. 7, following over four days and 15 ballots of voting in the most acrimonious contest for speaker since the 1850s, the decade preceding the Civil War. During my 28 years in Congress, I cast 14 ballots for speaker — one every two years. D’Esposito exceeded that total in his very first week in Congress!
This rancor and chaos is a sign of what Congress has become, and what D’Esposito must work through. Don’t get me wrong — Congress wasn’t all peace, love and harmony when I was elected. Soon-to-be House Speaker Newt Gingrich and President Bill Clinton were firing political rockets at each other, and fiery cable news shows were emerging. But there wasn’t this level of intra-party disunity.
Nonetheless, D’Esposito’s situation isn’t entirely different from what I faced. We have several things in common. We both won close, hard-fought races. I won by 8,000 votes, a margin of 3 percent; D’Esposito by 10,000, or 3.9 percent. The bulk of my district was in the Town of Hempstead and Long Beach. D’Esposito’s district is entirely within those boundaries. And the challenges he will confront are similar to what I faced during my latter 20 years in Congress: preventing another Sept. 11, and fighting to get New York and Long Island their fair share of revenue. Fortunately, D’Esposito’s committee assignments — Homeland Security and Transportation & Infrastructure — position him well for the struggles ahead.
The Homeland Security Committee was created in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 to coordinate federal, state and local counterterrorism efforts, and to provide necessary funding to areas at highest risk. Every threat analysis showed the New York City-Long Island region as the highest-ranked terrorist target in the country. Yet we had to fight off other states, which had zero threat levels, for every penny. As a former New York City police detective and Island Park fire chief, D’Esposito has the credentials and the gravitas to win those funding fights, and also to ensure that the committee’s legitimate concern about border control and illegal immigration doesn’t distract attention from the still very serious terrorist threat.