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Maloney, Lawler Square Off in Closely Watched 17th Congressional Race

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Rep Sean Patrick Maloney left and Assemblyman Mike Lawler

New York’s 17th Congressional District race between Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-Cold Spring) and Assemblyman Mike Lawler (R-Pearl River) has become one of the most watched House of Representatives contests in the United States.

Maloney, a five-term incumbent is now running for a seat that represents the northern half of Westchester, all of Putnam and Rockland counties and a small portion of Dutchess County. He would no longer represent Orange County and cedes most of his constituency in Dutchess.

He is the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the reported $9 million that has been poured into this race by the Republican Party reflects the GOP’s growing confidence in taking back the House.

Lawler, who is completing his first term in the state Assembly after serving in former Westchester County Executive’s Rob Astorino’s administration, said he got into the race because runaway inflation and gas prices and rising crime in areas of the state are felt by everyone.

“The issues impact everybody, whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat or an independent. It doesn’t matter,” said Lawler, who easily dispatched four rivals in the August primary. “The cost of living is hurting families all across this district. You look at the surge in crime and the impact that that’s having, they don’t feel safe. They don’t feel safe going into New York City, they don’t feel safe going into their own communities.”

Maloney said Lawler and the Republican Party are trying to capitalize off of constituents’ fears rather than putting forth a plan to fix the nation’s problems. While crime is rising in areas of the state, that’s not’s what happening in the district, he said, where indexed crimes have declined in recent years.

In his current district, Maloney said he has brought back $7 million to assist local police departments and helped the House pass the Invest to Protect Act, which would appropriate $60 million to local police departments with less than 125 officers over five years. The first meaningful gun safety legislation was signed into law in 28 years.

He said Lawler is spreading “a lot of anger and hate and racially-tinged messaging and imaging.”

“We’ve got a plan to give you safer communities; he’s got a plan to win an election,” Maloney said. “I hope people will vote for candidates that want to fix the problem.”

He also said that while Lawler worked for Astorino, that administration reduced funding for the Westchester County police.

“So his record is cutting law enforcement; mine is for funding good policing,” Maloney said.

Lawler countered that bail reform in New York has been a disaster, leading to a 76 percent rise in index crimes – serious offences such as willful homicide, forcible rape, robbery, burglary, aggravated assault, larceny over $50, motor vehicle theft and arson – in New York City since cashless bail went into effect. Other locations such as Rochester have also seen disturbing spikes in crime, he said.

He said Democrats overreacted to the problem of extended incarceration at Rikers Island due to a severe backlog of cases in New York City’s courts, and decided it was okay to impose cashless bail.

“You deal with that, you don’t upend the entire system and release people who are committing violent offenses back on the street before the paperwork is even filed,” Lawler said.

He said unless the state enforces its laws and crime subsides, he would support the federal government stepping in and cutting off the state’s funding until the law is changed.

As crucial as public safety is, Lawler said the spiraling cost of living, including the price of gas, would be his top priority if elected. Reining in excessive spending, increasing domestic energy production and extraction of natural gas and addressing the limit on the state and local tax deduction are all steps that could help families cope with surging costs, he said.

“We’re losing people and businesses in record numbers and it’s because people can’t afford to live here, they can’t afford to run their businesses here, and so this is multipronged, and we have to get real about it,” Lawler said. “People are going to be suffering for quite a while.”

Earlier in the campaign, Maloney pledged to work to get inflation down to close to 2 percent. Toward that end, one of the most important pieces of legislation was the Inflation Reduction Act, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden in August. It will cap out-of-pocket Medicare costs at $2,000 a year.  Prescription drugs will be capped at $35.

“This is thousands of dollars for folks that are right now paying, and it’s not just the cap and out-of-pocket costs, we are finally going to take on the big drug companies and negotiate prices in the Medicare program and that’s a big deal,” Maloney said.

Meanwhile, Congress and the Biden administration have been collaborating on investing throughout the country, including $20 billion in new investments in the Hudson Valley through the CHIPS and Science Act, also signed by the President in August. It is designed to strengthen American manufacturing, supply chains and national security and invest in research and development, science and technology.

Maloney pledged that if the Democrats hold onto the House and pick up two seats in the Senate, Roe v. Wade will be enshrined into federal law. It would be one of the first pieces of legislation that would be voted on and signed in January, he said.

Since June, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe and sent it back to the states, 13 states have outlawed abortion and another 13 are poised to restrict or outlaw it as well, Maloney said.

Lawler said he is a firm supporter of abortion being handled at the state level. He would not support a ban at the federal level.

“Over time that will be up to the voters in New York, along with their representatives, to determine what is the best way forward,” Lawler said. “I don’t think this should be dealt with at a national level.”

Lawler said he would work toward immigration reform, since the current system isn’t working. He said he wants people who want to come to the U.S. legally to have the ability to do so.

For the roughly 20 million undocumented individuals, those who have been here a long time and with family in the country, they should have a pathway toward legalization, if not citizenship. For those who have committed crimes, those people should be sent back to their countries.

The country needs to secure the border to stop the massive influx of migrants, many of them fleeing drugs and gangs in their home countries, Lawler said. Many of those drugs also find their way into the U.S., contributing to the drug problem here.

“If we don’t get serious about taking on the cartels and putting an end to this, more and more people are going to die needlessly because of it,” Lawler said.

Maloney agreed that the nation can’t have a massive influx of people, but the U.S. must respect its own asylum laws.

“I would honor those protections,” he said. “We need a comprehensive solution to our immigration problems, but we can start with this…letting Dreamers have a path to legal status and citizenship, letting farm workers and (those with) temporary protected status pay whatever fine you want, wait as much time as you want but bring them into the light of legal status.”

Maloney vowed to strengthen Social Security and Medicare through the various proposals that have been floated. However, he decried comments by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy that suggested recurring programs like these to be voted at regular intervals.

Lawler also said the country must honor its commitments to its citizens by maintaining the Social Security and Medicare programs. He would favor a blue-ribbon panel to work on coming up with long-term solutions to ensure its solvency.

Both candidates back continued support of Ukraine in their fight against Russia.

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