“I’m very interested in the plight of the middle class, especially in Central New York,” Maffei said.
Maffei, 43, is challenging U.S. Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, R-Onondaga Hill, in the fall race for the former 25th Congressional District—now the newly-formed 24th Congressional District. In 2010, he lost the seat for the then-25th Congressional District. Buerkle won by 648 votes.
As of mid-April, Maffei had no challenger for the Democratic nomination. Another Democrat, Brianne-Elise Murphy, a Syracuse lawyer, dropped out of the race after losing the Democratic Party’s endorsement. Maffei will likely face Buerkle — who has to win a GOP primary on June 26 — and Green Party candidate Ursula Rozum of Syracuse,in the general election.
The election is Nov. 6.
The new 24th Congressional District was created because of the constitutionally-mandated redrawing of Congressional districts. The redistricting is based on the 2010 census. Overall, the state lost population and two districts. Statewide, Congressional districts were redrawn and renamed by a federal judge this spring. New York now has 27 congressional districts, down from 29.
In Central New York, the former 25th Congressional District included all of Onondaga and Wayne Counties, the northern part of Cayuga County, and the northeastern part of Monroe County. In 2010, voter enrollment was almost equally split between Democrats and Republicans. Nearly one-quarter of district voters were not registered with a party, or “unaffiliated,” according the the New York State Board of Elections.
The newly-drawn 24th Congressional District includes all of Cayuga, Onondaga and Wayne Counties, and the western part of Oswego County. As of April 13, the district has 409,462 voters, according to the New York State Board of Elections. Of them, 35 percent — 143,110 — areRepublican and 33.9 percent — 138,796 — are Democrats. Another 31.2 percent —127,556 — are registered with other parties, unaffiliated or need to re-register.
That gives Buerkle a slight advantage with the GOP registration. She also gained the endorsement of the Independence Party, the third largest party in Onondaga County, according to The Post-Standard. The party has 20,246 registered voters.
In Washington, all 435 seats of the House are up for election. Republicans now have 242 seats to the Democrats’ 190.
In Onondaga County, Vita DeMarchi, the chair of the Democratic party, is hoping that Maffei benefits from some voters’ anger at the GOP. “Many of our core values are being challenged — especially the values of women, even though she is a woman, our Congresswoman,” she said. “We need to have someone in Congress who shares the core Democratic values and who will work for all people in our county.”
She describes Maffei as a policy wonk. “He has the ability to, and enjoys, really getting into the depth of the policy position,” DeMarchi said,“and also knowing what it means in his own district.”
As a Congressman from 2009 to 2010, Maffei sponsored 19 bills and co-sponsored 335. He voted for the health care law Affordable Care Act; to repeal the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for enlisted gays; and to prohibit cost-of-living pay increases for Congressional representatives.
Syracuse-born Maffei graduated from Nottingham High School. He graduated from Brown University and earned his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. He worked as a radio and television reporter — including a stint at Syracuse’s ABC affiliate WSYR-TV Channel 9 — before attending Harvard University, where he earned another master’s degree in public policy. In Washington, he worked on Congressional staffs. His wife Abby Davidson Maffei works at CARE, an international humanitarian organization. In 2008, Maffei was elected as Representative of the 25th District.
In his pitch to the middle class, he downplays his educational resume with dual master’s degrees. “When you have two master’s degrees and a bag of chips,” he said, “you have a bag of chips.”
Since losing his re-election bid in 2010, Maffei has worked on corporate tax reform at think tank Third Way; as an adviser for the law firm Manatt, Phelps and Phillips; in development for local financial firm Pinnacle Capital Management; and teaching environmental policy classes at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
Maffei has been criticized by opponents for spending most of his life in Washington, including a return there after losing the 2010 election. But despite some work in Washington, said campaign manager Schoers, “He lives at the same home in DeWitt.”
To retake the Congressional seat, Maffei is building a strong campaign money chest. From 2011 to March, he had raised $773,704, according to reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission and the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan Washington research group that tracks money in U.S. politics. In that period, Maffei’s campaign had spent $197,867 and had $649,736 in cash on hand. The majority of Maffei’s donations — 62 percent — came from named individuals’ contributions, while 32 percent came from political action committees.
Maffei’s largest contribution came from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party’s campaign organization. Other donors include labor unions and law firms. Maffei said he is happy with the fundraising to date.
In his attempt to return to Congress, Maffei stresses what he describes his practical life experience and policy experience. “Everything from working in my grandfather’s small business, which was a manufacturing business, when I was in college,” he said, to “working in Capitol Hill in staff jobs—learning about some of the things like Medicare and Social Security in particular—that have so much of an effect on seniors and other people.”
(Editor’s note: For a profile of U.S. Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, R-Onondaga Hill, please see a companion story.)
Here are snapshots of challengers other than Republican candidate Buerkle:
Robert Paul Spencer (Challenger, Republican)
Robert Spencer, 44, is running for his first public office. He is an IT engineer, member of the National Rifle Association and Mensa, a high-IQ organization. He lives outside of the 24th Congressional District in Parish with his wife and four kids.
He supports limited government, low taxes, free markets and free trade, according to his website. As of mid-April, Spencer had not reported any campaign funds to the Federal Election Commission.
Ursula Rozum (Challenger, Green Party)
Ursula Rozum, 28, is seeking her first elected office and is stressing public transportation in her platform. Rozum of Syracuse advocates for mass transit. She’s an organizer for the Syracuse Peace Council and worked on campaigns in 2008.
She earned a bachelor’s in political science from McGill University in Canada. As of mid-April, Rozum had not reported any campaign funds to the Federal Election Commission.
(Elizabeth Carey is a graduate student in magazine, newspaper and online journalism.)