After 26 years in Congress, New York Democrat Carolyn Maloney grabbed a brass ring: becoming chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee in 2019.
The powerful position is providing Rep. Maloney with potential political benefits — at a time she is facing political vulnerability back home.
Since taking the gavel, she has used the powerful role to shine a light on problems in New York, like the troubles at Rikers and environmental justice issues, while also championing progressive causes.
Last summer, for instance, Maloney held a hearing in Astoria to rail against proposed power plants in the city. She also introduced legislation to update the permitting process for them.
“In my district in Queens, they call it asthma alley, because there's so many peaker plants there,” she told Spectrum News NY1 in an interview. “I have roughly 28 peaker plants in a mile. That's too much. And it’s bad for your health.”
In fall 2021, her committee began investigating detainee deaths at Rikers Island. In April, she wrote to Mayor Eric Adams, saying conditions at the trouble jail “may be worse than previously known.”
In light of her committee’s probe, Maloney says she has identified two areas where she believes the federal government could play a role: “One is mental health. And the other is the time that they have to review the case. And it should be shortened dramatically.”
Maloney has toured Rikers and is looking to return again.
A judge is currently weighing whether to pursue a federal takeover of the troubled complex. When asked if she believes it is time for that to happen, Maloney said, “I feel that we have to respect the roles of the state and the city government.”
“The mayor has asked for time for him to have a chance to try to correct the challenges. And I think he deserves that time,” she continued.
Ironically, Maloney has gained power in Washington as she has become more vulnerable in New York.
A challenger from the left — Suraj Patel came close to beating her in a primary two years ago, and is now trying again. Rana Abdelhamid, who is backed by Justice Democrats, is also making a bid in the Democratic primary.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, Maloney has also used her committee to champion progressive causes, like gun control and reigning in big oil.
She has also often worked with a committee member who is arguably the most influential progressive politician in New York, if not the U.S. House writ large: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Asked if she is utilizing her chairwomanship to help shore up her progressive credentials ahead of the primary this fall, Maloney pushed back.
“I've been a progressive my whole life. I authored the first gay marriage bill in the City of New York. It was deemed so controversial, they wouldn't even print it,” she said.
“I have experience. I have a record to run on. I have institutional knowledge, and I know how to get things done. And that comes from decades of hard work,” she continued.