A Conversation With Catherine Parker, Candidate for Congress
BY TOM MCDERMOTT
New York’s 17th Congressional District covers a vast tract that stretches from Port Chester to Purchase, north to Peekskill, and west past White Plains, where a river runs through it, and beyond New City to Harriman State Park. It is in two counties, Westchester and Rockland, and has three shorelines. It is urban, suburban, rural, and contains more than a few pockets where the underserved live.
One place it is not, is Rye, which is in the 16th C.D.
Its current Congresswoman is Nita Lowey, Chair of the mighty Appropriations Committee, who was first elected in 1988 and announced in October that she would not run again. Since then, Catherine Parker who represents Rye and other Sound Shor communities in the County Board of Legislators (BOL) and up to 14 Democratic candidates said they would file to run.
Parker, who does not live in the District – residency is not required for candidates – is in her fourth term in the BOL, after serving two terms on the Rye City Council. In 2018, she closed her downtown Rye store, and recently gave up her Majority Leader position on the BOL to concentrate on the campaign.
In the June 23 primary, she may face some stiff competition, including District 93 State Assemblyman David Buchwald, a former Lowey intern, and District 38 State Senator David Carlucci. This week, another formidable candidate, Parker’s BOL colleague Catherine Borgia, announced she would not run.
Given the current state of national politics, the logical first question for Parker was why run? “I spent 12 years in local government working on environmental issues, flood issues, and climate change. I know how important the federal role is and that propelled me.” Parker recalled how helpful Lowey was with the Army Corps of Engineers and in getting funding for the Bowman Avenue sluice gate after the 2007 flood devastated the town. “Westchester still needs $3 billion for marine infrastructure and sanitary sewers.” Parker said.
The candidate who was soon be headed for a debate at SUNY Purchase when we spoke this week, reported that attendance at debates has been high – it was SRO at a recent Rockland County forum. Parker stated that the race was about having the person with the right values and she believes hers reflect those of the District’s voters. While Parker was respectful of Lowey – there are family ties – she said she did not always agree with her, on NAFTA and entry into wars, for example.
So far, Parker has not found residency to be a big issue. “People know me for my work, providing a social safety net around the County in Yonkers, and Peekskill, and helping river towns on environmental cleanup.” She has heard that redistricting in 2021 might make her a District 17 resident anyway.
Parker’s number one issue: climate change. She’s proud of her legislation that created a County Energy Director and an Office of Sustainability to help tie all of the County’s climate efforts together.
According to her, other issues – healthcare, social justice, housing, the economy – all come back to climate change. “It resonates with voters, but it can be depressing,” Parker admitted. But she quickly points out that an advisor, David Fenton, projects that 70 percent of the work is about creating opportunities to do things better. To her, that means jobs, “Over the next 30 years, it is projected that offshore windmill projects will create 10,000 well-paying jobs locally.” She talked about a “carrot approach”, incentivizing private developers to build passive, zero-emission homes.
What is her position on Medicare-for-All? Parker supports a single-payer public option and the elimination of private insurers whom she sees as having lobbied healthcare coverage into something that is broken. A free option for all? “Coverage should not be not a luxury. It should be affordable, with reasonable fees, but a public, not private system. We have a long way to go to make it a reality, to not leave people out.”
We asked Parker if Tip O’Neill’s adage, “All politics is local,” still has meaning in an era of ill-feeling in national politics, since local government discourse is often civil and office holders and NGOs do get things done (eventually). Does local government have something important to teach Washington D.C.? “Yes, it does,” claims Parker. “I spent eight out of 12 years in the minority, and always worked with people to get things done. I asked Francis Corcoran, a Republican, to co-sponsor the BOL’s heating oil legislation. You have to respect other views.”
If Parker wins the primary, she promises to support whoever tops the Democratic ticket as the presidential candidate. Her preference? “It’s no secret that I support Elizabeth Warren. It’s not over yet.”