Sean Patrick Maloney has defeated Congresswoman Nan Hayworth to become the first openly gay candidate elected to represent New York in Congress.
The Associated Press called the race for the Democrat shortly after 1 a.m. Wednesday, according to Capital Tonight. He challenged a first-term Republican incumbent who had shown some support for equality measures.
The highly competitive contest took place in the newly drawn 18th Congressional District in the Lower Hudson Valley, an area of mostly suburban counties north of New York City. While the race focused on the economy, it held the distinction of asking LGBT people to weigh the candidacy of one of their own versus a potential ally.
Both parties prioritized the race in their quest for control of Congress, and money from outside groups flooded the district. Recent polls gave Hayworth a slight edge, but the district became a bit more Democratic when the new lines were drawn, and many analysts considered the contest a toss up.
Maloney, a 46-year-old attorney, ran for attorney general in 2006, the first openly gay man to make such a statewide bid. He served as a top aide to President Bill Clinton and for New York governors Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson. He is raising three children with his partner of 20 years, designer Randy Florke.
Hayworth, 52, is a retired ophthalmologist first elected to Congress in 2010. She is married to Scott Hayworth, a physician executive, and the couple has two grown sons. Their oldest son Will is gay, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The race turned on issues such as jobs and taxes against the backdrop of this election cycle’s overriding debate about the size and role of government. Maloney sought to portray Hayworth as a Tea Party extremist who wants to eliminate funding for Medicare and Planned Parenthood, while the incumbent branded the challenger as a “carpetbagger” from Manhattan who worked for two scandal-plagued gubernatorial administrations. Maloney moved to the new district this year after splitting time between the city and a country home in nearby Sullivan County for more than 16 years.
“We can’t wait for Sean to show his colleagues in the House his pride in his family, and his commitment to the people of New York’s 18th Congressional District,” said Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Victory Fund, which endorsed Maloney. “Sean has been a leader in New York, serving two governors and working hard to secure a more promising future for his children. He will also be a strong voice in Congress for fairness and equality.”
Those familiar with New York’s 18th Congressional District describe its LGBT community as small and integrated, with a suburban and rural character that differs from the urban neighborhoods more commonly associated with gay candidates. LGBT-specific issues were not a major topic of conversation in the campaign.
“The people in my district are a lot more concerned about why my opponent wants to end Medicare than who I love,” said Maloney in an interview with The Advocate before he was elected. “I’m not running as the gay candidate, but I’m not running away from it, either.”
Where LGBT issues are concerned, Maloney said his goal was “full equality under federal law." He said immediate priorities include repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, achieving marriage equality through the courts or other means, and passage of the Employment Non-discrimination Act.
Maloney received endorsements from the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. He also had the backing of President Clinton and Governor Andrew Cuomo, who led the successful push for marriage equality legislation in the state last year.
Hayworth counted endorsements from the Log Cabin Republicans, GOProud, and American Unity PAC, the group founded by billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer to support pro-equality Republicans in House contests. She also received the endorsement of New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who vetoed marriage equality legislation this year and supports civil unions.
Maloney brought the more complete LGBT record, but boosters for Hayworth pointed to her membership in the LGBT Equality Caucus, her support for the Employment Non-discrimination Act, four votes against amendments to affirm DOMA, and her lead sponsorship of the Tax Parity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act, which would equalize tax treatment for employer-provided health coverage for domestic partners or other non-spouse, non-dependent beneficiaries. Her supporters saw the potential to build bridges with the House Republicans needed to advance legislation.
“Sean Maloney is a credible candidate and has worked hard to advance the fight for equal rights, but Nan Hayworth is by far the best choice for Hudson Valley voters,” said Jeff Cook, senior advisor to American Unity PAC and resident of the district, prior to the vote. “Nan has stood up to fight against all four mean-spirited amendments aimed at denying same-sex couples federal recognition, is pushing to eliminate the tax penalty on domestic partnership benefits and end discrimination in the workplace and is one of three Republicans to join the Equality Caucus. She’s a thoughtful consensus-builder who helped found the Common Ground Caucus. And most important to average voters, she understands that out-of-control spending is placing our country’s future at risk and that Hudson Valley families are already over-taxed. American Unity PAC is proud to stand by Nan Hayworth.”
Support for DOMA repeal would seem like a natural step for Hayworth, who represents a state with a marriage equality law. New York is also home to one of the DOMA challenges upheld by a federal appeals court last month and currently pending a decision on review by the Supreme Court. However, the congresswoman has not expressed support for repeal, although she has indicated that she believes the New York state law is a settled matter. The Conservative Party of New York State, which backed Hayworth this year and in 2010, has vowed to deny its influential endorsement to candidates who endorse marriage equality.
Maloney said Hayworth’s failure to support DOMA repeal reinforced the already striking distinctions between them. He added that her campaign manager, Karl Brabenec, resigned his role as a marriage officiant last year rather than perform same-sex marriages.
“The bottom line is, on the most important issue of our time, marriage equality, she will not state a position on DOMA because she does not support marriage equality,” he said.
The Hayworth campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
New York also holds importance as the state where a Republican-led senate first passed a marriage equality bill. Advocates planned to send the message that pro-equality Republicans can survive, but Maloney dismissed any comparisons between Hayworth and the state lawmakers up for re-election Tuesday.
“They took a real chance with their careers. This is not that,” he said. “She has never taken a courageous vote or put herself on the line for the gay community. Period.”
Maloney said the choice could not be any clearer, on LGBT issues or otherwise.
“I think it’s borderline offensive to those of us who have fought for years on these issues, that joining a caucus or sending a letter or being a little less bad than the most hostile Republican Congress in our lifetime is considered some sort of achievement,” he said. “Do not count me among those who get excited about the things that this Republican Congress has done.”