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Photo by Christina Santucci
By Rich Bockmann

U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) said he believes that when the state legislative task force on reapportionment releases its congressional district maps, his will contain more of Queens while the district held by his newest colleague, Rep. Bob Turner (R-Middle Village), may be eliminated.

“No matter how they draw it, I’m going to run in the district,” the 15-term congressman said during a meeting with reporters and editors of the TimesLedger Newspapers two weeks ago. “I suspect it will have more of Queens.”

Currently, Ackerman’s 5th District stretches from Corona in the west into Nassau County in the east, and from Jamaica Estates in the south up into the waters of Long Island Sound.

According to the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment, each congressional district will grow by about 60,000 people, and due to a slow rate of population growth relative to other states, New York will lose two congressional seats. It has been widely speculated that one of those seats will come from New York City.

“In the end, what has to happen is the Democrats have to say, ‘We’re willing to give up this seat,’ and the Republicans have to name the seat that they’re willing to give up,” Ackerman said.

“The Republicans have to pick somebody, and they’re not going to pick Peter King,” he continued, referring to the longtime Nassau County congressman. The only vulnerable downstate Republican seats are those held by Reps. Michael Grimm (Staten Island), Nan Hayworth (Westchester) and Turner, each of whom is serving in his or her first term.

Ackerman said “traditionally, usually it’s the people that are freshman” whose seats are eliminated.

Aside from granting a member of Congress the sense of security that his or her seat probably will not be eliminated, seniority also bestows one with the privilege of high-profile committee assignments.

“Seniority is important in this business. You get things done because you have chairmanships,” said Ackerman, who noted he and the other members of New York’s delegation are still perceived by other congressional members to have a left-leaning political slant and because of that there is still a lingering bias against the state’s representatives.

He said he could not recall a time when the vitriol between the two political parties in Washington was greater than it is now.

“The divisiveness is worse than you hear. It used to be a much friendlier workplace,” he said. “It used to be the difference between a good bill and a bad bill. Now it’s the difference between a good bill and an evil bill.”

Ackerman said he definitely does note a philosophical difference between red and blue states, one that can even be seen between red and blue neighborhoods in his district.

One issue that always seems to be a litmus test, he said, is Israel, and as the most recent Democrat to chair the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, Ackerman has particular insight into the state of affairs in the region.

“My view is a very tough view,” he said, regarding Iran’s attempt to obtain a nuclear weapon.

“I think Israel and the U.S. have completely joint interests here as well as other countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia, which is more apoplectic that Israel might be about a nuclear Iran,” he said.

Throughout his years in Congress, Ackerman said, he has witnessed a shift in the stakeholders’ concerns as Iran has ramped up its militaristic rhetoric.

“I’ve met with these guys over decades: guys named president, or guys named prime minister, or guys named your majesty and their greatest fear over the years … in the beginning they used to say their biggest problem is Israel,” he said. “That’s changed, and their biggest problem they’ll tell you is Iran.”

Ackerman praised President Barack Obama for making a commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and although he said he thinks no country should act on its own, he invoked the proverb of an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

When asked about the recent car bombings of Iranian nuclear scientists, Ackerman said he believed they had hit a “streak of bad luck.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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