While the political climate in Washington, D.C., is one of the most polarized U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) said he has experienced, he hopes to forge ahead with comprehensive immigration reform if elected to another term.
“It’s gotten harder and harder to find issues that don’t send people to their own corner, but I want to find them,” Weiner said during a sitdown interview with TimesLedger Newspapers last week. “We have to solve this immigration problem, and I’m hoping it’s something we can do in the next Congress, whether it’s a Republican or Democratic Congress. The president has said he’s committed to it and it’s an economic imperative for New York City and a law enforcement and anti-terrorism imperative for the country.”
Weiner, a Democrat being challenged for his seat representing the 9th Congressional District by Republican Bob Turner (profiled in the TimesLedger July 8) said national immigration reform should include tougher borders. He also advocated creating a process in which an undocumented immigrant who is here with a job and is learning or knows English could pay a fine in order to remain in the country and land on a path toward citizenship.
The 9th District stretches from Bayside down through Forest Hills to Middle Village and Ozone Park as well as Brooklyn.
“If we lay down our partisan arms long enough, I think we can come up with a solution that would be very, very helpful to New York City,” Weiner said. “Many of the people here in New York City who are undocumented are being kept in by our immigration laws, not out. They may have wanted to come in and work for a few months, and now they don’t want to leave because they’re afraid they won’t be able to get back in.”
Making sweeping reform to policies governing immigration or health-care reform is difficult in this political climate, Weiner said.
“This is about as toxic as I’ve seen the political mood,” he said. “The voices of conflict are now getting amplified and echoed more than the voices of reason.”
Weiner said he has seen some of the anger being played out in his own district when he held a series of town hall meetings on health care last summer, as well as during this year’s campaign.
“I came from a candidates event in Rockaway where someone had this big sign that said dump Weiner,” he said. “First of all, it said dump Weiner, spelled W-i-e-n-e-r, and the ‘Weiner’ was taped over Cuomo. It was a traveling dump show.”
Weiner, who has represented the 9th District since 1999 after the seat was vacated by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, landed 93.1 percent of the vote in the 2008 election, when he was challenged by Alfred Donohue, a Republican from Brooklyn.
This time around, he said, he is reminding people that he is a “middle-class guy” who has worked on national issues like health-care reform, for which he was a leading champion, to hyperlocal issues, such as working out what to do with the West Side Tennis Club stadium in Forest Hills, brokering a deal so the Kew Gardens Post Office could remain open, fighting for funds for seniors who for a second year in a row have not seen an increase in their Social Security checks and getting Newtown Creek to be designated as a Superfund site.
“I try to make the connection between the three hospitals in Queens that have closed and how the health-care bill changes things, so hopefully that doesn’t happen again,” Weiner said, referring to the loss of St. John’s, Mary Immaculate and Parkway hospitals.
Weiner also said the health-care reform will give an economic boost to the city.
“It will create jobs locally,” he said.
Though Weiner said he is focusing on his current bid for office, his name has long been in the running for the 2013 mayoral election and said it “would be coy to say I’m not interested in the job.”
“I get up every morning and think about the communities I grew up in and represent,” Weiner said. “I want to be somewhere I can solve those problems. I won’t be happy unless I can represent the people I represent now.”