Meet Chuck Schumer, the man who may lead the Senate


Republican Wendy Long is facing an uphill battle in her race for U.S. Senate.

Uphill like climbing the Empire State Building.

Long is hewing to Donald Trump talking points in a state Trump is likely to lose drastically: a recent NBC 4 New York/Wall Street Journal/Marist Poll conducted before the first presidential debate found Hillary Clinton ahead 24 percent among likely voters in New York State. That all bodes well for Long’s opponent, popular incumbent Sen. Chuck Schumer.

In a conversation with amNew York’s editorial board, Long, a retired law firm partner living in Manhattan, said she believed in accepting refugees — but wanted to prioritize Christians. That’s because “the UN refugee camps are largely controlled by ISIS,” she said, and the camps’ populations are largely Muslim. She said negative attitudes about law enforcement were being “stoked” by George Soros, and calls Democrats’ policies on immigration one of “open borders.”

“I don’t know if we will have a country if we keep going this way,” she said, noting border policy as a primary reason.

These far-right beliefs won’t gain much traction in New York, particularly in the five boroughs. But another facet of her campaign might at least give voters pause before changing the channel: her claims that the economy is “rigged in favor of the rich and powerful” and that a “corrupt, failed establishment” is running things in Washington — accusations she aimed directly at Schumer.

That rhetoric is familiar this year, and while it won’t topple Schumer, it does highlight problems some New Yorkers have with their senior senator, whose pragmatic approach to governance has brought some unlikely alliances.

The Senator from Brooklyn

Schumer has been representing Brooklyn since joining the state Assembly in 1975 fresh out of law school.

His constituencies have grown larger as he steadily ascended the ranks through tenacious hard work and political shrewdness: first to the House of Representatives, then into a Senate berth after ousting a powerful incumbent, and now — if the Democrats take the chamber and barring a stunning upset in his own race — possibly the big office of Senate majority leader.

Throughout, he’s been attentive to the people back home. Schumer is known for his slow-news-day Sunday news conferences on everything from cell phone service in Queens to crucial tunnels under the Hudson.

One of his key constituencies included Wall Street.

On the eve of the financial crisis, Schumer and Mayor Michael Bloomberg commissioned a McKinsey study about the strength of the city’s financial industry which suggested that over-regulation could send financial services jobs to London and elsewhere. He’s done more than talk: He voted to repeal part of the Glass-Steagall Act separating commercial and investment banking. And he sponsored legislation reducing fees from financial firms to the Securities and Exchange Commission, an oversight body.

Throughout, Schumer has collected millions from the financial industry, and as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee he turned that funding into a temporary Democratic majority in November 2008.

That’s not “corruption,” as Long claims. But the amount of leeway given to powerful financial firms by the U.S. government in the lead-up to the financial crisis is no conspiracy theory.

The infuriating weakness of government oversight and inattention to regular citizens was a major factor in Sen. Bernie Sanders’ surprising primary run. It also prepared the ground for Trump, for whom economic anxieties and frustration with government formed the basis for what became a much darker campaign.

A pragmatist, evolving to a new reality

Schumer says he does not make “knee-jerk” ideological decisions on the issues but instead takes them as they come.

He has worked with both wings of the Democratic Party in search of a Democratic majority, and has reached across the aisle on efforts such as jobs bills and immigration reform that ultimately stalled.

That pragmatic streak is leading him to a different relationship with the financial industry, after a friendly push by the Sens. Elizabeth Warrens and Bernie Sanders of the world.

When asked in an amNew York editorial board interview about the Wells Fargo scandal, which raised questions about the effectiveness of banking oversight even in the years since the Great Recession, Schumer said it showed the need for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the watchdog agency created after the 2008 crisis.

He promised to fight attempts to repeal it “tooth and nail,” and added that it needed more funding.

As majority leader, that’s the kind of perspective Schumer should take.

Keeping the pressure on his influential old constituents will help him deliver for his new ones — New Yorkers and Americans both.

 

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