Schenectady County

McNulty reflects on 20 years in Congress

His 2002 vote to authorize military action against Iraq is “one of my deepest regrets,” U.S. Rep. Mi
PHOTOGRAPHER:

His 2002 vote to authorize military action against Iraq is “one of my deepest regrets,” U.S. Rep. Michael McNulty said Monday, as keynote speaker and honoree at UAlbany’s John E. Burton lecture and public service awards ceremony.

McNulty, D-Green Island, who is retiring at the end of the year, said he wanted to stress three issues from his congressional career. The first was Iraq, where he said there is “no end in sight” to a war that continues to cost American lives and money, despite the supposed success of the recent surge in U.S. troop levels.

Polls show 80 percent of Iraqis favor U.S. withdrawal, he said, and more than 50 percent say attacks on U.S. forces are justified. “These are the people we are supposed to be defending,” he said, adding that continuation of the current U.S. policy is “morally indefensible.”

The second issue he brought up was the need for universal health care coverage. Problems have worsened under President Bush, the congressman said, with the number of uninsured growing from 39 million to 47 million. And, he said, the current failed system is much more expensive than the inclusive models that work well in other industrialized countries.

Finally, he stressed the growing influence of money in politics, citing the 2006 race in a neighboring congressional district, in which Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand defeated incumbent Republican John Sweeney. They spent $6 million between them, McNulty said, and in today’s Washington, most senators are now millionaires along with many members of the House of Representatives. The danger, he said, is that ordinary people like himself, who are not rich, may find it impossible to run effectively for office. He advocated public financing of campaigns as the solution.

Looking back over his 20 years in Congress and 39 in elected office, McNulty told tales of how the old Albany County Democratic machine took care of people. From one of his predecessors, Rep. Leo O’Brien, he learned to “never take yourself too seriously.”

He told a story about a phone call from a constituent, who when asked why he was complaining to his congressmen and not to “the guy at the public works garage,” responded that he had considered doing just that, but “I decided not to go that high.”

McNulty paid tribute to his father and grandfather, whom he followed into Democratic politics in Green island. His father, Jack, was among several family members in attendance.

The congressman closed his speech by citing “the fundamental principle that life is to give, not to take.”

Also honored at Monday’s event were former Niskayuna Supervisor Edwin Reilly; Dennis Whalen, Gov. David Paterson’s top health-care adviser; Department of Environmental Conservation wildlife pathologist Ward Stone; Harry Rosenfeld, Times Union editor-at-large; and Jamie Fellner, senior counsel for Human Rights Watch.

John Burton, for whom the lecture is named, was state budget director under Gov. Thomas Dewey.

Categories: Schenectady County

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