Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
Political experience was an albatross in the midterm elections. As in many other races across the country, that was the case in New York's 13th Congressional District, where incumbent Democrat Michael McMahon lost to newcomer Republican Michael Grimm.
Grimm, a former member of the FBI's Financial Fraud Squad and a Persian Gulf War veteran, is a political novice who won support from Tea Party groups. His platform included pledge to extend the Bush tax cuts completely, to reduce government spending and regulation, to oppose cap-and-trade energy legislation, and to eliminate earmarks. He also supports off-shore oil drilling and wants to repeal the healthcare overhaul legislation. Grimm's campaign was helped by endorsements from big-ticket conservatives like Rudy Giuliani, Senator John McCain and Sarah Palin.
McMahon ran as a centrist Democrat, trying to attract the support of both liberal and conservative groups. He voted against the health care law in Congress, and joined Grimm in slamming the legislation. While in office, McMahon secured million for infrastructure projects in Staten Island and voted against tax breaks for companies that received TARP funds, earning him the endorsement of former President Bill Clinton. But McMahon's political resume—two years in the House, six in the New York City Council, and endorsements across the political spectrum—was't enough to keep his seat.
The anti-incumbent trend that brought down McMahon continued throughout the state. New York now has seven Republican members of Congress, up from two.
Democrats were particularly concerned about vulnerable first- or second-term representatives who had won in centrist districts during the 2006 and 2008 Democratic sweeps. Their fears of a Republican reversal were borne out. John Hall and Scott Murphy in the Hudson Valley, and Michael Arcuri in central New York were all defeated by Republicans taking an anti-incumbent, anti-Obama line of attack. In the 29th District seat in western New York, vacated by Eric Massa (of "tickle fight" fame), Republicans were able to reclaim a traditionally conservative seat in a race that drew considerable outside attention and money.
Of the vulnerable Democrats, only Timothy Bishop on the eastern end of Long Island and Bill Owens in North Country were able to hold on to their seats.