The Cook Political Report dismissed New York’s new 18th Congressional District as “Leans Republican.” Polls showed the well-financed incumbent with a comfortable lead, and the openly gay challenger came from outside the district…from Manhattan yet. Political oracles didn’t even think this was a race worth watching. But Republican Nan Hayworth managed to wash out, losing to Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney. And it wasn’t even close.
Maloney ran a fantastic campaign, with a young, enthusiastic staff, a targeted ground game, grassroots support, and the campaigning help of President Bill Clinton. But Maloney had a lot of hurdles to overcome: He was a late-comer and faced four other Democrats in a primary, and those grassroots groups, who later backed him, fought him tooth-and-nail in that race. He was a political insider and a district outsider. Last, his associations with the scandal-plagued administrations of three Democrats, former Governors Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson, and President Clinton, were obvious sore points.
And then the question of lifestyle: While being a LGBT politician in Manhattan would elicit just yawns, this Hudson Valley district includes some socially-conservative enclaves. Rivals thankfully didn’t make it an issue during the primary and general elections, but some Maloney supporters quietly acknowledged this as a possible negative factor.
While Maloney entered this race with many encumbrances, Nan Hayworth had a wealth of political capital to spend, and she managed to squander every red cent of it. Her two years in Congress serve as an example of how not to serve. Reciting the list of gaffes, flip-flops, hypocrisy, and general malignancy could fill a book; and sometimes it seemed news of Hayworth’s political malpractice was cribbed from The Onion.
Hayworth’s first faux pas came more than two years ago, while she was challenging John Hall for the 19th Congressional District seat. She aligned herself with Tea-Party thugs, notably the Tri-State Sons of Liberty, a group of “tough guys” and their acolytes that infused avarice into the 2010 election. And while the Tea Party might have been fashionable two years ago and politically convenient for Hayworth, they have become a running joke and their leaders exposed as nothing more than conspiracy theorists, racists, and punks. Notably, these groups are disappearing; the Tri-State Sons of Liberty’s website, which served mostly as a campaign arm for Hayworth in 2010, has been dormant for more than a year.
Once in Congress, Hayworth shed her Tea Party skin and joined the collective hiss of the Republican leadership, notably slithering with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. She coiled in the safety of the GOP den, and joined them into springing out against the best interests of her district. If she wasn’t trying to stop government-backed loans for district businesses and killing real jobs, she was demanding that Congress withhold federal disaster aid to her constituents battered by Hurricane Irene unless offsetting budget cuts were made elsewhere. Hayworth held hostage the families, farmers, and businesses in the district until Democrats met her demands. This alienated those of all political stripes and compromised Hayworth’s relationship with small businesses and farmers.
Hayworth didn’t help her situation when she began to repeatedly snub her constituents. On a few notable occasions, she locked the doors or restricted access to her Congressional district offices when she feared she would be confronted by residents she didn’t agree with. Her staff also shamelessly and repeatedly deleted comments from her Congressional Facebook page that weren’t to their liking, actions that showed cowardice and antipathy toward her general constituency.
Then there was her campaign’s two misogynistic scandals, both of which became widely covered news stories, which she handled poorly. The more notable of the two scandals involved her campaign spokesperson, Jay Townsend, who suggested that Republicans “hurl some acid” in the faces of female Democratic lawmakers, echoing an abominable act often used by the Taliban to terrorize women into submission. Hayworth was profoundly snail-like despite repeated calls for her to act. Ultimately, she never apologized for Townsend’s remarks; she only curtly accepted his resignation and scolded her critics after many days.
Fresh on the heels of that scandal, critics resurrected a 2003 report involving Hayworth’s campaign manager, Karl Brabenec (also the Town Supervisor of Deerpark, NY). He once distributed flyers for his “Karlpalooza” party to Young Republicans. He promised “liquor and sex to go around all evening” and encouraged young women to “wear as little clothing as possible.” Hayworth ignored this revelation.
Those controversies came at a time when Hayworth joined with her fellow Republicans in legislating against reproductive choice and contraception, and they put an exclamation point behind assertions that she was a traitor to her gender in the “War on Women.”
Meanwhile, Hayworth tried to “Etch-A-Sketch” herself as a moderate. And like Mitt Romney, her flip was a huge flop. Eyes collectively rolled when she began to try to secure moderate support by bragging to the media that she often votes with President Obama.
As noted earlier, the list of grievances against Hayworth’s service is extensive, but those presented in this article are enough to paint a picture of an extraordinarily flawed legislator. And now it is time to bring up the 800-pound gorilla in the room: Hayworth’s conspicuous wealth.
Let’s be honest with ourselves, Hayworth’s millions was a handicap the day she was elected. But it was incumbent on her to prove that she could connect with those of more moderate means. And while some of us may look at the wealthy with a jaundiced eye or envy, it only takes a bit of compassion, humility, and philanthropy for them to become heroes to all; only the deluded and bitter have negative perceptions of Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, or Oprah Winfrey.
While constituents saw Hayworth’s aloofness, pride, and animus toward them, they married it to her notable wealth. Her myopic focus on additional tax cuts for the rich did not help her case. Eventually, Hayworth’s ultimate undoing was her image problem. The perception was that she served mammon more than she did mankind. She became a modern-day Marie Antoinette, Imelda Marcos, or Leona Helmsley.
The last nail in Hayworth’s political coffin came not long before the November election, when she railed against increasing the minimum wage, but told a local political group that she believed the nation’s base wage was ”$10 to $11 an hour,” missing the mark by about 40 percent. The real minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
In the end, Hayworth’s greed and indifference toward struggling families, farms, and businesses became the political equivalent of Jacob Marley’s chains. And each time she demonstrated this contempt, another link emerged until the weight made it impossible to compete in the race.
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