By Ray O’Hanlon
Queens representative Joe Crowley is facing a battle to preserve his congressional seat, one of the most Irish-American districts in the House of Representatives.
Crowley — a co-chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs who won a second term in the House in the November election — has to deal with the unwelcome prospect of a tough redistricting battle spawned by the 2000 U.S. Census.
As a result of demographic changes, the State of New York is to lose two of its 31 House seats by 2002. One of them is expected to be an upstate Republican seat, while the second, according to a New York Times report, could well be Crowley’s seat in the Seventh District.
The district is primarily in Queens and is the former stronghold of retired rep. Tom Manton.
Manton is still the Queens Democratic leader and could turn out to be Crowley’s ace in the expected battle to preserve both Crowley’s fledgling congressional career and his district, which includes the traditional Irish immigrant neighborhoods of Woodside, Sunnyside and Long Island City.
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According to one Democratic source, Manton’s support for Crowley will be a big factor in a contest that will be won or lost in the New York State Assembly in Albany.
"It will be a dogfight and there will be fierce politicking, but in the end I think Crowley’s district will survive," said the Democratic source.
"Crowley was recently an Assembly member and retains a lot of connections there and Manton’s support will be key," the source added.
The source suggested that another Democratic incumbent in New York City could be more vulnerable than Crowley. One potential loser in the redistricting dogfight, according to the source, could be Bronx Rep. Eliot Engel.
Engel, according to the source, does not enjoy as close a political relationship with the Bronx Democratic leader, Roberto Ramirez, as Crowley enjoys with Manton.
Engel, too, has been active on Irish issues over the years and was in contention for the Ad Hoc co-chair seat vacated by Manton and later secured by Crowley.
Meanwhile, another Ad-Hoc Committee co-chair, GOP Rep. Ben Gilman, is expected to hand over the chairmanship of the House International Relations Committee this week with the convening of the 107th Congress.
During his chairmanship, Gilman, whose district in is Rockland County, presided over several high-profile hearings on Northern Ireland.
Several potential successors are lined up in the GOP ranks. They include Reps. Henry Hyde of Illinois, Chris Smith of New Jersey, and Nebraska’s Doug Bereuter.
Hyde has been a supporter of the MacBride Principles over the years, while Smith, as chairman of the House International Relations Committee subcommittee dealing with human rights issues, has been particularly vocal on Northern Ireland.
Gilman, meanwhile, could well end up chairing a revived House subcommittee dealing with Europe and the Middle East. Such a position would allow him to continue holding hearings focused on Northern Ireland.