Mansion on the Hill

In September, Joe Crowley was picked to succeed his mentor, the legendary Tom Manton, as boss of the Queens Democrats, the city’s last effective county political machine. Last week, he was elevated to a spot on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee under new chairman Charlie Rangel. Crowley, 44, is built like a pro football player, but has the gregarious soft touch of an old-school Irish pol. He spoke to Chris Smith.

Congratulations on your new committee assignment. So what’s in it for us?
It ensures some New York continuity for the committee for many, many years to come. Despite the rhetoric of 9/11, there are still a lot of people out there who have a grudge against us. Ways and Means is going to be looking at everything from Social Security to revising the alternative minimum tax: It’s trapping the New York middle class. The problem is, over the next ten years it costs anywhere between $800 billion and $1.4 trillion to fix it. So it may upset the plan this White House has for tax cuts.

You were in the Oval Office the other day to discuss Iraq.
I was told that the president was in a listening mood, but it was a Friday, and I guess he’d done a lot of listening. He basically dug in his heels and said he’s not afraid to use the “V word,” victory. I told him the American people are expecting a radical change in approach. He’s going to cherry-pick some of the things he likes in the Baker-Hamilton report and ignore the ones he doesn’t. The president might need an intervention.

You say you want to avoid closing hospitals. Isn’t that going to put you at odds with Governor-elect Spitzer?
We have 2.3 million people in Queens, but we pale in comparison with Manhattan when it comes to hospital beds. Is the answer that Manhattan becomes the base for all health care? I don’t know. But Eliot and I have a good relationship. He’s really the first governor who is of my generation. Eliot thinks he’s a big Bruce Springsteen fan; no one’s bigger than I am. I play a guitar that’s very similar to Spring-steen’s, a transition-era 1967 Telecaster with a pre-CBS amp.

As Queens County leader, will you continue to treat judgeships as patronage
We’ve played by the rules, whatever they’ve been. I don’t apologize for electing Democrats.

Recently the Post ran a front-page story where you essentially announced Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for president. Get any static from the senator’s staff?
No. When Hillary called to talk about her thinking for 2008, I wasn’t instructed by anyone not to speak about it. The Post asked my personal opinion, and my sense is she’s gonna run. I would have been lying if I’d said anything else. I think she’d make a great president.

Half your district is in Queens and half in the Bronx. So: Mets or Yankees?
[Laughs] I’m a Met fan, born and raised in Woodside, in the shadow of Shea. But unlike my brother, who’s a fan of the Mets and the Red Sox—he hates the Yankees at all costs—I root for the Yankees if they’re in the playoffs and the Mets aren’t. I’m a city guy.

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Mansion on the Hill