Chele Chiavacci Farley has an impressive Republican résumé. The Stanford University graduate worked for UBS Capital and Goldman Sachs and was managing director at Mistral Capital International, a private equity firm.
But one thing she’s missing is roots in New York’s 18th Congressional District, the Hudson Valley district represented by Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney since 2013. Fresh off a failed statewide challenge to U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in 2018, Farley moved to Orange County and announced her 2020 campaign against Maloney, who is one of the few New York Democrats representing a congressional district that voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Farley spoke to City & State about why Maloney is out of touch with the district, how she’ll counter carpetbagging allegations and who drove her to flee New York City. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You challenged U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand last year, and now you’re running for Congress. You put up some pretty impressive fundraising numbers, $200,000 within a week of announcing your campaign. Where’s the support coming from?
It’s coming from the people who backed me for Senate. In nine months, I raised $1.4 million for Senate. I think that Sean Patrick Maloney has not (faced) somebody with a lot of financial support behind them, and that’s really going to make this a viable race. I was amazed that in the first quarter, he only raised $217,000.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney was a formidable fundraiser in the state attorney general campaign, with a lot of support from the financial sector, where you used to work. Do you expect Wall Street to support him again, or will they be on your side?
I think that I will have the financial industry on my side. Some people support him as well. That’s fine. But I’m really just focused on my campaign and making sure that I can get the message out. He started out as a sort of moderate representative. And he’s moved further and further to the left. He’s now a co-sponsor of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal.” This is what, expected to cost $93 trillion, a number that nobody can wrap their arms around. But what they do understand is it’s $600,000 per family. That’s just too much.
You’ve singled out the Green New Deal a number of times. Are there other issues where you think Maloney isn’t representing the district?
I’m really focused on three things. My background is also as an engineer. I think infrastructure is incredibly important. There are so many infrastructure projects that have languished and have not gotten done in the Hudson Valley. And we need to get them funded.
I have talked at length about the fact that New York is a donor state. We need to bring that money back. He hasn’t been able to do it.
Here, we have a president who is from New York. Our needs should be at the top of the list. Maloney hasn’t been able to work with the administration. I want to go there and actually get things done. And that also includes taxes. Our taxes are just too high. A $10,000 SALT cap is too low. We’ve got to negotiate it. Not just complain about it, but actually negotiate it and make it $20,000 or $30,000. The average property tax bill in Westchester is $18,000 a year. We’ve got to do something about this. Much of this is because the money’s not coming back.
The other thing is energy costs. I am really focused on the fact that our energy costs are 25% to 30% above the national average. It is hurting families. But it’s also hurting businesses. I think these are all things that need to be corrected in order to stem the outflow of so many people leaving New York. A million people have left New York since 2010. We’ve got to stop that.
Energy has been a hot topic in the Hudson Valley, and many environmentalists have protested the opening of a natural gas-fired power plant in Wawayanda. Is it a good thing for the district?
We need safe, inexpensive power. That power plant opened. It is certainly helping. I think everyone is worried about what’s going to happen when Indian Point closes. We just don’t have good alternatives. We’ve got to come up with something, and people keep talking about it and complaining about it rather than actually getting anything done.
One of the reasons I think this happens is term limits. I’m a big fan of getting in there, getting your job done, and getting out. But we’ve got to do something. And right now, this constant finger-pointing isn’t helping anyway. Sean Patrick Maloney has been there for six years. I want to get in and give it my all and prove to the district that we can lower taxes, lower energy costs and improve our infrastructure.
You mentioned Trump. You used to be the finance chair for New York City at the state GOP. Do you have a relationship with the president? Are you going to vote for him again in 2020?
I’m very upfront about the fact that I voted for the president and I support the president when his policies are good for New York, and gosh, so many of them have been great for the Hudson Valley. We’ve got unemployment at all-time lows, the stock market at all-time highs. But when they’re not good for New York, like this tax bill, I will negotiate it and make it better. He came out for me. He supported me strongly in 2018. I was very happy with that. He will be on the ballot in 2020. Yes, I will vote for him, and I expect him to win.
Did you know him outside of politics, beforehand?
I had met him, but only in passing. I wouldn’t say I know him. I’ve shaken his hand.
The health care system is going to be a major political fight going into the 2020 elections. Would you have voted for the American Health Care Act, or “Trumpcare”?
I would have voted for it. People ask me all the time would I repeal Obamacare. You can only repeal it if you can replace it with something that is going to save preexisting conditions. Costs have just skyrocketed. And it’s like anything else – we’ve got to take a look at why costs are so high and lower them. One great idea is, why can’t we buy health care across state lines, the same way you can buy car insurance? There are some good ideas that doctors and senators have put forth, that I think really need to be looked at.
But one thing I am not in favor of is “Medicare for All.” And Sean Patrick Maloney has come in favor of that. (Editor’s note: Maloney has not signed on to the Medicare for All bill.) And it is another massive cost that frankly we can’t afford. Eighty percent of people in the United States have health insurance through corporations. They would lose that. And you would have the federal government responsible for all health insurance. They’re having a tough time delivering the mail. I really think that is not the solution.
You lived in Manhattan before. What are you connections to the Hudson Valley?
I have a house in Tuxedo Park, and I live in Tuxedo. I’ve got a 12-year-old son who loves having a backyard. And the city has really just been so difficult because of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Chasing Amazon away is not the answer. And again, on the Green New Deal and all of this, we’ve got to be pragmatic and think about what’s really going to work for hardworking families. Again, that’s lowering taxes, reducing our energy costs and improving our infrastructure.
Did you already have the place in Tuxedo Park or did you buy it recently?
The Hudson Valley has a history of so-called carpetbagger candidates, like Zephyr Teachout and Sean Eldridge in the neighboring district, and Maloney himself in his first race. How are you going to prove to the district you’re their best representative?
Absolutely, and I think the answer is to meet as many people and hear their concerns and talk to them and prove that I will be a better representative than Sean Patrick Maloney.
Why’d you chose Tuxedo Park?
Tuxedo is lovely. It’s got great hiking, biking. It’s close to golf and tennis. I have a very sporty husband and son.
You announced early – it’s 19 months until the election.
One thing I learned from the last race is it’s important to get in early to meet as many people as possible. Also, unfortunately, to raise as much money as possible. I want to go out and shake every hand I possibly can. That takes a lot of time and energy, but I’m excited.
Maloney got a lot of flak in 2018 for running two races at once – for state attorney general and reelection to Congress. Are you confident he’ll run for reelection in 2020?
You’ve got to ask him! Because of those low fundraising numbers – considering they were so much lower than his other colleagues, I don’t know. But yes, he was running for attorney general less than two months before the congressional race. I even heard some rumors that (in 2016) he was up for a position in Hillary Clinton’s presidential administration. So we’ll have to wait and see.
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