Congresswoman Nita Lowey ’59
Keynote Address, Women Leading in Public Service Summit
Friday, November 6, 2015; 5:30 pm
This lecture is free and open to the public. Wheelchair Accessible, Listening Device Access, and closed-captioned. Co-sponsored by the President’s Office, the Politics Department, and the Office of Advancement.
First elected to Congress in 1988 and considered one of its most influential members, Representative Lowey is a champion promoter of women’s participation and leadership in politics, policy, and democracies world-wide. This is the keynote address for the "Women Leading in Public Service Summit," and the signature event of the Weissman Center’s 2015-16 series “Courage through Reflection and Story Creation.”
Congresswoman Nita M. Lowey is currently serving her fourteenth term in Congress, representing parts of Westchester and Rockland counties. She was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1988 and served in the Democratic Leadership in 2001 and 2002 as the first woman and the first New Yorker to chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. She is also the first woman to lead either party on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
Lowey has been described as “courageous” by The New York Times, “terrific” by Newsday, and one of “New York's key Members of Congress” by the New York Daily News. The Journal News called Lowey “one of the most influential members of Congress.”
At the beginning of the 113th Congress, Lowey was selected by her colleagues to be the ranking Democrat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Congressional Quarterly called her one of the 50 most effective members of Congress, saying she “maneuvers skillfully through the appropriations process,” and Newsday said she “delivers for New York.” Few members of Congress have taken key leadership roles on so many vital public policy issues. Lowey is a leading Congressional proponent of educational opportunity, health care quality and biomedical research, improved homeland security preparedness, stricter public safety laws, environmental protection, women's issues, a leading international role for the United States, and national security.
An outspoken supporter of transportation, nuclear, and infrastructure security, Lowey was appointed to the Select Committee on Homeland Security and recognized by the New York Post as “a key general in the battle to rebuild New York” for her leadership in securing over $20 billion for recovery efforts after September 11, 2001. Her efforts to distribute homeland security grants based on risk and to screen airport personnel in secure areas have been endorsed by The New York Times. Lowey has also helped to obtain more than $68 million in federal funds to develop local bioterrorism response plans and to provide local first responders with interoperable communication devices, rescue equipment, and personal protective gear.
Lowey is a strong advocate for women, children, and families. She has been a champion of education throughout her career, fighting for school modernization, teacher development, and literacy programs. Under Lowey’s leadership, federal funding for after-school programs has increased from $1 million in 1996 to $1 billion today.
When GOP leaders threatened to eliminate the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) in the 1990s, Lowey "invited" puppets Bert and Ernie to a Congressional hearing. The resulting worldwide publicity is largely credited with saving the agency. When Republican leaders again targeted PBS for severe budget cuts in 2005, Lowey again successfully restored funding to the program. She has been equally stalwart in her defense of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and served on the prestigious National Council for the Arts in recognition of her leadership. Lowey is one of the Appropriations Committee's leading advocates of increased federal investments in biomedical research on diseases like cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s at the National Institutes of Health. Called a “champion of increased funding for breast cancer research” by The Washington Post, Lowey has received multiple honors from the National Breast Cancer Coalition.
After hearing from constituents about the difficulty food-allergic consumers have reading product labels, Lowey authored the first-ever bill mandating clear, concise food allergen labeling. Her legislation was enacted in 2006, requiring food manufacturers to list in plain language on food labels the eight most common food allergens. The New York Times called this bill “an all too rare example … of bipartisan cooperation to serve the public good.” As public health experts warn that our nation is woefully unprepared for a possible influenza pandemic, Congresswoman Lowey has pressed for action. Recognized as “an early advocate for pandemic preparedness” by the New York Daily News, she authored legislation to create a comprehensive pandemic plan and enacted requirements for federal and state preparedness plans utilized in the response to the April 2009 swine flu outbreak.
Lowey has also fought to improve health care by authoring a bill to ensure that women in managed care plans have direct access to their ob-gyns and is a strong supporter of legislation to guarantee that doctors and patients -- not insurance companies -- make decisions about appropriate care.
A strong public safety advocate, Lowey supported the Brady Law and supports reinstating the Assault Weapons Ban, Lowey was named Mothers Against Drunk Driving's (MADD) “Legislator of the Year” for her leadership in authoring the nation's "Zero Tolerance" law, which made it illegal for minors to drive after consuming any alcohol, and the national DWI standard of .08 BAC. She is the author of legislation to prevent repeat drunk driving offenses. As a candidate for Congress in 1988, Lowey pledged to clean up the Long Island Sound. In 1990 she passed legislation establishing a special Environmental Protection Agency office for Long Island Sound and has obtained millions of dollars in federal funding for local clean-up efforts. A co-founder of the Hudson River Caucus, Lowey has also taken a key role in protecting the New York City watershed and in preserving strong environmental laws like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.
Lowey, former Chair of the Congressional Women's Caucus and the House Pro-Choice Caucus, was called “the most prominent abortion rights advocate in Congress” by The Washington Post. She won widespread praise for passage of her legislation to ensure that insurance companies cover prescription contraceptives for federal employees. Lowey established the Congressional Advisory Panel to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy to encourage abstinence and responsibility among teens. She has also been a leader in the fight against domestic violence, securing record increases in federal funding for battered women's shelters.
On the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, Lowey has also worked to ensure that diplomacy and development remain key pillars of our national security strategy, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. Called “one of the engines of pro-Israel activity on Capitol Hill” by the Forward, Lowey has been a leading Congressional proponent of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship and the Appropriations Committee's chief advocate of the annual U.S. aid package to Israel. In 2007, she was chosen by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to serve as a member of the Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, recommended by the bipartisan 9/11 Commission to coordinate classified programs and funding.
A longtime champion of human rights and enhancing the role of women in development, Lowey has taken a key role in fighting for democracy, justice, and economic opportunity around the world. She has been praised by the Boston Globe as someone who “speaks of the world's victimized women and children as if they were voters in her district.”
Lowey was born in the Bronx; graduated from the Bronx High School of Science; and received a Bachelor's Degree from Mount Holyoke College, class of 1959. She served as Assistant Secretary of State for the State of New York before being elected to Congress. Nita and Stephen Lowey have been married for 50 years and have three grown children and eight grandchildren.