Debrief: Steve Israel, the next generation

Just getting started: Former (as of Jan. 3) Congressman Steve Israel, now heading global studies at LIU. (Photo by Bob Giglione)

Following eight U.S. House of Representative terms and a narrow escape from what could be the most contentious Congress in a generation (“I got out while the getting was good”), Steve Israel is hardly slowing down. As chairman of Long Island University’s Institute for Global Issues and the university’s latest Distinguished Writer in Residence, the former (as of Jan. 3) Third District rep will leverage his capitol résumé in pursuit of two key goals: developing as a professional author and helping to shape Long Island’s role in the burgeoning global economy. His view from the top of 2017:       

TIMING PATTERN: I served in Congress for 16 years, which is approximately 14 years longer than I thought I would. I believe there comes a time when the Congress should replenish itself, and I felt this was the time to pass the torch.

VETERAN LEADERSHIP: I’ve passed bills, I’ve flown on Air Force One, I’ve sat in the Oval Office. To me, nothing comes close to the nearly $9 million in back-pay that I secured for the veterans I represent, to walking into a Long Island veterans’ home and handing over back payment that the federal government owed for an injury or pinning a medal on that veteran. There’s nothing more gratifying.

TERRORIZED: There’s no question that 9/11 had the most significant impact on my term in Congress, on my thinking and my outlook. I’ve always been right-of-center on national security issues and left-of-center on social and domestic issues. 9/11 required that I focus my time on the Committee on Appropriations and the armed services subcommittees on the vast array of challenges and threats facing the United States.

GLOBAL STUDIES, INDEED: First and foremost, I learned about the needs of the military. I’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan over a dozen times. I was able to see firsthand the precise needs the military branches have. I also learned the importance of a robust foreign policy that combines hard power with soft power.

THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES THAT TRUMP BUILT: There are issues where there could be compromise, chief among them rebuilding America’s infrastructure and making new investments in public works that will generate tens of thousands of new jobs. I’m hopeful that Congress and the administration will find some areas for agreement there. But I hear from almost as many Republicans in Congress as I do from Democrats, and there’s a real sense of concern over the Trump Administration’s positions on so many different issues.

LI ECONOMICS 101: I’m obsessed with the future of the Long Island economy. The thing I would tell my colleagues about this regional economy is it’s one of the most diverse in the country. Some parts are urban, some are rural, and I got to represent all of them. From Wine Country out east to financial services closer in, this is a richly diverse economy.

TECHNOLOGICALLY SPEAKING: One of the projects I’ll be doing at LIU is analyzing where our economy is going and what strengths we have to tap into to ensure future growth. Certainly, biotechnology, generic pharmaceuticals and cyber defense are three sectors in particular that hold great promise for our region.

GOING GLOBAL: When I announced my retirement, Long Island University approached me and asked if I would like to collaborate. One of the key projects would be assessing Long Island’s future and making recommendations to best position ourselves in evolving and uncertain regional, national and global environments. I’m tremendously excited about that opportunity.

GUEST LIST: I’ll be hosting interactions and events with foreign leaders, international experts, diplomats, senior military leaders and others. The idea is to help position Long Island by positioning Long Island University as a center of learning and expertise on rapidly changing global trends.

BOOK SMARTS: I’m really looking forward to [being a Distinguished Writer in Residence]. I’ve discovered a real passion for writing. I published a satirical novel that did well and I’m almost finished with my second novel, which is not a sequel but is also a satire. In this one, I take on the gun lobby in Washington. Being a Writer in Residence gives me an opportunity to continue focusing on writing and develop new creative projects.

CLASS ACT: I will be teaching, but not right away. I’m not presumptuous enough to believe I can report to work on Jan. 3 and start teaching Jan 4. I’m looking forward to when the trustees tell me I can. I’m hoping I can teach some courses in creative writing and the life of a novelist. I’m also looking forward to teaching about the intersection of Congress and foreign policy – I don’t think most people understand exactly how important a role Congress plays in creating international policy and strengthening homeland security.

Interview by Gregory Zeller

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