The Least Among Us: Waging the Battle for the Vulnerable

The Least Among Us: Waging the Battle for the Vulnerable

by Rosa L. DeLauro

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Overview

The outspoken Connecticut congresswoman provides “a powerful case for protecting and expanding America’s safety net” (Elizabeth Warren).
 
Cynical politicians like Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump argue that the people of the United States would be better off without food stamps, Obamacare, and workplace protections. Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro knows these folks are just plain wrong.
 
Growing up in New Haven, Connecticut, DeLauro saw firsthand how vulnerable hard-working people are in the face of corporate indifference and government neglect. From fatal industrial fires to devastating childhood poverty, DeLauro witnessed it all—and emerged convinced that social programs are worth going to the mat for, again and again. Worker protections, Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and housing assistance lift up all Americans; they fulfill this country’s promise of opportunity for everyone and are essential for our country’s health.
 
For twenty-five years, DeLauro has been fighting for everyday Americans, earning a reputation as the most impassioned defender of our social safety net. The Least Among Us tells the story of a quarter-century of deal-making on behalf of people too often overlooked, told by a woman as fearless as she is opinionated. Part House of Cards, part progressive manifesto, The Least Among Us shares lessons about power—how it’s gained and how to wield it for everyone’s benefit.
 
“Can you imagine how cool the world would be if we had Rosa DeLauro getting s*** done instead of Congress being held hostage by terrible people!” —Wonkette
 
“An impassioned, urgent defense of democratic values and the role of government to serve and benefit all citizens.” —Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781620972205
Publisher: New Press, The
Publication date: 06/06/2017
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author


Rosa L. DeLauro is the Congresswoman from Connecticut’s Third District and has served since 1991. DeLauro is a member of the House Democratic leadership and co-chair of the Steering and Policy Committee. She is the ranking member on the Labor, Health, Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, and serves on the subcommittee responsible for FDA and agriculture, where she oversees drug and food safety. DeLauro lives in New Haven, Connecticut, and this is her first book.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Preparation for Congress and Gaining a Platform

POLITICAL IMAGINATIONS ARE LINKED to one's earliest memories. In my case, my ideas about how to serve are inextricably tied up in my parents' experience as immigrants in a working-class Italian neighborhood. Applying the lessons I learned from them to the broader arena of national politics is the backdrop for everything I have been able to do. The tight-knit community I came of age in taught me humility, the importance of being willing to help, and adaptability. Being a junior congressperson taught me how the power game is played at the highest levels.

My father came to New Haven around the turn of the last century as a young boy filled with dreams. Before long he would walk out of a classroom, at the tender age of eleven, after the teacher asked him to define "janitor." He did not know much English or what it meant, but he knew the Latin word genitori, meaning parents or forebears or heritage. So he answered "my parents." The other kids and teachers laughed at him, and he never went back to school. He taught himself to be deeply literate in the classics in both Italian and English, an opera lover who taught himself to read music and play the clarinet.

During the Depression, he got a job as a City Court interpreter in New Haven, Connecticut, translating for new immigrants who had a shaky command of English. He became a strong advocate of the Italian language being taught in the public schools — the exact opposite of the conservatives' call for "English only." Off the job, people in the neighborhood would ask him to translate letters from family in Italy, or just to help with personal issues. He tried his hand as an insurance salesman, going door-to-door to pick up the 50-cent premium from his clients every week. Many could not pay, and in many of those cases he paid their premiums for them. One day he complained about this to a local tough who fought under the name Midgie Renault. Midgie asked my father if he could go along to see Mrs. Carrano. "Tito, I can't pay you this week," Mrs. Carrano said. "I don't have the money." Midgie was having none of this: "No, you pay now," he said. My father pushed Midgie out of Mrs. Carrano's home. He decided his true calling lay elsewhere.

My mother left school at thirteen to help out in my grandmother's pastry shop and then went to work at the Strouse, Adler Company, a nearby garment manufacturer, as soon as she was legally allowed — at age fourteen. She studied at night for her high school diploma. The old sweatshops on State Street in New Haven were full of women bent over their sewing machines, not eating their lunches, because they were paid by the piece and to stop work for even a few minutes meant less pay. They pumped out dresses and shirt collars as fast as they could. If the sewing machine needle got stuck in your finger you just wrapped it up. You didn't go to a clinic to get a tetanus shot. You did not want to stop, and you did not want to get blood on a garment. You would not get paid.

Somehow my mother, a girl of twenty in 1933, just thirteen years after American women won the right to vote, found it in herself to remind women in an article written for the Tenth Ward Democratic Club newsletter: "We are not living in the Middle Ages when a women's part in life was merely to serve her master in her home." She urged women to get involved in the "heretofore stronghold of the male sex: politics." She envisioned a future of louder, more daring female voices in the public sphere. "Come on girls, let's make ourselves heard."

Around the same time my mother was getting involved in politics, my father was hired on a Yale University research project to track down and interview people who'd been laid off by the L. Candee Rubber Company in 1929. The experience proved radicalizing, in ways that would reverberate throughout his career and even my own. Before it closed in 1929, Candee had occupied a whole block off Greene Street and employed over a thousand people, mostly from the neighborhood, manufacturing rubber shoes. Then it was consolidated with another factory on the Naugatuck River — in other words, shut down — and most of the workers lost their jobs. Those interviews had such an impact on my father's thinking. He would always say to me, "It was the working men and women that made those businesses successful. In good times, the workers helped make the companies profitable. And in bad times they're let go." Families got into financial trouble and their lives went swiftly downhill. He thought nobody was looking out for them.

In 1953 the Democratic Party boss Arthur Barbieri asked my father if he would consider running for alderman in one of the main Italian wards that was still heavily Republican. "Teddy, we don't expect you to win the seat," Barbieri told him. "Democrats usually lose the ward by twelve hundred votes. If you can knock that number down, it will help us win the mayor's election citywide."

My father went on foot to every house and apartment in the ward. I often trudged along with him, house to house, apartment to apartment, in the rain and snow. Sometimes we stood in the doorway and sometimes people invited us in for coffee. My father talked some, but mostly he listened. He wanted to know what they needed, how he could help. He kept a file box with every voter's name on a card inside: red for Republicans, blue for Democrats. On election night, he won the race on the voting machine but lost because of nine absentee ballots. He would win the ward two years later, and eventually my mother ran for alderman, too, and won.

If my mother promised someone a job, she would call every agency every day until someone came through with one. Once she ran out of the house in the cold of winter when the electric power and heat failed at Winslow-Celentano, a neighborhood public housing project for seniors. She ended up canvassing every grocery store and restaurant every day on Wooster Street to get food delivered until the home could cook again.

Luisa served longer than anyone on the New Haven Board of Aldermen and was the aldermanic representative on the Board of Finance. She immersed herself in city budgets and interrogated the city department heads to make sure they did their jobs, that the taxpayers' money was not wasted, and that they looked out for the poor and working-class neighborhoods, not just the downtown and Yale University.

My father was a devout Catholic and daily communicant at St. Michael's Church next to Wooster Square Park — but a staunch anti-cleric. He thought the Church should be doing more for working people and the needy. He tried to get more than one priest removed for caring more about the collection plate than the poor. Back in Naples, his extended family, who had communist sympathies, had hung red sheets from the balconies in their villages near Naples to send a message to the fascisti.

My parents' brand of politics included fighting for the neighborhood and the Italians who were lower down on the social ladder. Together Teddy and Luisa stood in front of the bulldozers to prevent them from razing houses and putting a highway through our New Haven neighborhood, as happened in so many American cities in the 1950s. They wanted to protect the area from being destroyed by urban renewal, and they wanted to help neighbors receive the benefits due to them.

When I graduated from Columbia University's School of Public Law and Government with a degree in international politics, my father said, "You are equipped to lead a revolution. You have a great education and a lot of book learning, but you have to understand what's happening on the street." He feared that all my education was taking me away from our community and the family. "You think you are too good for us and our politics," he told me. "If you want to make a difference, you had better understand people and their lives."

It took me years to fully appreciate what he was telling me, however.

I also embraced the liberal agenda of my generation, though with some wrinkles of my own. I strongly opposed the Vietnam War, and supported George McGovern for president and peace candidate Joe Duffey for the U.S. Senate. (Duffey challenged the incumbent senator Tom Dodd in a bitter primary because of his support for Lyndon B. Johnson's war.) My disagreement with my father on Johnson and Vietnam was part of our estrangement. He was also upset over my moving into my own apartment as a single woman. He was no fan of the sexual revolution, and would have been happier had I stayed home until seconds before my wedding ceremony.

When my father died, we were not reconciled. He never saw me elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

After my father died, Luisa decided she would go with her daughter and back the reform, antiwar, and anti-machine candidates that I supported. She stood out, and the local Democratic party boss did everything possible to defeat her, even taking her to court on shoddy allegations of absentee ballot fraud, but without success. (Stan and I faced physical intimidation from brawny men at the Democratic mayoral nominating convention, and my Uncle Caesar paid them a visit to make sure it didn't happen again.)

In 1968 I began my post–graduate school years as a community organizer in the War on Poverty and the National Urban Fellows program to help talented minorities across the country gain experience working at high levels in city government. I came to live and breathe campaigns, mostly in my parents' style. I did everything from volunteer canvassing and phone banking to driving around New Haven with a bullhorn urging people to vote. My file cards — red and blue, like my father's — I kept neat and orderly and always at hand. I helped lead Frank Logue's insurgent campaign to end Democratic machine control of City Hall in New Haven, and became chief of staff to Mayor Logue as well as campaign manager of his successful re-election effort. As a campaign manager, I made staffers go through every ward and every town, constantly telling them, "Give me the numbers."

I first met my husband, Stan Greenberg, during the first Logue campaign. Stan was a Yale professor and an academic pollster, and was reported to have magical methods for getting out the vote. More critically, we shared a love for anchovy pizza and coffee with milk and sugar. That placed us at the same corner of the campaign's conference table at key meetings. We quickly realized how much our backgrounds, values, and intensity would lead us to get involved in the same battles.

When my independence and strong views estranged me from the mayor, I organized the first management union in the city of New Haven. This grew into a love of organizing and gathering people united around a common cause.

Then I began looking for new opportunities to use my skills and everything I'd learned. I became campaign manager for Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut) in his first U.S. Senate campaign and his re- election. It was a heady time. Our whole team was fired up and the stakes were very high. If people did not do their jobs, they were gone, and it was my job to hold people accountable. I gave the nephew of a close Dodd supporter a job as a driver, and when he helped Dodd make an unnecessary detour one night, I pulled him in the next morning. Election Day was getting close and we could not afford any unforced errors. "We don't need you in the campaign. Go back to D.C.," I told him. "We can find somebody who will do the job and not put the election at risk." That driver, Doug Sosnik, is now one my closest friends, and he has run more than a few campaigns himself. From there on out I directed state presidential campaigns for Gary Hart, Walter Mondale, and Michael Dukakis.

Senator Dodd asked me to be his chief of staff, and I did not hesitate. In that role I joined his successful fight against the United States' involvement in El Salvador and Nicaragua. Dodd also founded the U.S. Senate's Children's Caucus, which became a big source of inspiration for me and many others who were worried about the plight of working families.

Getting ovarian cancer was life changing. Chris Dodd put his 1986 re-election campaign on hold until I could run it. Afterward, I decided I needed to work for change on my own, leading an organization that advocated for issues I believed in or running for elected office myself, not working for someone else.

When after several years I moved on from my chief of staff post, I briefly went into business as a consultant, but quickly learned that sitting in meeting after meeting was just not for me.

I was eventually wooed by a group of West Coast philanthropists and activists to lead the national campaign to end aid to the Nicaraguan Contras, a campaign that succeeded. This prepared me for my next pre- representative job: serving as the first executive director of Emily's List, the most effective organization electing pro-choice Democratic women to national office.

Then it was time to try for myself what I had helped so many others do. After the bruising twelve-month campaign against Tom Scott, I arrived in Washington for the freshmen orientation as a newly elected member. I stopped to ask the lady at the desk, "Can I park the car there in the circle?" "Ma'am, you are a member of the United States House of Representatives," she said, "and you can do whatever you want." I knew she was talking about the perks of this Capitol Hill job. But she might well have been talking about my faith that government can really do things that change the country for the better.

I sat at a big table at freshmen orientation and Congressman David Obey (D-Wisconsin), who was a powerful member of the Appropriations Committee, and whom I had not met before, sat at the head explaining the budget of the federal government and the federal agencies — and I thought, "Oh shit, what have I done, I'm in way over my head. What have I got myself into?" Obey doesn't suffer fools. He is very abrupt. I thought, "How will I ever have a conversation with David Obey?" I was very conscious of being a woman in a Congress dominated by men. The job demanded very different levels of performance. A new male member could drool and make a fool of himself and pay no price, but the same was not true for a woman. I realized then: you do not get two bites of the apple once they decide you are not up to it.

That thought shook me. If I was going to legislate and make government work better for everyday people, I needed a deep knowledge of how this process worked from the inside. The House Democratic leaders had turned to me right away to deal with communications and message because of my campaign experience and willingness to attack the Republicans. Accordingly, Dick Gephardt asked me to be part of the Message Group that met every morning. But when asked to head up the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, I said, "No." I said it emphatically and repeatedly. I refused the almost ritualistic request at the start of each Congress to head up the committee — a sure path to the Democratic leadership. I needed to be a policy person first.

Because I had crafted my own detailed plans for universal healthcare and a middle-class tax cut during my campaign, I innocently thought the committee chairs would be impressed. I sat down with a tall and intimidating John Dingell, chair of Energy and Commerce. He laughed. He was cordial, but said, "My dear, no freshmen serve on this committee." He also gave me one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received from a colleague. He said to me, "You know. Never blindside your colleagues. If you're with them, say yes. If you can't stand with them, say no, so they know where you're coming from and why. Don't blindside people. Be straight and upfront." It was excellent advice, because the only thing you have in this business is your word. If you start to vacillate, you lose respect. You have to be known as someone who is consistent and credible.

In my first year on the Hill, I wrote the Middle Class Tax Relief Act of 1991, tailored after my campaign proposal. It went nowhere.

In my second term David Obey told me, "You belong on the Appropriations Committee." The Appropriations Committee is the most influential in the Congress. He says he picked me because I had the right values and was "operational." He meant I would not be content to spout Democratic platitudes, and could handle the nuts and bolts of legislating and lining up votes.

The Appropriations Committee is also where you have the most impact on what government does. I selected my first subcommittee by instinct: Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. Those were my issues. Nancy Pelosi, Nita Lowey, and I formed a bond of sisters that crashed the male-dominated Appropriations Committee and challenged any government agency to pay attention. We used the committee to take up women's health issues and descended on the male subcommittee chairman from Iowa, letting him know that it was not OK to continue in the old ways that saw women's interests as less pressing a national concern than men's. Our congressional staffs came up with a nickname for the three of us: DeLoSi. "What are DeLoSi plotting now?" people would say when they saw us together.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "The Least Among Us"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Rosa DeLauro.
Excerpted by permission of The New Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Our Safety Net 1

1 Preparation for Congress and Gaining a Platform 13

2 Breaking the Contract with America 27

3 In Defense of Working Families 39

4 In Defense of the Hungry 51

5 In Defense of Women 79

6 "Two Women on the Ticket": Notes on Ending Sexism 105

7 Politics and Faith 109

8 In Defense of People Who Get Sick 127

9 In Defense of Children 147

10 In Defense of the Unemployed 167

11 In Defense of Fair Trade 183

12 Paul Ryan's Assault on the Poor 209

Conclusion: Ten Policies for an American Twenty-First Century 219

Acknowledgments 237

Notes 253

Index 261

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