Rep. Rick Lazio
U.S. Rep. Rick A. Lazio entered the New York Senate race in May, relatively unknown outside his Long Island congressional district. Lazio, 42, grew up in a Catholic family on Long Island where his father owned an auto parts store and was active in the Kiwanis Club and the local GOP. Lazio attended public schools and later studied political science at Vassar College, where his thesis advisor remembered him as "a perfectly acceptable student" in a recent interview with The New York Times. He earned a law degree from American University, and took a job as assistant district attorney in Islip, N.Y.
In 1989, he was elected to the Suffolk County legislature, and in 1992 upset incumbent Thomas Downey in a race for the House seat. Downey, an 18-year incumbent Democrat, was discovered just before the election to have bounced some 150 checks. Lazio tore into his opponent and soared to victory.
In the House, Lazio developed strong relationships with Republican leaders, including Speaker Newt Gingrich and Majority Leader Dick Armey. In 1994, Gingrich made Lazio his deputy whip. In 1997 Gingrich gave permission for Lazio to join the commerce committee, bending a House rule against sitting on more than one committee at a time. In 1998 Armey made Lazio his deputy majority leader.
Lazio currently serves as Assistant Majority Leader and Deputy Majority Whip. He sits on the Banking and Financial Services Committee, where he chairs the housing subcommittee.
In many ways, Lazio is a model Republican. He supported eight of the 10 points in the GOP's "Contract with America." He supported a ban on gays in the military, and supported a short-lived proposal to abolish the U.S. Department of Education. Like most Republicans, he supports charter schools and vouchers for poor children to attend private schools. He also voted to repeal the so-called "marriage penalty" tax and voted for two of the four articles of impeachment against President Clinton.
On crime, Lazio has voted to reduce or eliminate parole and to allow teens as young as 14 to be tried as adults. He also supported federal funding to help states build more prisons.
Lazio also broke with his party on occasion, as when he voted for the Brady Bill, imposing a 5-day waiting period for gun purchases. He also was one of only 40 Republicans who voted for the Medical and Family Leave Act.
But Lazio's most carefully qualified position is on abortion. He walks a fine line that has allowed him to call himself pro-choice but to vote with Republicans on many bills restricting access to abortions. In a break with GOP leadership and presidential nominee George W. Bush, Lazio supports the abortion pill RU-486. However he opposes using Medicaid to pay for it, making the pill an unlikely option for poor women. He supports a ban on partial birth abortions, and has voted to restrict access to abortions under some circumstances. Neither side of this divisive issue considers him a friend.
Among his legislative accomplishments is passage of a bill allowing some disabled people to continue receiving Medicaid benefits once they return to work. The law makes it easier for the disabled to participate fully in society, Lazio says. His constituents can't benefit, however, since the New York state legislature declined to authorize participation in the program.
Lazio and his wife have two daughters.