INTERVIEW: Senator Charles Schumer

U.S. SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY), the senior senator representing New York, has visit- ed Fire Island both on vacation before he was elected as well as professionally in his current capacity. The three-term senator, who’s up for re-election this fall, recently spoke with the News about his thoughts on the Fire Island to Montauk Point (FIMP) project, the presidential campaign and his famous cousin, comic actress Amy Schumer, who’s originally from Rockville Centre. Here’s what he had to say on those and other topics:
FIN: Do you have any memorable stories that you can share from your first, most recent or any notable visits to Fire Island?
SCHUMER: I was a working class kid from Brook- lyn. When I went to college, my friend’s family had a house in Fair Harbor and I remember taking the ferry out there with a whole bunch of friends. It was amazing to me! It was like a whole new world to a kid like me from Brooklyn – no cars, you could walk to the beach, barbecue; it was so much fun. I went out fairly regularly while I was in college. Ever since then I remember the beauty of Fire Island. When you get on that ferry and you smell the salt water and you feel the breeze, your cares seem to go away. Like magic. I felt it then and I still feel it when I go there now.
FIN: What legislation are you working on that potentially impacts Fire Island and how so?
SCHUMER: I have been working on many things that impact Fire Island. For instance, I’m working to restore over $9 million in federal funding towards the BEACH Act, which goes towards critical monitoring of water quality and pollution to ensure our waters are safe for swimming and that our beach- es are kept open for public use during the summer months. I’ve also urged the Army Corps to organize community meetings on the status and details of the FIMP project.
FIN: Do you have any notable plans in mind as the widely expected incoming U.S. Senate Democratic leader next year?
SCHUMER: If I earn my colleagues’ faith and sup- port and they elect me to become the Democratic leader, I will work in a bipartisan way to make college more affordable; to invest in job-creating road, bridge and water-sewer projects; to support better mass transit; and to enact policies that support and protect American workers and businesses. The bottom line is that we must be focused like a laser on making it easier to stay in the middle class and easier to get to the middle class for those that are not yet in it.
FIN: What should voters know to cut through the noise in this presidential campaign season?
SCHUMER: We must help people stay in the middle class and get to the middle class. When people look at the platform of both parties they will vote democratic.
FIN: How has it been seeing your cousin, comic actress Amy Schumer, add to the family’s name recognition?
SCHUMER: Well, there’s a Schumer far more famous and wealthier than me and it’s my cousin Amy. I’ll tell this story – my nephew, Max Schumer, started college a few years ago and when he arrived he had four or five roommates, none from New York because he went to college out of state. They rushed in to him on the first day and said, “Are you related?” and he said, “Of course! My uncle is Chuck Schumer, the NY Senator.” And they said, “Who’s he? Are you related to Amy?” …So, I got put in my place appropriately!
FIN: Are there any misperceptions about you that you’d like to clarify?
SCHUMER: It’s true – I still use a flip phone!
FIN: You’re well known for your Sunday news conferences and being among the most media-savvy U.S. senators, although some have accused you of just seeking headlines. How do you see your relationship with the media and what do you think members of the Fourth Estate can do better?
SCHUMER: What I try to do in my Sunday press conferences is talk about things that matter to people – like protection from consumer rip-offs, closing gaping holes in our homeland security and investing in prevention to ward off horrible public health threats like Zika and Ebola. I try to focus on things that affect the average person. Gift cards that decline in value may not make it to the Senate floor for a fillibuster-fueled debate, but it really matters to the millions of people who bought them – and then saw the value of their gift declining. We drew attention to that, and forced the big companies to change their policies in ways that save average consumers real money. I try to talk directly to people about things that concern their lives and the media is the way I get through to them. I also try to spend a lot of time at street fairs and college graduations and things like that. When you represent a state of 19 million people you can’t talk to each of them directly so the media is a way to talk directly to them.
FIN: Regardless of who wins the presidency, bar-ring some late-entry third candidate from another state pulling off an upset, it appears there will be a New Yorker in the White House for the first time since FDR left office over 80 years ago. What does that, and your likely ascension to U.S. Senate Democratic leader, mean for The Empire State and FI?
SCHUMER: There was a lot of attention during the primaries about “New York values,” and all I know about that is the New York values I learned from my father, a WWII vet who ran a small exterminator business, and my mother, a loving homemaker; we’re all about hard work, caring about your neighbors and doing well in school and in life. I happen to think those values are universal and play nicely on the national stage, too.
FIN: How confident are you that the Democrats can win back control of the U.S. Senate on Election Day and do you think the same is possible in the U.S. House of Representatives?
 SCHUMER: Because I believe we are more focused on the pocketbook issues – like pay equity, raising the minimum wage and helping middle-class families pay for college – that specifically address the disturbing trend of flatlining wages, I am very hopeful that Democrats can win back control of the Senate.
FIN: Why do you think New York State and FI voters should re-elect you this fall?
SCHUMER: I love New York – from Fire Island’s fine sand to the rocky shores of Lake’s Erie, Ontario and Champlain – and I work very hard to deliver results that help improve people’s lives and grow our middle class. On Fire Island, in particular, I’ve worked very hard to protect our beaches and shore communities throughout all my years in office. That means building dune systems, investing in modern water-sewer infrastructure, protecting our unique shorefront wildlife, fishing opportunities and the environment – and funding cutting-edge resiliency efforts.
 FIN: Is there anything that you would like to see changed about the Fire Island Inlet to Montauk Point (FIMP) storm mitigation project?
SCHUMER: I’m very excited that, finally, this $1 billion project will become a reality. Until the Sandy Legislation, FIMP was a giant ship that had run aground on a sand bar. But getting the federal government to absorb the full cost of the program got it finally unstuck and moving. It was one of the hidden – but most profound – accomplishments in the Sandy Relief legislation we passed in congress. When it comes to mega projects such as FIMP, there are usually minor elements of the project that can be improved or tweaked. I rely on my close relationships with local communities, the ones that are most familiar with the area and will be most impacted, to identify any potential improvements or tweaks to a project. This has proven to be a successful formula. Working with the Fire Island Association, civic leaders, village officials and residents, we’ve already been able to identify potential issues and resolve them as well as expedite the project so homes will be better protected sooner than later.
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