King of Queens: An unconventional Republican

Meet Dan Halloran, candidate for the House seat from Queens — scion to five generations of NYC public servants; champion of diversity; and hawk on terrorism and Iran

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

Dan Halloran in Jerusalem this week. (Credit: Itzik Nissim)
Dan Halloran in Jerusalem this week. (Credit: Itzik Nissim)

At first sight, Dan Halloran seems a wholly conventional candidate for public office. Dark suit, starched white shirt, fair-skinned with a broad face and a shock of red hair, Halloran would not be out of place as the Irish cop in a 1940s New York crime drama.

In fact, he was born Irish Catholic. And New York City is his inheritance. His great-grandfather was chief of police, his grandfather a detective in the Police Department, his father the deputy director of the city’s Office of Management and Budget and two brothers currently serve as New York City firefighters. Before his career as a public prosecutor and a representative from Queens on the City Council, Dan Halloran was also a cop.

Now Halloran has his sights set on higher office. He is the Republican candidate in the race for New York’s 6th Congressional District, battling Democratic State Assemblywoman Grace Meng for a redrawn district that includes part of retiring Democrat Gary Ackerman’s former 5th District and outgoing Republican Bob Turner’s 9th.

It’s a mixed district, with dozens of ethnicities and diverse political affiliations. And Halloran seems to fit the district, not only because he grew up in the northeastern corner of Queens, but because like the district itself, Halloran is a complicated man full of apparent contradictions.

He is often described as a conservative Republican and enjoys the support of the Republican, Libertarian and Conservative parties in New York City. Yet in a conversation with The Times of Israel this week in Jerusalem, he repeatedly referred to “conservative Democrats” as his voters and railed against the “bias” and “spin” not only from the left-leaning MSNBC and CNN, but from right-leaning Fox News as well.

He is a fiscal libertarian who endorses Ron Paul for president, but speaks admiringly of the Israeli government’s economic policies – never mind the universal government-regulated healthcare.

He is a national security hawk who believes strong security ties with Israel are vital for America’s war against terrorism – but defends Ron Paul’s plan to reduce military aid to Israel if it means reducing aid to its enemies as well, who he says receive seven times as many US aid dollars as Israel.

Though born and raised Irish Catholic, he is now head of a small community practicing Theodism, a revival of a pre-Christian Nordic faith that he describes as a belief that God “is in the background keeping a hands-off approach to the world,” while adherents “perceive the divine through nature, through the natural world.”

For Halloran, these apparent contradictions make perfect sense. In fact, he hopes to pull off another seeming contradiction – winning over moderates and Democrats while continuing to position himself as a strong conservative.

The challenge seems daunting. The Queens area currently incorporated into the new 6th District has leaned Democratic for generations. Democrat Gary Ackerman, who represents an area comprising roughly half of the new 6th District, will conclude his 30th year in Congress when he retires in January. The other half of the district is currently represented in Congress by Bob Turner, a Republican, but he only won the seat in a special election after its previous occupant, Democrat Anthony Wiener, was forced to resign after he accidentally published a sexually explicit photo of himself on Twitter. Turner is the first Republican Congressman from the area in 80 years.

Can Halloran win in what many consider a Democratic stronghold?

“Yes absolutely,” he answers with an easy confidence. The new district’s demographics are “very complicated,” and he sees an opening in that diversity. Large parts of “the east and west ends of the district [lean] very heavily Republican or conservative Democrat.”

But the district’s center, in Flushing and its environs, “is predominately Chinese and Korean, and [Democratic opponent] Grace Meng, of course, being a Chinese national, has strong support in that area.”

Halloran extolls the area’s diversity and accuses Meng of employing a strategy of “ethnocentrism” to appeal to those Asian American voters.

The optics can be surprising to observers from afar: the red-haired Republican from Queens accusing a Democrat Asian American woman of prejudice

The optics can be surprising to observers from afar: the red-haired Republican from Queens accusing a Democrat Asian American woman of prejudice.

Meng “has been sympathetic to the Chinese, and she’s touted her strong Chinese history as being the reason she’s the appropriate candidate to represent the Chinese people in New York,” Halloran says.

In contrast, “I want to represent the American people in New York, be they Chinese or Italian, Jew or Gentile, Irish or German, my goal is to represent New Yorkers, who are Americans first and foremost.”

He sees his own unconventional religious faith as part of that ethos of diversity.

“In America, the great thing is that we don’t use religion as a divisive thing. We celebrate diversity. In my council district [around Flushing] there are over 130 ethnicities, over 87 religions, everything from Shinto to Buddhism, Orthodox Judaism to Reform, Catholics, Lutherans, Evangelicals. I find great comfort in the fact that – although it was used against me in my council race initially – [my religion] has proven to be unconnected to my life as an elected official. And it has enabled me to reach out to communities which have traditionally been underrepresented, like the Hindu community that has always felt marginalized by the mainstream.”

Hindus are the fastest-growing minority in Flushing, and the neighborhood’s Ganesh Temple “is the largest Hindu temple in all of North America,” he notes proudly.

Halloran’s Facebook page contains two photographs uploaded last Saturday of him attending an India Day Parade in Hicksville, a hamlet east of New York City, and the Hindu Temple Society Picnic at Cunningham Park in Queens.

Yet as he positions himself as the pro-diversity candidate, Halloran returns repeatedly to his views on Meng’s allegedly “ethnocentric” campaign, which he believes is a bad strategy.

Asian Americans make up fully 40% of the 6th District’s population, he acknowledges, but voter interest seems to be low in that community. “They’re only 17% of the registered voters.”

Jews, on the other hand, make up just 20% of the district’s population, but almost as many voters.

Of course, this partly explains why he was in Jerusalem’s David’s Citadel Hotel this week meeting with an Israeli reporter. And why he suggested that Ms. Meng’s pride in her Chinese heritage – “I believe she even has dual citizenship” – is bad for Israel.

“China is the biggest obstacle to Israel in the United Nations,” he warned. “China has repeatedly vetoed resolutions of the United States that support Israel and has repeatedly voted against Israel in the Security Council and the General Assembly.”

Halloran, like his party’s presidential candidate Mitt Romney, seems to harbor high hopes for garnering traditionally Democratic Jewish votes in this election. He demonstrates a surprising familiarity with the Jewish community, naming different religious movements and even Hassidic groups with ease. In a courtesy he does not seem to extend to his opponent in the race, he explains that he fully understands New York Jews’ close ties to Israel, which are often familial.

“Somewhere between 10-15% [of the Jewish population in the district] is Orthodox, Hassidic, some flavor of strong Conservative, or of the Chabad persuasion,” he says, all groups who might vote Republican. “That’s a large demographic. Those voters have very strong opinions about America’s role in foreign affairs, particularly with Israel, and very strong concerns because many of them have family here still.”

On terrorism and the ‘Ground Zero mosque’

But the Jewish vote isn’t the only reason Dan Halloran was in Israel this week.

“Since 9/11, the NYPD has foiled 17 separate bomb attacks by Islamic extremists inside the city of New York. However, many people have already slipped into the lackadaisical approach that ‘it will not happen here again.’”

But Halloran can’t forget. His cousin Vincent, a lieutenant in the New York Fire Department, died while trying to rescue those trapped in the twin towers on September 11, 2001.

His strong support for Israel, he says, comes from his awareness of the threat, and from being “affected by the reality” of terrorism.

‘It seems to me that in Israel, Jews every day have to look over their shoulder, especially in the place that should be the symbol of peace, Jerusalem’

Israelis, he says, “don’t forget. It seems to me that in Israel, Jews every day have to look over their shoulder, especially in the place that should be the symbol of peace, Jerusalem. You would think it would be the place where everyone can get along, but instead you have rocket grenades and mortar shelling and the constant fear of suicide bombers.”

And in this battle against terrorism, Halloran believes, “The United States has an incredibly good partner in Israel. We have a permanent garrison of police detectives who are assigned to Israel [as part of the NYPD’s Joint Terrorism Task Force], and they work with both the Foreign Ministry and the security forces here.”

Halloran’s experience on 9/11 left its mark. He was the sole City Council member who expressed opposition in 2010 to the opening of Cordoba House, now renamed Park51, a Muslim community center that includes a mosque and is situated just two blocks from Ground Zero of the 9/11 attacks.

“I was criticized heavily as being anti-Muslim,” he recalls. “But it has nothing to do with that. When the Roman Catholic Church put a convent in Auschwitz, and that offended Jews throughout the world who felt it was too close, the Catholic Church – rightly – packed up and left, out of respect. But the Muslim community in New York was not willing to do that. They were not willing to say, ‘we understand that extremists from our religion killed 4,000 Americans here. We will respect your feelings that this is too close.’”

Why Ron Paul is pro-Israel, and eliminating the IRS

As in the national presidential race, both of the sides vying for the House seat from the 6th District have taken to attacking the other side’s pro-Israel bone fides. Last week, Halloran drew scathing criticism from his Democratic challenger for his endorsement of the allegedly “anti-Israel” Ron Paul for president.

Writing in the New York Jewish Week, Grace Meng wondered: “If Israel and the Iranian nuclear threat were really so important to Mr. Halloran, why would he endorse the one Republican presidential candidate — out of seven or eight options — who stood out for his anti-Israel views and his disinterest in the Iranian threat?” (Emphasis in the original.)

Halloran retorts that Meng, too, has had to explain away some of her own party’s Israel policies. While noting that he “disagreed publicly with Ron Paul on national defense,” instead supporting him “on domestic issues,” he insisted that the perennial contender for the Republican presidential nomination was not, in fact, anti-Israel.

“Ron has consistently improved his position on Israel over the last three years. He points out quite correctly that the United States currently gives seven times as much aid to the enemies of Israel as it does to Israel. So he’s talking about leveling the playing field. I think that’s perfectly reasonable.”

Halloran in Jerusalem's Old City. (photo credit: Itzik Nissim)
Halloran in Jerusalem’s Old City. (photo credit: Itzik Nissim)

Instead, it is “her [Meng’s] party, the Democratic Party, that has not supported and stood behind Israel when it called for a preemptive strike on Iran to prevent its development of nuclear weapons and missile capabilities. When president Obama says he is unsure as to whether or not he supports military action against Iran, he sends a dangerous signal.”

But Ms. Meng has publicly distanced herself from some of President Obama’s policies in relation to Israel, Halloran is told.

“And that’s okay,” he replies, animated. “But then why am I not allowed to distance myself from Ron Paul’s [Israel policies]? You don’t see the hypocrisy there?”

And finally, the conversation turns from Ron Paul’s views on Israel to a subject closer to the heart of libertarians such as Paul – and Halloran – “the elimination of the IRS.”

How does one eliminate the IRS?

“You make [income tax] a flat tax, so you don’t need a worksheet to go through the numbers. If you know that [income is taxed at] 15% for people making over $1 million, 10% for people making between $100,000 and $1 million, and 5% for everybody else, and there are no exemptions, then you don’t need that [IRS] bureaucracy.”

Democrats and President Obama may rail against the “1%,” Halloran adds, “but 47% of people in the United States pay no federal income tax, because of all the exemptions.”

Instead of a multiple-bracketed tax system with countless exemptions and complex forms, “I think everyone should have a finite number to pay, up to 15-17% for the top end.”

Would he consider a consumption tax, such as Israel’s 17% VAT?

“I’m fine with a VAT if we’re also going to eliminate personal income tax, but you can’t do both. You can’t pay at both ends. In fact, many people in my party argue that a VAT is better, and here’s why. Everybody’s got to buy. Whether you’re here legally or not, whether you pay a federal income tax or not, you have to buy things. So there’s a strong argument to be made that that’s the only way to capture all of the taxes we should be getting.”

On becoming a heathen, Israel’s capital, the Irish Republican Army, and what Kennedy would have done with Iran

In his run for the City Council, Halloran faced some negative scrutiny of his faith. The Times asked Halloran about how he came to that faith, which he refers to as Theodism. Halloran’s answer was brief, and he pointedly moved on. He did not shy away from discussing it, but seemed to want to avoid letting the issue linger through the interview.

“My father died when I was 17, leaving my three younger brothers and I without a parent. It was a very troubling time for me, and I found comfort in the ancestral faith of my great-aunts, who were Danish.”

That ancient faith “looks at God in a very abstract way. God is – I guess as you would see him, the great creator – is in the background and has a hands-off approach to the world, and you perceive the divine through nature, through the natural world. It’s a religion that’s very conscious of your ancestors.”

He acknowledges that some have tried — and failed — to turn his religion into a political liability. “As long as your faith is genuine and honest, and subscribes to the notion that ultimately there is a universal brotherhood of man, it shouldn’t matter. In the United States, what counts is what you say and do, not who you are or where you come from.”

As we wind up our conversation and prepare to leave, Halloran mentions the neighborhoods of Jerusalem he has visited on his trip: Maaleh Zeitim, Abu Tor, Ras Al Amud, Abu Dis.

East Jerusalem.

What does he think about the status of Jerusalem, after a fortnight of sparring on the issue between the Romney campaign and Obama White House?

‘I believe Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. I believe only the Israeli government can truly guarantee the rule of law here’

“I believe Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. I believe only the Israeli government can truly guarantee the rule of law here. I have no confidence, from what I have seen, in the Palestinian Authority being able to truly protect Jews as well as Gentiles who come into the Arab areas.”

He goes one step further: Preventing Jews from living in the eastern neighborhoods of Jerusalem is tantamount to racism, he believes.

“In the US, could you ever tell a black American, ‘You can’t live in Douglaston because you’re black’? Could you ever tell a white American, ‘You can’t live in Spanish Harlem because you’re white’? Could you ever tell a Jew, ‘You can’t live there, there’s too many Catholics’? Absolutely not. So why is it okay for the UN to tell Jews, ‘You can’t live in an Arab area because there are too many Arabs there’?”

Because Jerusalem isn’t Spanish Harlem. Demography will impact future borders, so where Jews or Arabs live is also political. Ultimately, the battle of demography is a battle over self-determination. The Palestinians, for all their faults and errors, do not elect the Israeli military governor who to a large extent regulates their lives. As an American, how does Halloran respond to that argument?

His response: A short lecture on Ireland.

“I’m an Irishman. I fully understand the plight of my family members in the north of Ireland. But when President Clinton went to Northern Ireland to broker peace, he had a precondition: The Irish had to totally disarm first. The Irish Republican Army had to unilaterally renounce violence first and turn in their weapons before a peace solution could be found.

‘The two-state solution can’t be reached when the Arabs don’t want it’

“The two-state solution can’t be reached when the Arabs don’t want it. They know, and the world knows, that the US and UN will be there for them as soon as they put those weapons down. So why won’t they?

“The Irish did it in Northern Ireland. And guess what? There’s peace. There’s coexistence. In fact, Northern Ireland will likely merge back with Ireland within ten years because the Catholics are outbreeding the Protestants four-to-one.

“So when we talk about the lack of representative government in Gaza and the West Bank, the question is not: Should they have it? The question is: Are they willing to embrace it? And until those weapons are laid down and rockets stop being fired across the Green Line, they’re not entitled to it.

“So I agree completely,” he concludes. “There should be democracy [for Palestinians]. But democracy comes when you lay down your weapon. As soon as that happens, we can have this discussion again. But until it happens, Israel has every right to defend itself.”

Halloran pivots quickly to the issue of Iran. As a Congressman, he says, he will support the Israeli government’s desire to attack Iran’s nuclear program in order to prevent the regime from obtaining nuclear weapons. Once again he draws on historical parallels.

“In 1962, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a Democratic president of the United States. And in October of that year, he threatened to bring the United States into a nuclear war with the Soviet Union because the Russians were shipping missiles to Cuba. Cuba is 19 miles from the coast of Florida and 1,160 miles from Washington, DC.

“Now, Tel Aviv and Teheran are exactly 1,162 miles from each other. Is there any difference between what President Kennedy sought to do then, and what this [Israeli] government feels it might need to do in Iran? Maybe there’s one difference: the Soviet Union, for all its faults, was a true world power, with a government that understood the consequences of going to war. I don’t think you can say the same about Iran. Iran is not a rational actor, and the very fact that they denied that the Holocaust took place, and that they don’t believe in the existence of Israel, says everything you should want to know about what they would do with those weapons if they had them.”

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