UI grad seeks congressional seat in New York

UI alum Michael Weinstock is running for Congress to represent a New York district.


Julia DiGiacomo, Politics Reporter

A University of Iowa graduate and 9/11 firefighter is running for Congress to represent New York’s 3rd Congressional District, which includes sections of Queens and other parts of Long Island.

If elected, Michael Weinstock said, he will be the first 9/11 firefighter in Congress and the first openly gay person to represent New York City.

Although Weinstock is pursuing his first seat in public office, he was formerly an assistant district attorney. He also volunteered for the Special Victim’s Bureau, in which, he said, he helped protect men and women affected by sexual assault and domestic abuse.

Weinstock, a Democrat, said he was persuaded to run in part as an alternative to corrupt New York politicians. Too many politicians have been arrested or have stood up for their convicted peers in the last few years, he said.

“The first thing I’d like to do is provide New Yorkers a fresh voice and a little inspiration that they can have elected leaders who don’t come from the clubhouse or don’t come from very wealthy families,” he said.

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One reason he was motivated to join the race, he said, is his Jewish faith and the concept of doing mitzvot, which he described as the importance of doing good deeds in Judaism.

Weinstock credits UI Professor Jay Holstein, the teaching chair of Judaic Studies, as being the faculty member who taught him about mitzvot. The two have stayed in touch over the years, and Weinstock has returned to Holstein’s classroom to give a lecture. Holstein said he wouldn’t be surprised if Weinstock wins the election and goes on to bigger things.

“I’ve taught 60,000 students over 50 years, and some of them stand out, some of them don’t,” Holstein said. “He stands out, and it’s always a pleasure to hear from him.”

As a volunteer firefighter who was on duty at Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Weinstock said expanding the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund is something that has been important to him for a long time. Weinstock benefits from the fund, which, he said, pays for his annual cancer screenings. Studies have found links between cancer and exposure to 9/11 Ground Zero.

“[The 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund] takes care of rescue workers who develop cancer or another grave illness as a result of their work at Ground Zero,” he said. “It speaks to me because I know quite a few people who are struggling with cancer.”

Legislation extending the 9/11 victim compensation was approved in bipartisan landslides by both the U.S. House and Senate earlier this month. President Trump signed the act into law on July 29, authorizing money to the fund through 2092.

Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, cosponsored the “Never Forget the Heroes Act” in the House. She said she was honored to vote yes and look up at the 9/11 first responders in the House Gallery.

“These are our firefighters, rescue workers, and police officers who ran into the World Trade Center and searched for survivors at Ground Zero,” she said in a July 12 press release. “We can never repay them for their incredible sacrifice, but we can ensure that survivors and their families are not left wondering how they’re going to afford their medical bills or keep their house after their loved one is no longer able to work because of a 9/11-related illness.”