Bush Taps Son of Yonkers
by Tom Deignan
GROWING up in Yonkers, the son of Irish immigrants, Kevin Madden attended Sacred Heart grammar school and played Gaelic football for the Celtics.
Suffice it to say, intense policy debates over tax cuts and national security were rarely the topic of conversation at Van Cortlandt or Gaelic parks.
But after attending SUNY-Cortland, then working on a Yonkers mayoral campaign, Madden became a political animal. The 31 year-old eventually landed a key Washington position with Republican Congressman John Sweeney, who is often mentioned as a future candidate for higher office.
For the moment, however, it is Madden who is moving onward and upward. He has just been named Northeast press secretary for President Bush’s reelection campaign. Madden will remain in Washington, and assume his new responsibilities next month.
Madden said it’s tough leaving Sweeney’s office, but added: “The congressman knows that this is something I’ve always wanted to do. He has the greatest admiration for the president. He was very congratulatory.”
Indeed, Sweeney’s relationship with Bush as well as Madden’s appointment is further proof of the heavy influence New York Irish Americans have in the Republican party. The story generally goes that by the 1960s, many Irish Catholics had grown disenchanted with the Democrats and began voting Republican, often at the same time as they left decaying cities for the suburbs. This was even the focus of a fine 1996 book by Samuel Freedman called The Inheritance, in which another key New York Irish American GOPer was profiled, Battery Park City honcho Tim Carey.
Growing up, Madden says his home had plenty of political discussion, particularly when it came to Northern Ireland.
“It was an Irish household so there were no shortages of opinions. Everybody had to stake their own,” says Madden. His Galway-born Dad was a “rabid independent.” But Madden’s Tyrone-born Mom was a longtime Democrat, who had the requisite portrait of JFK hanging in the house.
This, however, did not stop her from voting for George W. Bush in 2000, after some heavy lobbying by Madden, as well as his brother, an attorney who still lives in Yonkers.
Madden’s parents came to New York together in the 1960s. Eventually, Madden’s Dad opened an auto body shop in Scarsdale.
“The thing about (Yonkers), everybody’s mother and father was from Ireland. So when you went over to people’s houses for Sunday dinner or to sleep over or whatever, everybody’s parents had an Irish accent. I didn’t realize people were talking funny until (I moved).”
It was after working in Yonkers’ City Hall that Madden took a risk. He packed up and moved to Washington. He ate and slept politics, so figured there was no other place to be.
“My sense was that this is the Hollywood of politics. This is where the big policy debates are,” said Madden.
He pounded the pavement and knocked on a lot of doors, before finally landing a regular job with Sweeney’s office.
It turns out that it was the Sweeney office’s close relationship with Bush staffers that led to Madden’s latest job offer.
“The moon and stars kind of aligned,” he said.
Don’t count Madden among those born-and-bred New Yorkers who can’t fathom living elsewhere.
“I love going back to the old neighborhood,” he said. “There it doesn’t matter what you do for a living. As long as you root for the Yankees.”
But Madden adds: “I’ve made so many unbelievable friends in this town. The throwaway friendships you hear so much about, I just haven’t come across them.”
Indeed, Madden has forged just the opposite kind of relationship. He is engaged to be married this November, to a legislative director for a Florida congressman.
With that part of his future taken care of, where does Madden see his political career going? Might he himself run for office someday?
“A lot of people think that’s something I’d be interested in,” said Madden. “Maybe I’ll day put my name on a ballot one day but not right now.”
Having watched Congressman Sweeney answer question after question about the future, Madden says he’s learned to focus on the job at hand.
“The rest will take care of itself,” he says.
Of the 2004 election, Madden won’t speculate about which Democrat might eventually win the party nod and face off against his new boss, President Bush. All Madden says is: “I expect a very hard-fought campaign. The Democrats will do or say anything to get elected.”