The Brilliance of Pizza Policy

The Brilliance of Pizza Policy
It's PIZZA NIGHT at the International Space Station! Source

On a warm day in May, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro from Connecticut took to the steps of the Capitol.

"We are here to declare that New Haven is the pizza capital of the United States!" she enthused to a cheering delegation of roughly 100 CT pizza makers holding pizza boxes reading, "CONNECTICUT: THE PIZZA STATE."

"Some say it is the coal fire. Some say it is the brick ovens. Some say it is the char. Some say it's the water used to make the dough," the Congresswoman continued. "Personally, I believe it is generation after generation of dedication to the craft."

This was not the Congresswoman's first foray into pizza advocacy.

"Food + Wine had the audacity to declare New Jersey’s pizza is better than Connecticut’s," she wrote in an op-ed following Food + Wine's contentious assertion. "This time it is personal. And revenge is a dish best served coal-fired."

Well, that's kind of sweet and funny, you might think. But the Congresswoman - who's been serving for 30+ years and knows a thing or two about how the game is played - has a whip smart political strategy at work here.

One thing skilled politicians can do is help shine a media spotlight on issues. By promoting her Connecticut district's pizza makers, she's ginning up fun, energetic press attention for them and putting their businesses on the map, which likely guarantees their vote as long as she continues to seek reelection.

Plus, what does any pizza joint worth its salt do with someone they like? They stick their photo prominently on the wall. Given that Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro is now the Patron Saint of Connecticut Pizza, I'd wager all the money in the bank that the majority of her district's pizzerias now have a snap of her hanging proudly by the register. While there were only 100 CT pizza makers on the Capitol steps, they'll put her picture where likely thousands of her constituents will see it. Plus all the tourists she's helped bring in.

Because the Congresswoman's pizza promotion can boost travel to her district, which puts cash into the pockets of not just pizzerias, but hotels, Airbnb owners, rental cars, rideshares, and the local economy generally, which business owners and municipalities deeply appreciate.

It also buys the Congresswoman goodwill with these constituencies if and when she advocates for policies they aren't big fans of - say raising the minimum wage or limiting the flexibility of federal funds for towns.

Given that CT pizzerias have lived under the long shadow of New York pizza for generations, she's also positioned herself as a champion of the underdog. And underdogs and their fans are ride or die for people who believe in them.

With Congress only passing 2% of bills, getting legislation through is a tall order; for Democrats, who are currently in the House minority, it's nearly impossible. But this kind of advocacy requires no bill passage. The Congresswoman can deliver without needing to deliver a single piece of policy to the President's desk.

Members of Congress are also referred to as legislators (though plenty would argue they shouldn't be called that because they barely legislate), but there are plenty of non-legislative tools at their disposal that can help their constituents. More about that here!

And finally, it's not nuclear weapons or mining or corporate tax loopholes. It's pizza. As comedian Mike Birbiglia (and fan of New Haven's Frank Pepe's Pizzeria) put it, "Pizza is a uniter, not a divider." Even folks who disagree with the Congresswoman on reproductive rights, gun control, tax policy probably wouldn't be appalled by this; they may even be endeared by it.

So if something smacks of gimmicky politics, this stands as a good reminder to think a bit about how it might deliver for the politician's constituents. And remember who the politician is behind it.

Congresswoman DeLauro is the most powerful Democrat on arguably the most powerful committee in the House, the Appropriations Committee. She got approps bills (complicated funding measures) passed when her party only had a four-vote majority, a stunning victory for even the most seasoned politician. She worked the phones to get one of the most aggressive childhood anti-poverty measures passed (the Child Tax Credit, which was included in the American Rescue Plan). She's gotten re-elected over 15 times.

Which is all to say the Congresswoman knows exactly what she's doing here.

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