N.Y.U. prof and ‘truther’ poised to challenge Maloney in primary

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | In a congressional district as blue as the 12th, winning the primary election is the biggest hurdle to a seat on Capitol Hill. But, over the years, Representative Carolyn Maloney, who has been in Congress since 1992, has repeatedly squashed any opponents who have tried to snatch her seat. Her challengers are hoping that this year, however, will be different.

Suraj Patel, a Barack Obama campaign veteran and business ethics professor at New York University’s business school, hasn’t run for office before, nor has he been involved in New York City politics. But his campaign, largely born out of the post-Trump election movement, has already raised $1.1 million, as the Washington Post reported Monday. And he told The Villager he has every intention to win on June 26.

“Competition fuels democracy” is painted on the walls of his headquarters at 64 Cooper Square, which was repurposed after a short-lived cocktail bar, the Coup, that was aimed at donating cash to nonprofits shut down. For the 34-year-old Indiana native, elections should be competitive, since that is how better, more visionary candidates can get elected. More could be done, he said, in the fight against President Donald Trump and creating a vision of what the U.S. could look like with more bold, progressive policies.

Congressmember Carolyn Maloney will have at least two opponents in the June Democratic primary election.

“We should be boldly leading the country progressively from places like this,” he said, referring to the 12th Congressional District. “Every other facet of life, New York expects the best.” But now, he added, “for whatever reason, we’ve been O.K. for so long accepting the status quo unchallenged.”

The sweeping district includes the Upper East Side, Midtown, the Flatiron District, Gramercy, Union Square and the area south of it to near Washington Square Park, Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town, the East Village and part of the Lower East Side; Astoria, Long Island City and part of Woodside in Queens; Greenpoint in Brooklyn; and a small part of the Bronx.

Despite generating buzz, Patel has not won over many local politicos, most of whom still  stand behind Maloney.

“I see these young people coming and the first thing they do is run for office,” said Tony Hoffmann, a former president of the Village Independent Democrats and the club’s current campaign committee chairperson. “And they run against good people. If it was a bad person, I’d say do it.”

Hoffmann said young candidates, including Patel, should be more involved with community boards, block associations and local political clubs, such as V.I.D., before running for office.

“He has a future if he stays with it,” Hoffmann added.

In the vote for V.I.D.’s endorsement, Patel lost to Maloney by just three votes, 20 to 17, with two members abstaining. Hoffman shrugged it off to Patel’s charisma, youth and looks, explaining that Maloney was unable to attend and new club members not knowing Maloney.

Suraj Patel made a good impression on the Village Independent Democrats, but narrowly lost their endorsement to Maloney.

Even months before the primary, Maloney and Patel got into a spat regarding his campaign contributions. Maloney said in an interview that his fundraising money was “mainly from Indiana, where he’s from,” and included a “huge amount of the name Patel, which is his name.”

Patel responded to Buzzfeed saying: “I guess I didn’t realize Representative Maloney hired Steve Bannon as her campaign strategist.”

He told The Villager this week that “there’s no way that she can’t know that all of us aren’t related,” adding that people with the last name Patel have donated to Maloney’s campaign throughout her career.

“But more importantly,” he said, “It’s that attitude to silence newcomers — to almost bully them — that the electorate just won’t stand for anymore.”

Patel said he is running to reform the country’s democracy by ending voter suppression, fighting mass incarceration, taking meaningful climate action with market-based solutions, and, specific to the 12th District, be the fighter in Washington that the district needs for federal funding for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York City Housing Authority.

In the context of Capitol Hill’s hyper-partisan climate, Patel’s policies are clearly liberal, and any of his initiatives having a shot at going anywhere would likely depend on which party ends up as the majority in the House.

But Patel rejects that every issue has to be viewed on a left-right spectrum.

“We want to move past this partisan point,” he said. “It’s going to take a new generation of people who are not battle-scarred from the last 30 years.”

A Maloney spokesperson, in a statement, said the representative’s record speaks for itself and is why she deserves re-election to another two-year term.

“Carolyn Maloney has been a fearless fighter in Congress, holding Trump accountable and getting results for New Yorkers,” the spokesperson said. “She has authored or co-authored more than 70 measures that have been signed into law, including the James Zadrogra 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act, and the Debbie Smith Act, and fought to bring in  more than $10 billion in infrastructure funding for the district. That’s why she has strong local support and has been endorsed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, NARAL, Emily’s List, End Citizens United, the New York State AFL-CIO and other progressive organizations.”

Sander Hicks is running to the left of Maloney and the other candidates.

Sander Hicks, the owner of a woodworking business and previous owner of a Lower East Side coffee shop and former alternative publisher, is also running. Previously, he ran for U.S. Senate as a Green Party candidate.

“I’m kind of perfect for this job,” Hicks said. “I’m a mix of vision and pragmatism, and the incumbent has neither.”

A self-described peace activist, Hicks protested during Occupy Wall Street and was re-inspired during Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign. He is a “9/11 truther” — alleging a conspiracy behind the 2001 terrorist attacks — who also doubts that Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad is behind the chemical weapons attacks, an increasingly widespread belief among both the far right and far left that has not been proven.

Hicks charged that Patel is “beating the drums of war” by saying Syria’s president is behind the chemical weapons attacks against Syrians.

“This is jingoistic garbage and it is completely false,” Hicks said.

Hicks also feels communities should establish their own cryptocurrencies to improve housing affordability, and everyone should get a guaranteed basic income of $1,000, he said.

Peter Lindner was hoping to run in the primary because he has a personal beef with Maloney, but it was looking like he might not collect enough petition signatures to get on the ballot.

Peter Lindner is also angling to run in the June primary. However, as of this week, he did not have quite enough petition signatures to get placed on the ballot yet, and the deadline to formally file with the New York City Board of Elections is Thurs., April 12. Lindner ran against Maloney in 2016, losing by 80 percentage points.

“It’s sad to say, but on almost every issue, I agree with Maloney,” he said.

He is still running for the seat because of what he called Maloney’s inaction over Lindner’s personal dispute with a judge during Lindner’s lawsuit against a former employer. He is also running on the campaign planks of more gun control and improved technology.

Maloney’s last significant challenger — Reshma Saujani, who ran against her in 2010 — lost to the congressmember by 62 percentage points.

In the 2016 state and local primary elections, turnout citywide was just 10 percent, according to a Board of Elections report. The notorious low turnout has been a focus of Patel’s campaign. One of his campaign videos shows him in a hoodie chasing down New Yorkers to see if they know who their representatives are and if they plan to vote. Even amid a nationwide increase in political awareness after the Trump election, most could not answer the questions.

Whether voter turnout in the 12th District will pick up — despite it being a nonpresidential election year — will be revealed on June 26.

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