With help from Patel gaffes, Maloney holds onto East Side seat

Carolyn Maloney fended off a strong challenge from first-time candidate Suraj Patel.

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | Tuesday evening’s primaries shook the New York Democratic Party to its core after newcomer candidates surpassed expectations. But even so, East Side congressional candidate Suraj Patel couldn’t quite topple Representative Carolyn Maloney, who had held the 12th District seat for 25 years without much challenge.

The city’s primaries were dominated by three young newcomers running against longtime Democratic incumbents in New York’s 9th, 12th and 14th Districts. The biggest upset was in the 14th District, covering parts of Queens and Brooklyn, where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez toppled powerful Congressmember Joseph Crowley by a 15-percent margin. Congressmember Yvette Clarke kept her seat representing parts of Brooklyn, winning against Adem Bunkeddeko by less than 4 percent.

Despite Patel’s loss, the first-time candidate sparked the most competitive primary election for Maloney in 25 years. Maloney won 58.8 percent of the vote, a nearly 18 percent more than Patel, who garnered 41.2 percent of the ballots cast. Maloney won Manhattan by a landslide — with 19,836 votes to Patel’s 11,275 — but nabbed Queens by just 63 votes. Patel had a leg up in Brooklyn, where he won 2,864 votes compared to Maloney’s 1,468.

The sweeping 12th District includes the Upper East Side, Roosevelt Island, 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.

“I will continue doing all I can to fight back against Trump’s hateful agenda and make sure we take back the House in November,” Maloney tweeted Tuesday night.

In the days leading up to the primary, Patel faced a backlash after news reports on his use of dating apps in campaign strategies that were sharply criticized. Volunteers and Patel himself created Tinder and Grindr profiles, sometimes with photos that were not of themselves, and used politics pick-up lines to tell people about the primary election. The method was detailed in an instruction sheet to Patel volunteers tweeted by New York Times reporter Shane Goldmacher last Friday, advising the volunteers to either keep their own photograph, use a photo provided by the campaign with Patel’s name, or a “stock hottie” image from the Web site unsplash.com. Open Secrets of the Center for Responsive Politics wrote that Patel spent $5,000 on the strategy, dubbed “Tinder banking.”

“Tinder banking” alongside other P.R. slipups, such as reports about allegedly “creepy” Facebook comments about Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney, labor violations at his family’s hotel company, claiming a tax break on his home in Indiana and voting outside of New York City as recently as 2016, became too much noise for voters to notice Patel’s campaign message, which was largely aligned with Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old newcomer candidate from the Bronx who scored Tuesday night’s biggest upset.

Patel was one of the first candidates across the country who ran a campaign on defunding U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. He also called for Medicare for all. He campaigned on legalizing marijuana, but went a step further than Maloney by advocating for the retroactive release of people who have been incarcerated for nonviolent pot crimes. Running against Maloney from the left, he came out against legislation aimed at fighting human trafficking, but which critics say actually puts sex workers in more danger and makes it more difficult to find evidence against trafficking victims. He told The Villager earlier this month that staking out that position was “risky,” but worth taking. Maloney championed the legislation as its co-sponsor.

In a statement Tuesday night, Patel said, “From the beginning of this campaign, our message was simple: Politics in districts like the 12th is broken, and we need to reach out to voters that the political establishment has ignored and left behind for too long.”

He noted the district’s dismal 7 percent voter turnout in 2016. This week, the number of voters more than doubled.

“While the political machine and entire political establishment backed my opponent, we built an inspiring grassroots operation, fueled primarily by the energy of young people, to show that we could defeat the politics of usual and expand the electorate,” he said. “The results were on display tonight: Over 37,000 people turned out versus under 17,000 in 2016.”

“I congratulate Congresswoman Maloney on her victory tonight, and look forward to seeing her stand up against the president and fight hard for our city,” Patel said. “It’s my hope that going forward, we can continue to have a dialogue about the representation New York needs and ways that we can better engage new voters.”

Some voters The Villager spoke with on Tuesday morning were inspired by Patel’s call for change and attempt to overturn the Democratic establishment in the 12th District.

“Carolyn Maloney has been around forever,” said Janet Nadel, an East Villager for more than three decades. “She’s been around forever and ever and ever, and maybe someone new can make some changes in the neighborhood.”

Another East Villager who has been voting in the district for three years voted for Patel, in part, he said, because the Democrats currently in office can’t be trusted to fight Republicans with truly progressive policies.

“I think it’s time to shake up things in Washington,” said Alexander Cavaluzzo, 29, who works in advertising and writes art-criticism articles. “He wants to defund ICE, which I think — especially now — is a very important issue.”

Cavaluzzo said he hoped Patel’s run would push Maloney to the left, as Cynthia Nixon’s campaign for governor has done to Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Despite Patel’s winning well more than one-third of the votes, he was unable to win over neighborhood politicos and politicians during the course of his campaign. The Village Independent Democrats, Downtown Independent Democrats and Coalition for a District Alternative (CoDA), plus a newer Democratic club, the Grand Street Democrats, all endorsed Maloney. Politicians didn’t want to meet with Patel and even asked that photos of them with him be taken off his social-media pages, as reported by The New York Times. 

“Carolyn Maloney has been an icon and role model for women in New York City politics for over 25 years, and I congratulate her on another impressive victory for her and Manhattan’s East Side,” City Councilmember Carolina Rivera said in a statement after the election. “Carolyn has been an example of how elected officials can bring home critical funding and services for district residents while also passing legislation aimed to lift up women and working-class New Yorkers at the same time.”

State Senator Brad Hoylman and Councilmember Keith Powers were out campaigning for Maloney on Primary Day. After the congressmember’s victory, Hoylman tweeted that he “[loved] the fact that [Maloney] said in her victory speech tonight that competition & new ideas make our party stronger as we take on Trump & the GOP in November.

“She gets it,” he added, “which is why the voters re-elected her today.”

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