By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Democratic congressional candidates hoping to replace incumbent Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney squared off in a debate at the end of March sans the Congresswoman herself, who was originally confirmed for the event but ultimately told the organizers there was a conflict in her schedule.
The two candidates who did appear, Sander Hicks and Suraj Patel, debated at a monthly meeting for the Progressive Action of Lower Manhattan at the Seafarer’s International House at the end of March. Arthur Schwartz, chair of the organization, moderated the discussion and geared some of the talking points to broader, national issues for a change of pace because the group generally only has a chance to discuss local politics, with the candidates discussing the direction of the Democratic Party as well as healthcare, voter participation and advocating for the disabled.
Supporters of former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders are a substantial contingent of the members of NYPAN, with one debate attendee pointing out her tattoo of the Vermont Senator, and Schwartz put emphasis on this early in the debate, asking if the candidates had considered how these progressive voters would be represented in the Democratic National Committee.
Patel, who said that he helped staff Sanders’ campaign and although he ultimately supported Hillary Clinton, believes in many of the tenets that Sanders espoused, said that the Democratic National Convention is “hapless.”
“Money in politics has caused some of our greatest problems,” he said.
Hicks said that he would definitely be open to advocating for Sanders supporters to be part of the organization.
“Sanders supporters should play a central role,” he said. “Voting for Bernie changed my life. He’s spoken truth to power. For anyone to vote for Clinton shows a lack of political instincts.”
Both Hicks and Patel said they believe in the importance of single-payer health insurance, but Patel said that it should be taken further.
“There’s no public option,” he said. “The last person to push for this policy was Anthony Weiner but we could go farther than Medicare for all.”
Schwartz also raised the issue of voter participation, which is notoriously low in New York.
“This is a key issue of the campaign,” Patel agreed. “New York is supposed to progressive but we’re one of the most suppressive of voters. We need to make Election Day a national holiday. Our voting power is being diluted by money in campaigns.”
Hicks agreed that money in politics is a problem.
“We need to repeal Citizens United and throw out money in politics,” he said, referring to a law passed in 2010 that prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures by corporations and other associations. Hicks also advocated for voting by mail and early voting in New York, pointing out that both increase voter turnout.
“We also need to get rid of the electoral college,” he added. “Secretary Clinton and Al Gore might agree with me.”
Regarding protections for people with disabilities, Hicks said that he is open to specific suggestions. Patel admitted that it wasn’t a topic he was necessarily familiar with but has learned more since speaking with disability advocates and said that it is a topic that is often overlooked.
“People with disabilities are the largest marginalized group in America,” he said. “We should apply higher scrutiny to making sure they have access.”
The Congressional primary is on June 26.