By Sabina Mollot
While hardly an open seat, the race for candidates hoping to represent the 12th Congressional District (most of Manhattan’s East Side as well as parts of Brooklyn and Queens) is proving to be a competitive one. While the Democrat primary on June 26 has just two candidates, the only reason there are just two names on the ballot is that one of them, Suraj Patel, sued successfully against another candidate, Sander Hicks, claiming he didn’t have enough valid signatures. He did the same to an additional candidate, Peter Lindner, though he’d already been booted off the ballot by the Board of Elections. This leaves Patel, a hospitality executive who also worked on both election campaigns for the Obama administration, and Carolyn Maloney, the 25-year incumbent.
On this, Maloney, while interviewed at her home on the Upper East Side last week, mused, “For someone who said he wants more participation, I’m mystified why he’s throwing his opponent off the ballot.”
Meanwhile, Patel has also been fundraising like crazy, outpacing Maloney in recent months and trying to engage people who wouldn’t normally vote.
As for Maloney, perhaps in part due to her history of clobbering challengers at the polls, she has managed to rack up just about every endorsement there is to be had from elected officials, unions, women’s organizations and local clubs. She’s also gotten the nod from Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem.
Another supporter is Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, who, prior to that, in 2010, ran a contentious primary against Maloney.
“I was surprised, but grateful,” said Maloney of Saujani’s endorsement, before conceding, “It was incredibly contentious, but let’s move forward.”
On her current opponent, she said, “Every race is serious and I’m taking it seriously.”
The proof is in her own reelection campaign. Maloney recently slowed down her efforts to support her colleagues’ bids for reelection in order to focus on her own.
While acknowledging Patel is out-raising her, she added that almost all of his donations are from out of state. Her own war chest, she said, is closer to 50/50 in terms of in and out of state contributions, and most of the in-district checks are small.
On these donations, Maloney insisted, “I love it. I’m very appreciative. Sometimes I get $10 and people will write a note.”
She has still has raised more overall, with opensecrets.org (Center for Responsive Politics) reporting that as of March 31 she had raised $1,356,589 to Patel’s $1,064,921.
Additionally, as someone who’s been in office for decades, Maloney can boast some major legislative successes.
One is the law compensating 9/11 first responders for healthcare costs, the Credit Cardholder’s Bill of Rights, which has saved consumers a collective $12 billion every year, and the Debbie Smith Act, which reopened many rape cases that were left cold due to untested rape kits.
She is also the author of legislation that followed the Tishman Speyer default at Stuyvesant Town, to make sure Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac wouldn’t again lend to a property where affordable housing was decreased rather than increased.
More recently, she was able to secure $300 million in funding for down payments on a high speed rail between New York and Boston.
She has passed over 70 pieces of legislation altogether.
Asked about her goals if reelected, right now a big one is the Equal Rights Amendment bill, which Maloney has been pushing hard. Last week, it got a boost with the support of Alyssa Milano.
However, it’s not a new piece of legislation. According to Maloney, it was one of 10 goals she had when first elected into office.
“I’ve passed all of them except ERA,” she said. She’s attempted to get it ratified a dozen times at this point.
Maloney has long been a champion of women’s rights, a role that’s been the source of some frustration lately when fighting the White House for funding for Planned Parenthood, as well as introducing legislation that would establish a women’s museum in Washington.
However, despite the Republican trifecta in Washington, Maloney is optimistic about change with regards to women’s issues, due in no small part to the Me Too era. From Maloney’s perspective, things are already starting to feel different, even in the Capitol.
“There is an excitement and an energy,” she said. “Suddenly we’re at the table. This I haven’t seen before. It’s not like harassment is new. It’s just that we used to consider it part of the job.”
She also, naturally, shares her party’s hope of flipping Congress during the midterm elections.
“In order to have a check on the administration, you need a Democratic Congress,” Maloney said, adding that she believes there is a real shot at this. Along with 45 Republicans retiring from Congress, “We’re winning in seats (Democrats have) never won before,” said Maloney. “In Alabama, there’s (Senator) Doug Jones. I don’t think they’ve had a Democrat in that seat in 40 years. There are a lot of indicators. Seven women won primaries in Pennsylvania. More women ran for office last year than ever before.”
As for district-related issues, Maloney, when out reminding voters there’s a primary, has been hearing a lot of about residents’ L train shutdown concerns.
“People are very concerned about transportation,” Maloney has observed. “If you live on 14th Street, you’re very concerned and if you live in downtown Brooklyn, you’re very concerned about it. The L train is very used and very important and frankly, I am not pleased with the MTA’s plans and how they’re going to adjust during the 15-month project. Buses and ferries, that’s not enough.”
While she considers the Second Avenue Subway a success on the Upper East Side —“It has art, it has space, it’s clean”— farther south in the district, voters have told her they’re unimpressed. “People say, ‘When’s it coming to Stuy Town, because that doesn’t help me.’” Still, she insisted, it has helped businesses on Second Avenue immensely due to an increase in foot traffic. She is also still focused on the East Side Access project to connect Long Island Rail Road riders to Grand Central Station.
In Stuy Town, affordability is always a top concern, while in public housing, “They’re concerned about the selling off of playgrounds.”
Still, her number one priority has constituently been homeland security.
“It’s in my mind all the time since 9/11,” adding that recent successful terrorist attacks like the West Side car attack and the bombing in Chelsea have only hammered home the importance of prevention efforts.
Maloney also has a bill that aims to unmask limited liability corporations that are tied to properties, saying these LLCs can be a way to funnel cash to terrorist efforts.
“If you ride through the East Side, a lot of the buildings are just bank accounts. There’s no one in the buildings,” she said. Hearings have been held on the bill, and she hopes to get it passed before the closing of the session, though one obstacle is that the Chamber of Commerce opposes it.
Fighting for reproductive rights and Planned Parenthood is another ongoing battle.
“They’re extremely busy,” she said of Planned Parenthood facilities within her district. “Their services are needed. If you defund them, where are (low-income women) going to go for their healthcare? The emergency room?”
Another of her priorities, long before school shootings became the world’s most alarming trend, has been to strengthen the gun laws. The death threat she got over the phone as a result of this effort a few years ago hasn’t slowed her down, either.
“If guns made us safer, we’d be the safest country in the world,” she said.
The primary is on June 26. In November, the winner will face off against Republican Eliot Rabin and the Green Party’s Scott Hutchins.