By Sabina Mollot
On Tuesday, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney defeated her first serious challenger in close to a decade in a primary against NYU ethics professor and former Obama campaign staffer Suraj Patel.
Maloney, 72 and a house representative for the past 25 years, got 58.52 percent of the vote, (24,223 votes) according to unofficial results with 96.28 percent of scanners reported. Patel, 34, meanwhile, got 41.06 percent of the vote (16,995 votes). The rest (173 votes or 0.42 percent) were write-ins.
Interestingly, Patel did better than Maloney in parts of the tri-borough district, getting 2,864 votes from Brooklyn voters, while Maloney got 1,468. In Queens, he came close with 2,856 votes while Maloney got 2,919. It was in Manhattan where Maloney got the most support with 19,836 votes to Patel’s 11,275.
Patel, an East Villager with parents who emigrated from India, had managed to out-raise Maloney in recent months. He ran a pro-immigrant platform that aimed to recruit support from younger people who don’t normally vote while trying to portray the incumbent, an Upper East Side resident, as an “establishment” Democrat.
He wasn’t the only upstart to shake up the Congressional primary. Joe Crowley on Tuesday lost his Bronx and Queens district to a community organizer and Democratic Socialists of America member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, despite her being heavily outmatched, money-wise, by the incumbent.
As for the Maloney/Patel race, earlier this week, there was a controversy surrounding the Patel campaign’s tactics in recruiting millennial voters. In a New York Times profile of a few candidates running against incumbents, Patel spoke of his staffers’ and volunteers’ “Tinder banking,” using social media apps including dating ones like Tinder and Grindr to chat up potential voters. Once a Patel representative using the app, usually with someone else’s photo, had the attention of another user looking for a romantic connection, he or she would then ask if the person was interested in civic engagement.
“It’s kind of like catfishing,” he told the Times, “but you’re telling them who you are.” Catfishing is a term for using a fake identity in online dating.
The candidate was then ripped apart by critics for the phony dating profiles, including by an LGBT group that demanded an apology.
David Kilmnick, president and chief executive of the New York LGBT Network, said he was outraged, calling apps like Grindr “safe spaces” for many LGBT people.
“The creation of fake profiles and to ‘pretend’ to be LGBT to reel people in, is nothing more than total dishonesty and makes light of the struggles and violence many LGBT people face in our country today,” said Kilmnick on Sunday. “We already have enough cluelessness in Washington DC now; we do not need to add to that. We need to fight it.”
In response to the criticism, Patel spokeswomen Lis Smith defended the tactic as just one example of how the campaign was trying to be different in its approach to engaging voters, instead of the usual robo-calls.
As for the use of the apps popular with the LGBT community like Grindr, Smith said that some participating staffers and volunteers identify as LGBT.
Smith also said that each media profile had Patel’s logo somewhere and the whole idea came from a similar campaign in the UK where two women created a bot in an effort to drum up votes for the Labour Party.
“In 2016, only two percent of 18-34-year-olds voted in the congressional primary,” Smith said in an email. “Suraj is running a different kind of campaign, one focused on growing the electorate to include as many voters as possible. Politicians like Carolyn Maloney engage in political tactics from last century that excite no one and completely overlook the need to bring new people into the process. While our campaign outreach includes phone banking and canvassing, we’re additionally leveraging social media and dating apps to engage non-traditional voters in all corners of the district. The political establishment may sneer at insurgent campaigns trying new tactics to excite voters, but on this campaign we aren’t snobs about getting people involved in the political process.”
Smith also hit back at critics, accusing the “political establishment” of trying to smear Patel, insisting that those who are contacted via dating app responded positively, asking questions about absentee ballots and polling places.
Meanwhile, this wasn’t the first controversy faced by the candidate, who in recent published reports was questioned over his recent voting from an out of state address. He, also, as T&V has previously reported, sued two of his former opponents over invalid signatures, with both getting booted from the ballot.
However, if any of those issues factored into voters’ choices on Tuesday, they didn’t share this information with Town & Village.
At around four in the afternoon, a T&V reporter caught up with a few registered Democrats, all seniors, who shared why they were out voting.
A Gramercy resident who’s just finished casting her vote at the Baruch College campus on East 22nd Street said she was voting for Maloney. The Venezuelan native who’s now an American citizen, and asked that her name not be published, said, “I think about women’s rights. I have three gorgeous granddaughters in this country.”
She also said she was against the travel ban and feels this country is no longer separating church and state.
“I want a secular government,” she said. “Why do you want to create a theocracy? What are we, in ancient times?”
The Maloney supporter added that she never misses an election, despite not having received any materials in the mail about this primary, other than promotional mailers from the candidates.
A few blocks to the east in Peter Cooper Village, resident Pat Ryan said she voted for Patel. She didn’t have much to say about the candidate, but knew she wanted to vote against Maloney, who she disagrees with on abortion. Maloney is staunchly pro-choice and pro-Planned Parenthood.
“For me it’s too much. It’s time for her to get out,” said Ryan.
Neighbor and friend Marie Levine, who was wearing a round “I voted” sticker on her blouse, joked that her vote and Ryan’s “cancel each other out.” Despite a bit of arguing on the Planned Parenthood issue, the two wound up hugging before parting.
“I’m pro-choice and pro-Planned Parenthood,” said Levine, who added, “I’ve never missed an election since I first voted for JFK in 1960.”
A longtime resident of Peter Cooper, Fran Garvin, wouldn’t reveal the name of the person she voted for, but said she too always votes.
Asked what brought her out this particular Tuesday, she answered, “I just want to make sure things change in Washington.” But she added, “I don’t know much about Mr. Patel. He wasn’t around here at all.”
A day earlier, though, some campaigners suggested otherwise. Three of Patel’s relatives were manning a table with literature outside Madison Square Park, where they told T&V that voters they encountered were aware of the primary and familiar with the candidate. Patel’s brother Aakash, sister-in-law Riddhi and uncle, Rak, added that people seemed to really like the campaign shtick of offering free cups of coffee at what appear to be regular coffee carts, other than the campaign logo.
“They love them,” said Riddhi. “If you’re a New Yorker, coffee is the holy grail.”
Town & Village asked representatives for both candidates if they had any statements on the race, but didn’t hear back by press time.