By Sabina Mollot
On the heels of what was the most competitive primary race Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney faced in about a decade last year, another millennial who’s never held office is now also attempting to unseat the 25-year incumbent.
Lauren Ashcraft, a Turtle Bay resident who works as a project manager for JP Morgan Chase, officially launched her Congressional campaign at the end of March.
Since then, the 30-year-old Democrat has been raising some small donations (around $2,500 so far) from those who like her elevator pitch promising to get big money out of politics.
“I feel it’s a central issue because progressive issues are stalled because it,” said Ashcraft, who has pledged not to take any corporate or superPAC money. Her donations have been mostly in the $50 range, but she’s hoping her campaign will be taken seriously with the help of a volunteer staff of 15 and by getting a head start. The Democratic Congressional primary isn’t until 2020 and candidates won’t even have to start petitioning until next year.
“I started early because I realized what an uphill climb we need to do if we know our donations are going to be $5 and so we can connect with as many voters as possible,” Ashcraft said.
She also said she’s not daunted by the fact that she has no ties to a political club and has never worked for an elected official, noting that in the midterm elections, American voters didn’t seem to be concerned by such traditional rites of passage, either.
“It’s been exciting to see the new class of congressmembers. You see that this is no longer a part of a resume that’s needed to run for office,” said Ashcraft. “The resume you should have is passion.”
Meanwhile, she does have some indirect experience with politics. She’s been an organizer with the Women’s March Alliance in New York City since 2017 and she does standup comedy with routines that often touch on political news of the day. Along with wanting to make people laugh, Ashcraft has also turned her performances into regularly held benefits for causes that have ranged from the Flint water crisis to animal rescues to recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.
Ashcraft also appears to be ready for inevitable challenges to her credibility as a progressive, considering she works for a banking behemoth. But in response, she says she considers her project manager role a form of consumer protection.
“What motivates me is as millennials we graduated into the worst economic crisis (we’ve) ever seen,” said Ashcraft. “I personally feel this is largely tied to the lack of financial regulations and still I feel we haven’t corrected the mistakes that caused 2008 and we’re not preventing it. When Trump rolled back Dodd-Frank, that just opens up the industry to another 2008 and I think we really need someone who understands the financial industry.”
On another largely financial issue, while Ashcraft said she wasn’t necessarily opposed to the Amazon headquarters deal, she didn’t like much about the way it was handled.
Long Island City is part of the 12th District, and Ashcraft said she didn’t like that Amazon was offered such generous breaks when it hadn’t been determined ahead of time that the company’s 25,000 promised jobs would be local hires. She was also concerned about prior labor disputes involving the company.
“When I saw politicians like AOC demanding answers is when Amazon was starting to back out,” she said.
Other issues Ashcraft said she’s focused on are criminal justice reform — including expunging the records of people in prison for marijuana-related crimes and offering job training, which could be paid for by tax revenue pf marijuana sales, as well as the de-criminalization of marijuana. Marijuana, she believes, would be a good alternative to highly addictive opioids that are used for pain management. Ashcraft also supports the decriminalization, de-carceration and expungement of records for sex workers. Also a supporter of the Green New Deal, Ashcraft called the environment another priority.
“My district is surrounded by the East River, which has been in the news for large amounts of pollution,” she said. “I don’t want to say it’s Ground Zero, but it’s right front and center; and it could be impacted by the climate situation. New York City in general is going to be impacted by any rise in water levels.”
The 12th Congressional District covers much of the East Side of Manhattan, as well as parts of Brooklyn and Queens. Ashcraft has lived in the district since 2017, but has lived in the city for five years, previously Jackson Heights.
If elected, Ashcraft said she would also want to strengthen the Americans with Disabilities Act and make sure people with disabilities have full access to public transportation, since currently many subway stations are without elevators, or at least ones that work at any given time.
“It’s a local issue that affects New Yorkers,” she said. “There are almost 50,000 people in the district who identify as having a disability.” The issue is also a personal one for her, since her grandfather was a quadriplegic, having become that way one day due to a fall.
Asked about affordable housing, Ashcraft said she supports rent regulation and control but also blamed the dearth of affordable units on elected officials who take real estate money.
If elected she would also want to make absentee voter ballots more accessible (“you wouldn’t have to have an excuse”) and the ballots would contain packets of information about each candidate. “A lot of the dollars that get spent are just to get your name out,” she said.
She acknowledged she has some things in common with her opponent, like being pro-choice, wanting to see the Equal Rights Amendment passed and supporting Medicare for all. But, she added, “All of those things, if you’re under the name Democrat, you should support those things.”
She’s different, however, in that she supports term limits for Congress members and thinks donations to candidates should only come from individuals.
“The corporate PAC money and the super PAC money just has to go,” said Ashcraft.
A campaign kickoff event (tickets $15) will be held at Caveat Comedy Club on May 27 at 7 p.m.
On Ashcraft’s campaign, a spokesperson for Maloney said, “Competition is good and a strong sign of the activism and energy in the Democratic Party right now.”