By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders
I get a lot of political emails. It seems that I am on everybody’s mailing list. But none more than from 36-year-old Suraj Patel. If the name rings a bell it is because he ran against Carolyn Maloney in the Democratic Party Primary two years ago and did fairly well, winning about 40% of the vote. Undaunted by his defeat, he is challenging Maloney again. In truth, he never really stopped running.
This year the Primary is in June… just four months away. But who is Mr. Patel? And what makes him run? The trend in the Democratic Party starting with Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, now referred to as “AOC” by tabloid newspapers, is for young persons in a big hurry to run for high office. Two years ago, the then-unknown 20-something Alexandra Ocasio Cortez toppled Congressman Joe Crowley, who was an influential veteran of the House of Representatives for 20 years after having served in the State Assembly for over a decade. She has since gone on to become a progressive political rock star and is quoted in the press almost as much as President Trump.
But back to Patel. Like AOC, and actually like Trump, he runs for office having never served a day in his life in government. So clearly one can be elected to an important federal office without first having learned about government from the inside. Some people actually think that is a virtue. And like Donald Trump, Mr. Patel has a lot of experience operating hotels and has made a considerable amount of money. But why is he running against Carolyn Maloney, who is now a 28-year member of Congress and at the height of her influence, having been named Chair of the important Committee on Oversight? He says he has a lot of policy disagreements with Maloney but for the most part they seem to be nuanced and not notable.
In Congress, seniority is everything and New York now has a number of influential senior members who can help drive debate and policy. That is a good thing for New York. Should Mr. Patel succeed, he will be two decades away from any such important post in Congress. At best, he would hope to be influential, like AOC, through social media.
To some extent, the race for Congress in the 12th Congressional District, which includes the East Side of Manhattan as well as parts of Queens and Brooklyn, mirrors the dynamic that is being played out on the Democratic Party national stage. It’s experience versus youth. Increasingly, the race for the Democratic presidential nomination is boiling down to veteran politicians in their 60s and 70s against a new generation of much younger politicians 20 or 30 years younger, as exemplified by rising star Mayor Pete Buttigieg and even the untested Andrew Yang. President Donald Trump, now well into his 70s, is the oldest person ever elected to that office, surpassing even Ronald Reagan in age, if not wisdom.
Mr. Patel, like AOC, is quite media savvy. He knows that most young voters he appeals to between the ages of 18 and 35 get much of their news via the internet and other social media platforms. So he has mastered that medium. But will his generation come out to vote? That is the big question. Historically, that demographic of the electorate goes to the polls in relatively low numbers, especially as measured against persons over the age of 45.
Carolyn Maloney has had a distinguished career in government, having worked in the State Legislature before she was elected to the New York City Council for three terms. She was first elected to Congress in 1992 defeating the 15 year Republican incumbent Bill Green. Back in 1992, Ms. Maloney was the younger candidate, in her 40s and eager to make her mark. Now, as is inevitable, the tables have turned.
On the ballot this year is not just one candidate against another, or even one party against another, it is a younger generation vying to replace the older generation in power. It is tested experience against urgent new ideas and at times the impetuousness of youth. The outcome of this congressional race will have a profound impact on our community for many years to come.