If elections were about enthusiasm and not counting votes Suraj Patel would probably defeat twelve-term incumbent Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney in the June 26th Democratic primary for the twelfth congressional district, which includes Greenpoint. Visiting Patel’s campaign headquarters in Lower Manhattan, enthusiasm pervades the room, as a horde of young energetic people scurry about and electric buzz of youth and optimism fills the air.
The candidate, a millennial, enters, exuding the same enthusiasm. The thirty-four year-old Patel did his undergraduate work at Stanford and then went on to study Law at NYU, where Patel also is a professor of Business Ethics. An attorney, he received a scholarship at Cambridge where he earned a Masters in public policy.
He is charismatic, articulate and optimistic, which he needs because he faces long odds in unseating an incumbent member of Congress. Patel is the embodiment of the American dream and his family history represents the quintessential immigrant success story. He is a first generation Indian-American whose family ran a Mexican restaurant in Mississippi where he was born. They relocated to Indiana and built a hotel business that has expanded and thrived, allowing Patel to fund his campaign.
Patel reminds many of Barack Obama and there are some similarities between the two. In 2008, Patel was so smitten with Obama that he dropped everything and volunteered for the campaign. It is not surprising that Patel would identify with Obama since they are both articulate, intellectual, first generation Americans with a sincere belief that government can be made to work for the people. A highlight of working the Obama campaign for Patel was traveling with the president aboard Air Force One to visit India, his parents’ homeland.
After the election of Trump, Patel decided that he and other millennials had to organize and run campaigns to fight for a progressive agenda. Patel feels that Congress is ready for change: ”Congress needs a new generation of leadership. Congress needs new blood.”
Patel has also criticized Maloney’s 1994 vote for then-President Bill Clinton’s anti-crime bill, and previous approval for mandatory sentencing laws, which have created a massive prison population. Patel has also criticized Maloney’s vote against the Iranian denuclearization agreement that the Obama administration worked out to remove sanctions against Tehran in exchange for Iran’s committing itself not to develop nuclear weapons.
Patel hopes that if he is elected the district can lead the nation on a progressive path, including achieving universal health care, helping students attend college without debt, increasing access to affordable housing, ending cash bail, and curbing climate change amongst other progressive stances.
On June 12th Patel and Maloney debated on television and it was very contentious. Congresswoman Maloney attacked Patel on a number of fronts, showing that she takes Patel’s challenge quite seriously. Patel’s biggest hurdle, though will be turnout. Democratic Primaries have notoriously low turnout rates that hover between seven and eight percent of all registered Democrats. Maloney’s campaign is bolstered by the fact that she has served in Congress for a quarter century, which has allowed her to pick up several key endorsements and develop voter name recognition.
Patel realizes that Greenpoint is key to his getting elected. Our area has many young, highly educated progressives who form the core of Patel supporters and he has made numerous local appearances trying to garner votes.
Patel has a mountain to climb and his odds seem long, but many people in our area are eager for change and share Patel’s beliefs and support his progressive agenda. Even if he does not win in this primary, Patel might one day soon win the Democratic nomination for Congress.
The Democratic Primary election is on June 26th.