Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney sparred with the three challengers vying for her seat this week during a Democratic primary debate moderated by Errol Louis of NY1 and broadcast ahead of Tuesday’s election.
Maloney has represented New York’s 12th Congressional District — which covers the Upper East Side, Midtown and the East Village in Manhattan, as well as Greenpoint in Brooklyn, Long Island City and Astoria — since 1993. She is seeking her 15th term and touted that her status as the chair of the House Oversight Committee gives her a greater voice in Congress, but her opponents all argued it’s time for change.
Lauren Ashcraft, Suraj Patel and Peter Harrison each gave their rationale for running for office in their opening remarks. Ashcraft said that every person deserves to have an equal voice in a democracy, but that’s not currently the case. Patel compared Maloney to Trump, suggesting she represented complacency in progress and that people were in the streets advocating for change. Harrison said that the country’s current system values property over people, and he has been fighting that system for a decade as a housing activist, and would continue that fight in Congress.
The two major questions discussed during the debate centered on police reform and job creation for the district. Candidates were asked what actions they had taken publicly over the last several weeks in the aftermath of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, who were both killed by police, and if they supported taking $1 billion from the NYPD as activists have been advocating.
Harrison answered first, saying he had been participating in protests across the city and joined other CUNY professors in calling for police to be removed from the school’s campuses. He said he is in support of defunding the police, but that the larger conversation should be had about the problems rooted in capitalism. It is now the time to be changing the structure of the system to make sure people have economic security, he said.
Maloney said she has taken part in demonstrations and was inspired to see the country united and determined to bring about transformational criminal justice reform. The congresswoman has signed onto a proposal that was put forth by the Congressional Black Caucus that addresses the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, outlawing both chokeholds and no-knock searches at the federal level. The legislation will be on the floor next week, said Maloney.
Patel claimed to have been on the frontlines with Black Lives Matter for his entire career, as both an attorney and made it a central part of his campaign when he ran for the seat two years ago. He criticized Maloney’s record on the issue, noting that she had voted for the 1994 crime bill, which has become synonymous with the mass incarceration of Black and brown people.
“How do we trust people who had a hand in creating this system to fix it after years of doubling down on it?” Patel asked.
Record on Reform
Maloney was quick to defend herself, saying she had been involved in reform since her days on the city council when she helped implement the citizen’s review board of police.
“I’ve been a part of this work for years, where have you been? Before you ask him what he’s going to do, ask him what he’s done,” she said. “I don’t see anything you’ve done other than criticize everybody else.”
Ashcraft too criticized Maloney’s record on reform, noting that Maloney had voted against amendment to the Defense Appropriations Act, which would have ended the flow of military equipment to local police departments.
The candidates were asked whether the increase in murders last year should make people hesitate before calling for a reduction in the NYPD budget, and Harrison rejected that line of thinking.
“We could provide secure housing, health care, child care, living wages — these are the things lacking in our society that creates tension points and struggles that create crime,” he said. “I reject the premise that there’s a connection between defunding the police and putting resources into the social safety net and somehow crime will go up.”
Louis also asked the candidates what their position had been on the failed Amazon deal, and how they planned to bring jobs to the district in the wake of the coronavirus.
Ashcraft did not support the deal with Amazon.
“I stand against corporate incentives and handouts for companies coming to our city,” she said, adding that if the deal had gone through, she wouldn’t be able to afford her rent in Long Island City.
She said she was in favor of a federal jobs guarantee and the green new deal, which includes a jobs guarantee. She said not only would these jobs help move the country in the direction of 100 percent sustainable energy use, but would pay folks a livable wage.
Patel said he also opposed the subsidies, and the process by which the governor and mayor went about making the deal. He said in order for these deals to be fair there needs to be community input and investment in the community by corporations. He also touted his experience in helping his family’s hotel business come back from bankruptcy during the 2009 financial crisis. He said the government should prioritize restart loans so that there is not a slew of bankruptcies following the pandemic.
Maloney said she was in favor of the deal with Amazon and argued that the corporation would have had to pay $27 billion in taxes before receiving any type of subsidy from the city. She said she’s been working to diversify the city’s economy to include tech companies so that the city is not so reliant on Wall Street.
Harrison criticized each of his opponents’ stances on the issue, saying they should not be negotiating with corporate monopolies.
“To create economic security we need to invest public wealth into public infrastructure: housing, education and health,” said Harrison. “The types of things the city has invested in to make it the economy it has been over the last hundred years.”