The New York primaries for the U.S. House of Representatives will be held on June 23rd, 2020. One of the candidates who is running for Congress in New York is Suraj Patel, an attorney, activist, business leader, and lecturer on business ethics at New York University (NYU). Patel is running in New York’s 12th Congressional District, the district in which Grace is located. Many Grace students may be familiar with him when he ran back in 2018 since his office was located at 64 Cooper Square, right next to the high school campus. According to Democratic Representative Carolyn B. Maloney’s website, the current representative of NY-12, the district, encompasses “Most of the East Side of Manhattan and Roosevelt Island and extends across the East River into the Boroughs of Queens (including Astoria, Long Island City, and parts of Woodside) and Brooklyn (including Greenpoint).”
Patel is launching a progressive primary challenge for the Democratic Party nomination against incumbent Carolyn Maloney, who has been in Congress since 1993. Patel is taking no corporate PAC [political action committee] money and is running on policies like a Green New Deal, ending mass incarceration, and providing debt-free college.
To learn more about Patel’s congressional campaign and the policies that he is running on, I spoke with him over the phone, due to the new guidelines that the city of New York has announced as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Santiago Zubillaga: Why are you running for Congress?
Suraj Patel: I am running for Congress because I believe we desperately need bold new progressive leadership in Washington. After three decades of the same representation, we are looking at the results of what happens when you have congresspeople that are so out of touch with reality. This is a ‘change’ election. We all know we need “change” in November. If we want “change” in November, then I don’t understand how you could possibly keep returning the same kind of people. I’m a first-generation American. My family came here in the late 60s, early 70s. My dad was an MTA engineer for a couple of years, and he used to walk the track at night and come home in the morning when I’d be on my way to school. We joke today that 30 years later, two things remain the same: the conditions of those tracks and the congressperson.
Why are you challenging Carolyn Maloney, specifically? She’s a very powerful Democrat. She’s the current chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee. Why are you doing this, and why do you think it’s the right thing to do?
Carolyn Maloney takes more corporate PAC money than Mitt Romney and most of the Republicans even. And then she regulates the very same firm that she takes money from. Now, I teach ethics at NYU and I just find that to be wrong. It’s not a left-right issue. I think you know when you take a look at the. record, she’s a mess. You can call into question her judgment, her priorities, and her vision. In 2006, when she voted for the border wall when so few of the Democrats did before Trump ever proposed it and then took thousands of Trump contribution dollars, and refuses to this day to donate them to charity. Or when she voted for the Iraq War. Or the bill to create ICE [the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement]. Or [that she] still takes corporate PAC money. Thing after thing after thing, I think, you can question her judgment. And yes, she’s now chairwoman of the Oversight Committee. And that means the stakes are even higher.
You are not taking any corporate PAC money, right is that correct?
That’s correct. No way!
Would you say that you are challenging Rep. Maloney from the left, politically speaking?
Yes because not taking corporate PAC money, wanting to end deportation, wanting to end mass incarceration, and enact criminal justice reform are certainly more progressive than her. But on some issues, it’s hard, you know, it’s hard to sort of like, put yourself on a left-right spectrum on everything all the time… And I think if you’ve been in office for almost 40 years like Carolyn Maloney has been, I think you could become out of touch really quickly.
New York’s 12th Congressional District has about 700,000 people living there. That’s more people than some U.S. States. What would you say are some of the main issues that are facing the district?
Transit, affordability, climate change. Climate change has happened already. Hurricane Sandy already happened. We have the East River, which touches almost all of the district on both sides, and we are at the frontline of rising sea levels, storm surges. The fact of the matter is that for so long, we’ve been woefully underfunding our subways and our public housing, and infrastructure. I think those are big, big issues the federal government needs to step in and play a role there.
So are those the main policies that you’re running on? Are there other policies that are more federally orientated and less local?
We are definitely running on more federal policies than that. The main one that is currently out is the Family Opportunity Guarantee, which would cut in half child poverty in New York and by two-thirds in the entire country in the first year. It’s comprised of five parts: paid family and medical leave for everyone, which I think we need desperately now, a public option for child-care, nation-wide Pre-K, New York successfully implemented Pre-K, medicare for kids, and then the main part is the universal child dividend, which is a program to put $500 into the pockets of every family, every month, for every child until the age of five, and then $350 a month until age eighteen.
As you know I am a student in this district, what are some of the policies that you’re going to support that would impact students in an influential way?
First off, I would say the Universal Child Dividend would impact your family and would’ve impacted your family throughout your childhood. We’re obviously pretty laser-like on debt-free public education. I don’t think that we should be asking kids to take on a lifetime of debt for something that they already kind of have to do, which is to get a college education. I think it’s unfair, so I’m supportive of that.
On your Instagram, I saw that you had criticized Carolyn Maloney on issues of foreign policy. You criticized her for voting for the Iraq War, opposing the Iran Nuclear Deal, and voting for the 2020 Defense Spending Bill. What is your overall foreign policy view? Do you support ending the wars and bringing the troops home?
I think that’s one of the main reasons we challenged Rep. Maloney in the first place because I truly believe that war should be our last resort and we should [seek] diplomacy first. I’m a foreign policy believer in sort of the mold of Barack Obama, leading with multinational coalitions to tackle the world’s biggest problems like the Paris Climate Accord or the Iran Nuclear Deal. I do believe in ending forever war. I don’t think it’s a sustainable policy to be constantly fighting wars across the world with no end in sight and no strategic imperative.
One thing that a lot of young people, like myself, are very passionate about is civil liberties. Specifically, the right to be left alone. Where do you stand on issues of privacy and certain laws like the Patriot Act?
I think the right to privacy is sacrosanct and paramount and I consider myself a civil libertarian as well. I was only in college during the Patriot Act, but I will tell you this. I was an intern at one point and wrote back in 2004-05 when I was still in college a long essay on the sunsetting provisions for the USA Patriot Act and why they should not be extended. Those were warrantless wiretaps, things like that.
Something that is on the minds of a lot of the American people right now is obviously the coronavirus. What do you think are sort of the necessary steps to fight the coronavirus, and do you believe that the Trump administration has delivered an adequate response to the coronavirus?
This is a tough one. Obviously, right now, we’re taking all the precautions we can. Of course, we should take care of the most vulnerable right now. We should extend paid-sick leave. We should make sure the testing is universally-widely available. I don’t think the Trump administration’s response has been adequate up until now. Calling it a hoax, lying about the severity of it, not taking tests, not having enough tests available. These are all things that are harming us clearly, so I think the response would be inadequate. But I’ll tell you the truth; I’m a person that is interested in harm reduction and results, so we will have plenty of time to do an autopsy of this administration and how they bungled it. But for now, I’m honestly not interested in that. I am interested in just results.
Where can we find you online?
Our website is www.surajpatel.nyc. And our socials are @surajpatel.nyc as well. We’d love for you to get out and vote in the primary. It is very important for an election that you have a choice in your representation.