NEW YORK — Suraj Patel has few illusions about what he faces as he takes on two titans of New York politics, Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler, in this summer’s blockbuster Democratic primary. But he draws hope from a theory about cafes.
“There’s a Starbucks over there and a Starbucks over there, and then there’s a brand new hipster cafe over here,” the contestant said on a recent weekday morning, spinning 180 degrees in Velcro Stan Smith sneakers. “If all the people who go to Starbucks split half and half, then the third place gets about 40% of the foot traffic.
“That’s what we’re doing,” he bet with some optimism.
There is no doubt that the August 23 competition was dominated by the bitter confrontation between Maloney and Nadler, two figures in their seventies in Manhattan’s political power structure who have been dragged into a single seat after serving three decades side by side. in Washington.
But in a summer when Democrats of all ages are reeling from heavy losses on guns, abortion rights and the environment, Patel, 38, thinks discontent over of the party’s aging leadership could be deep enough to pull off a monumental upheaval.
A frenzied Indian-American lawyer who was just 9 when his opponents took office, Patel took a less than soft approach. Recently campaigning in the heart of Nadler’s West Side stronghold, he sought to tie himself to Barack Obama and, while chatting with a retired apartment worker and union member, paraphrased the Ramayana, the ancient Hindu epic: “Fear is the mother of all sins. ”
“We’ve lost every major battle against Mitch McConnell and the Republicans over the past decade, and the people who have been in power don’t have new answers,” Patel told him. “What we’re offering is a whole new set of arguments about inflation, about public safety, about economic growth, and about climate change.”
The throw landed. “I’m similar – proactive, go-getter – and you make sense,” replied union man Mario Sanders, keeping his composure in an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt. He walked down 72nd Street with shiny Patel fliers in one hand and his dog, Juicy, cradled in the other.
However, it will be much harder to get enough votes to actually win, as Patel has learned in two previous attempts to defeat the 76-year-old Maloney.
He came closest in 2020, when he dropped less than 4 percentage points, winning various neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens that have since been removed from the district.
Because the courts reshuffled precincts this spring, he has just weeks to try to reintroduce himself to New Yorkers who in some cases have enthusiastically backed his opponents since the 1970s, and to push young voters to run.
With the party establishment shying away from him, his most notable endorser is Andrew Yang, the former presidential and mayoral candidate who later left the Democratic Party.
Nor does Patel draw the kind of sharp ideological contrasts that have propelled the challengers to victory in recent cycles. He shares his opponents’ support for leftist policies like “Medicare for All” and the Green New Deal, though many on the left view it with skepticism. “I respect all of that,” he said of Nadler’s voting record.
“It’s a tough needle to thread,” said Christina Greer, a political scientist at Fordham University. “Essentially he’s saying, ‘I’ll do the same thing they did, minus 40 years of experience.’ ”
Greer added that Patel had a heavyweight “to convince people that he’s not just another young Obama upstart who thinks they have a right to get ahead of the queue.”
Nadler and Maloney seem torn between trying to ignore and eviscerate Patel. They dismissed her approach as ageist and warned the city would suffer if she replaced two senior members with someone they accuse of spending more time running for Congress than accomplishing anything substantial. .
“Most people don’t embrace that kind of ageism; most people look at people’s records,” Nadler, 75, said in May, shortly after allies of both incumbents quietly tried to pressure Patel to run in a nearby district.
Maloney recently told The West Side Rag that there was too much at stake for “on-the-job training” and accused Patel of “bigotry and lack of experience in handling critical issues that I have dealt with my whole career”.
In an interview over coffee (ice cold Splenda, no milk) at an upscale cafe (Daily Provisions, not Starbucks or hipster), Patel insisted he wasn’t worried about the institutional support that lined up against him or criticism from his opponents.
He accused Maloney of using her perch in Congress to give anti-vaccine activists oxygen (she said she supported vaccination) and hit out at Nadler for taking corporate campaign funds.
“Man, if you think people aren’t voting on endorsements anymore and other political leaders are telling you who to vote for, then you’re missing the point,” he said.
He showed up to greet voters in Chelsea on a Citi bike, pulled out his iPhone to show the average 7 miles a day he walks and discussed his plans to start bar prospecting, with coasters with his face on them. . (He drew attention for using the dating app Tinder to contact potential supporters in 2018.)
Patel’s policy proposals are technocratic, built around what Patel calls “the abundant society,” a blueprint for federal investments in education, child care, manufacturing and research.
The son of Indian immigrants, he lived above the family bodega in Bloomfield, New Jersey, where 13 people crammed into a one-bedroom apartment. The family moved to Indiana when he was 6 and bought his first motel.
Patel tends to say less about how the business grew into a multi-million dollar hotel development and management operation that made the family wealthy, spawned labor complaints and helped fund a expensive apartment in the East Village and, until recently, a house in the Hamptons.
In a city where politicians often rise through local offices or activism, Patel tried his hand at different lines of work: he helped the family business, including during the coronavirus pandemic; staffed Obama campaigns and White House trips; and taught business courses at New York University.
Patel would be New York’s first Native American in Congress, and his campaign has drawn support from South Asians across the country. Indian American Impact, a national group, said it would launch a WhatsApp messaging program to try to increase participation among the district’s small slice of South Asians. (Another Native American, Ashmi Sheth, is also in the running.)
“Democrats can’t just repackage the status quo and sell it to voters as different when in reality people are looking for a clean break,” said Neil Makhija, the group’s leader.
Across the district, however, responses to Patel’s overtures have been more mixed.
“Soon when Nadler retires, then I will vote for you,” Roz Paaswell, 83, told him as he approached with a flyer on the Upper West Side. “You are going to have a place in the city and in politics, but not in this seat.”
Later, Paaswell praised Nadler and said she never missed a vote. “He has seniority. He has weight. I love it,” she said.
Vanessa Chen, 35, was equally blunt as she ran laps on her lunch break a few days later around Stuyvesant Town, one of the district’s largest voting blocks, a stone’s throw from the apartment by Patell.
“We just need new blood,” said software engineer Chen. “Baby boomers are leaving. They don’t know how the new world works.
But does she plan to vote in August?
“Probably,” she laughed, adding that she wasn’t aware of the main date until a reporter tipped her off.
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