POLITICS

Wall Street-Friendly Long Island Democrat Picks Up A Progressive Challenger

Democratic activist Melanie D’Arrigo is taking on Rep. Tom Suozzi of New York.

Melanie D’Arrigo, a progressive activist and wellness professional, announced Tuesday that she is challenging Rep. Tom Suozzi, a Long Island Democrat, in the Democratic primary election for New York’s 3rd Congressional District. 

D’Arrigo, 38, is seeking to unseat Suozzi, 56, both because of her disagreement with his stances on key policies and her disappointment in his unwillingness to be a more vocal spokesman for the causes on which they agree.

“I feel very strongly that we’re at a pivotal point in our country right now and that we all need to stand up and fight for what’s right,” D’Arrigo told HuffPost. “And I think that those who are not doing that do not belong in government.”

Melanie D'Arrigo, a health and wellness professional and Democratic activist, hopes to harness liberal enthusiasm to unseat R
Melanie D'Arrigo, a health and wellness professional and Democratic activist, hopes to harness liberal enthusiasm to unseat Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.).

The area where D’Arrigo’s complaint is clearest is immigration policy. Suozzi was one of just 18 Democrats to vote for a Republican resolution supporting the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency that was designed to embarrass more liberal Democrats.

More recently, Suozzi was one of 129 House Democrats ― and 176 Republicans ― to vote in favor of the GOP Senate’s emergency border funding bill in June, which lacked real regulations ensuring that the asylum-seekers coming across the southern border would be treated humanely.

Members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, which consists of centrists from both parties, had, to begin with, forced a vote on the conservative Senate bill without changes by threatening to kill a more progressive bill backed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.

When D’Arrigo asked Suozzi, a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, whether he had been one of the members supporting the revolt against Pelosi, he would not say one way or another, she said.

“I find that highly problematic,” D’Arrigo said of the non-answer. “His role in the Problem Solvers Caucus overall is super problematic. He trades a dollar for a quarter every time. It only benefits Republicans; it does not benefit Democrats.”

“While I think, ideologically, saying, ‘Let’s work together,’ is a great idea ― nobody would disagree with that ― in actual practice that’s not happening,” she added.

Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-N.Y.) has drawn progressive criticism for more conservative votes on immigration and banking regulation
Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-N.Y.) has drawn progressive criticism for more conservative votes on immigration and banking regulations. Now he has a primary challenger.

Suozzi, who was elected in 2016 to succeed the retiring senior Democrat Steve Israel, has taken a number of other positions that rankle D’Arrigo and other progressives in the district. He opposes impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, enacting “Medicare for All” single-payer health care and repealing the Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of public funds for abortion services. D’Arrigo supports all three.

D’Arrigo hopes to serve as a more vocal opponent of Trump and his immigration policies, as well as specialize in climate policy, an issue she notes is especially relevant for shoreline areas like Long Island. 

Climate change “is the existential crisis of our generation. Particularly if you represent a community on the shoreline, you have to champion this issue,” she said.

D’Arrigo supports the Green New Deal, an infrastructure-based plan that sets the ambitious goal of ending the U.S. economy’s reliance on fossil fuels in a mere 10 years, but it does not lay out an exact set of policies to get there.

“We need a massive overhaul, and we need it very quickly,” she said.

D’Arrigo is also a critic of Suozzi’s coziness with corporate America. Suozzi, who raised $154,700 from finance, insurance and real estate industry PACs in his 2018 reelection race alone, joined with Republicans to vote for a 2018 bill dramatically rolling back the banking regulations enacted in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act. The bipartisan bill, cast as a form of regulatory relief for smaller banks, ended up, among other things, exempting all but the largest banks ― those with $250 billion or more in assets ― from key oversight rules.

The companies want a return on their investment. How do we know that anything he’s voting for is actually representative of his constituents and not those businesses? Melanie D'Arrigo

D’Arrigo, by contrast, said she plans to reject all corporate PAC donations.

“The companies want a return on their investment,” D’Arrigo said of Suozzi’s corporate donors. “How do we know that anything he’s voting for is actually representative of his constituents and not those businesses?”

D’Arrigo, who has built a career advising corporations and nonprofits on how to improve their employees’ health and wellness, lives with her husband and three children in Port Washington, a suburb on Long Island’s North Shore.

As is the case with many recent converts to the world of progressive activism, Trump’s election came as a shock and inspired her to get more involved in politics, she said. During a brief stint in Atlanta in 2017 and early 2018, she helped organize the Atlanta Women’s March. She went on to become more involved in the gun control group Moms Demand Action, participate in protests at the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and manage the reelection campaign of New York Assemblyman Tony D’Urso in November 2018.

In D’Arrigo’s campaign announcement video, she describes growing up poor on Long Island. She says her climb out poverty continues to drive her passion for equality, justice and democratic representation.

“I believe everyone deserves a seat at the table,” she says. “But the table itself is broken ― rotted by corporate greed, the super-rich and generational politicians more concerned about their next election than our next school getting shot up.”

D’Arrigo’s trajectory mirrors that of other members of the anti-Trump Resistance who initially trained their sights on Trump and his Republican allies but soon found plenty to criticize on their own side of the aisle. That has been especially true in New York, where the progressive backlash to Trump has been strong. In addition to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s upset win in June 2018, primary challengers unseated six out of eight members of a rogue Democratic state Senate bloc that had aligned with Republicans in legislative primaries 2½ months later. 

D’Arrigo’s success against Suozzi will hinge in part on whether enough Democrats in New York’s 3rd District identify with her frustration and share her eagerness for bolder, more progressive representation in Washington.

On paper, D’Arrigo’s bid is an uphill climb. Suozzi’s fundraising prowess helped earn him a spot on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. The panel, which oversees tax policy, social programs and international trade, is a magnet for fundraising and influence.

And the 3rd District, which stretches from the suburban corners of northeast Queens across the largely affluent North Shore of Nassau and Suffolk counties, does not look like the ripest terrain for a successful primary challenge. 

Although the seat has now been in Democratic hands for some time, it is far from solid blue, let alone the kind of liberal bastion that propelled Ocasio-Cortez to victory. Suozzi won by 18 percentage points in the general election in 2018, but in 2016, when Trump was on the ballot, his victory margin was far tighter.

What’s more, D’Arrigo is not the only one hoping to oust Suozzi. Michael Weinstock, an openly gay attorney and former volunteer firefighter, has also announced plans to run. 

But D’Arrigo is confident that her ties to the local activist community and plans to expand the electorate with a dogged ground game will make her competitive. Asked whom she would welcome to the district to campaign on her behalf, D’Arrigo named former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.

New York’s congressional primary elections are scheduled for June 23.

HuffPost

BEFORE YOU GO

PHOTO GALLERY
Scenes From Capitol Hill
CONVERSATIONS