A New York Democrat whose alliance with Republicans helped block progressive measures in the state legislature is in a strong position to win the primary for a solidly Democratic district in Congress, according to a new poll.
The survey, conducted by the progressive think tank Data for Progress from May 28 to June 3, found that state Sen. David Carlucci has 15% support among likely voters in the June 23 Democratic primary for New York’s 17th Congressional District. Former Obama Pentagon official Evelyn Farkas and former federal prosecutor Adam Schleifer each have 13%, and attorney Mondaire Jones, the progressive favorite, has 12%.
Data for Progress nonetheless found that the race is fluid. Carlucci’s lead is within the margin of error of 5.7 percentage points. And 38% of the 302 respondents said they were “unsure” for whom they would vote.
Still, Carlucci’s high standing is enough to spook Democrats troubled by his political history. From 2011 to 2018, Carlucci was a member of the New York state Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a faction of Democrats who refused to back the mainstream party leadership and had a power-sharing arrangement with the chamber’s Republicans.
For a time after the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, the votes of the eight-member IDC and another renegade Democrat unaffiliated with the bloc kept the state Senate in Republican control, despite Democrats’ numerical majority. Locking Democrats out of power prevented bills to enshrine women’s reproductive rights in state law, expand voting rights, increase protections for renters and tackle climate change from coming up for a vote. In exchange for keeping them in power, Republicans gave the IDC members leadership positions that provided them with higher salaries.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) brokered a deal that dissolved the IDC in April 2018. But progressive activists and a significant number of mainstream Democrats, who had mobilized to unseat the renegade Democrats, stuck with their efforts and managed to oust six of the ex-IDC members in the September 2018 primaries. Carlucci was one of two ex-IDC members who survived the insurgent wave.
“Two years after defeating the IDC in the state Senate, we are dangerously at risk of sending a member of the IDC to Congress,” said Sean McElwee, a co-founder of Data for Progress.
In a statement, Carlucci argued that voters consistently elected him “because I deliver results for our community.”
“My record shows that I have, and will continue to deliver for Rockland and Westchester,” he added.
“We need Democrats in office who have a record of being held accountable to their constituents and thinking about their constituents’ best interests.”
McElwee supports Jones and called on 17th District residents to rally behind him as the best alternative to Carlucci ― although he emphasized that his think tank does not have financial ties to Jones’ campaign and conducted its poll independently.
The poll also found that 55% of those surveyed hadn’t heard of the IDC. When informed by the pollster that the IDC is a group of Democrats who caucused with Republicans, 21% said they had a “very unfavorable” opinion of the group and 17% said they had a “somewhat unfavorable” opinion of it.
Ivanya Alpert, a pediatrician active in the ad hoc anti-Carlucci group No IDC in DC, said she and others are working to educate people with a direct mail and robocall campaign informing voters about Carlucci’s record. The effort began this week after the poll was conducted, she said.
Susan Kang, a co-founder of No IDC NY, a grassroots group that helped oust those six ex-IDC members, said that the compounding crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and racist policing practices made stopping Carlucci that much more essential.
“We need Democrats in office who have a record of being held accountable to their constituents and thinking about their constituents’ best interests,” Kang said. “David Carlucci thought about his career when he was in the state Senate. And rather than be transformative, he was more transactional.”
In exchange for higher pay and other perks, she added, “he made vulnerable New Yorkers suffer.”
The support for Carlucci likely reflects his name recognition in the district from his years representing Rockland and Westchester counties in the state legislature. Of the six candidates tested in the Data for Progress poll, Carlucci got the smallest percentage of respondents saying they “hadn’t heard enough to say” whether they’d vote for him.
Vanessa Pahucki, a domestic violence survivor and advocate from Nyack who is supporting Carlucci, credited him with championing the cause of domestic abuse survivors in the legislature. She worked with him on the introduction of a bill that would require family court judges to forbid parents accused of domestic abuse from visiting their children without supervision until their case is complete.
“David and his staff have been the consummate example of how I believe legislators should work with the people,” Pahucki said.
The 17th District, which encompasses all of Rockland County and parts of Westchester County just north of New York City, became a hotly contested primary battleground when Rep. Nita Lowey (D) announced her plans to retire after 16 terms in Congress.
Jones, who was raised by an impoverished single mother and would be the first openly gay Black man in Congress, began his run as a challenger against Lowey. Other candidates jumped in after her announcement, enticed by the prospect of occupying a safe Democratic seat in the affluent New York City suburbs.
Jones’ bid is one of the few remaining opportunities for the activist left to make its mark on the next Congress ― and progressive lawmakers are starting to take notice. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) endorsed him on Friday, citing the way that Jones’ humble roots inform his views.
“Mondaire had spoken up for racial justice long before the present national outcry and personally understands this country’s existential problems,” she said.
Alpert, who is also a leader of the grassroots progressive group Rockland United, made a more pragmatic pitch for Jones. She argued that his connection to Rockland County ― where he lives and grew up ― means he has a better chance of defeating the Rockland-based Carlucci. The other major candidates hail from Westchester, across the Hudson River.
“He is the candidate who is best able to eat into Carlucci’s support and to beat him,” she said.