Progressive Activist Rana Abdelhamid Announces Run Against Rep. Carolyn Maloney

The founder of a women’s self-defense group from Queens takes on a Manhattan Democrat with a mixed record on progressive priorities.
Rana Abdelhamid is challenging Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D), who has represented parts of New York City in Congress since before Abdelhamid was born.
Rana Abdelhamid is challenging Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D), who has represented parts of New York City in Congress since before Abdelhamid was born.
Rana Abdelhamid

Progressive nonprofit leader Rana Abdelhamid announced Wednesday that she is challenging Rep. Carolyn Maloney in the Democratic primary for New York’s 12th Congressional District.

Maloney, who has elicited the ire of the left for opposing the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, among other things, won her 2020 primary by fewer than 4 percentage points.

“I really love my community and love communities in New York,” Abdelhamid, a native of Astoria, Queens, said. “It’s time for Congress to finally look like our communities and to have a representative who will fight for all of us ― not just certain groups or certain neighborhoods.”

If elected, Abdelhamid, 27, would be among the youngest women ever to serve in Congress. She also noted that Maloney, 75, has represented the district in Washington since Jan. 1993 ― before Abdelhamid was born.

“She’s had nearly three decades to try to make some change and she hasn’t,” Abdelhamid said. “This is a really crucial moment as we’re thinking about the future of New York City, as we’re thinking about the future of this country, and I think we need new leadership — leadership that is going to think about what could be possible for so many of our communities.”

Abdelhamid is a human rights activist, the founder of the women’s self-defense group Malikah, and a Google marketing professional. She is the second candidate this election cycle to earn the support of Justice Democrats, a left-wing group that has played a key role in five successful primary challenges over the last two election cycles.

Alexandra Rojas, the executive director of Justice Democrats, said in a statement that the group endorsed Abdelhamid because she has “fought tirelessly for her community against racism and economic insecurity.”

In a video announcing her candidacy, Abdelhamid talks about how COVID-19 has exposed New York City’s inequalities ― especially those in the diverse 12th District. Her mother survived COVID-19, but Abdelhamid’s family could not afford to send her to a private hospital where they heard that she would receive better care.

“I keep seeing the people doing heavy lifting for New York getting crushed by failed policy,” she says in the video.

Abdelhamid, whose parents are Egyptian immigrants to Astoria’s Little Cairo section, told HuffPost that her commitment to economic justice is rooted in the hardships her family endured while she was growing up in New York City. She was a student in the city’s “underfunded” public schools, and her parents experienced economic dislocation as gentrification took hold in northwest Queens.

Her family moved apartments six times before she turned 9, fleeing rising residential rents. Abdelhamid’s father, a deli owner who drove a taxi at night for extra income, eventually gave up the deli when he could no longer pay the rising commercial rent.

As a result, Abdelhamid hopes to focus on federal housing policy in Washington, including by pushing for a Green New Deal for public housing and pursuing repeal of the Faircloth Amendment, which almost entirely prohibits federal funding for the construction of new public housing.

“Housing justice isn’t just a single issue ― it’s an issue that impacts gender justice, racial justice, climate justice.”

- Rana Abdelhamid

“Housing justice isn’t just a single issue ― it’s an issue that impacts gender justice, racial justice, climate justice,” she said.

In addition, Abdelhamid founded Malikah, which helps women heal from trauma, in response to her own experience surviving a hate crime on the streets of New York City. At age 16, Abdelhamid was attacked by someone who tried to violently remove her hijab, or Islamic headscarf.

As a black belt in Shotokan karate, Abdelhamid combines practical skills for self-defense, deescalation and financial literacy with strategies for using communal and spiritual bonds to prevent, and recover from, violence.

Abdelhamid’s survival of the Islamophobic hate crime and her work developing peaceful techniques to limit the impact of violence inform her support for “defunding” the police. It’s a slogan she defines as cutting funding for police departments and using the savings to invest in “community infrastructure” that prevents crime.

“As someone who experienced a violent crime, what I needed in that moment was real community support, trauma-informed support, social workers, a community organization that could help me identify what I experienced as a hate-based attack, that could help me navigate how to report it, and that could make me feel safe to walk down the street again,” Abdelhamid said.

Like many Democrats elected in the 1990s, Maloney, who now chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, has a record of policy positions that would put her to the right of the current Democratic Party consensus. She voted for the 1994 crime bill, which critics blame for fueling mass incarceration. Five years later, she voted to deregulate Wall Street banks. And in 2002, Maloney joined 80 other House Democrats in supporting a resolution authorizing the Iraq War.

The Manhattan Democrat, who is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has taken more left-leaning stances in recent years. For example, she is a long-standing co-sponsor of “Medicare for All” legislation in the House.

Whether that is enough for the increasingly liberal voters in New York City’s Democratic primary electorate remains to be seen.

As recently as 2017, Maloney recommended that then-President Donald Trump select former New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who oversaw the mass use of the city’s controversial stop-and-frisk practice, as director of the FBI.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney's tenure in Congress has earned her the chairmanship of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which supervises the Executive Branch.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney's tenure in Congress has earned her the chairmanship of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which supervises the Executive Branch.
Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

And while she is now an unequivocal supporter of vaccination, Maloney has consistently refused to answer for using her platform, as recently as 2012, to promote concerns that vaccines lead to autism.

“She hasn’t apologized for that misrepresentation still,” Abdelhamid said.

It is not yet clear what the boundaries of Maloney’s new congressional district will be after New York incorporates population changes in the 2020 census.

The current 12th District is made up of the East Side of Manhattan, as well as deeply liberal neighborhoods in northwestern Brooklyn and Queens.

Maloney’s base on the wealthy, centrist Upper East Side came through for her in 2018 and 2020, when Suraj Patel, an attorney, fought her to unexpectedly tight margins in the Democratic primary.

In 2020, when Maloney got 43% to Patel’s 39.3%, she benefited from a divided opposition.

Patel, whose business background and failure to embrace all left-wing policies deprived him of major progressive endorsements, ended up competing with two other challengers who together picked up more than 17% of the vote.

Abdelhamid encouraged Patel to sit this cycle out.

“He’s already run twice and lost both times,” she said. “He hasn’t been able to consolidate the progressive vote.”

In a statement, Patel suggested that he still plans to run.

“Rana’s announcement just further solidifies the point that a majority of people feel that Rep. Maloney is out of touch with her district so I welcome her voice to the race,” he said. “Our campaign received nearly 40,000 affirmative votes in this district and made it the closest primary in the country last year even after thousands of votes were discarded, so I plan to continue my fight for change.”

Maloney’s allies trained their fire on Abdelhamid, however. Jay Jacobs, chairman of the New York State Democratic Committee, issued a blistering statement ripping Abdelhamid for her alleged association with the Democratic Socialists of America, which has not endorsed her.

“Tell the voters where you and the DSA stand on ‘defunding the police,’ ending capitalism in America, unilaterally disarming the nuclear deterrent of the U.S. military and seizing private businesses that have to lay off workers, even when their survival requires it,” Jacobs said. “Ms. Abdelhamid should tell the voters that she favors the decriminalization of ‘sex work,’ making 26-year-olds who commit violent crimes ‘youthful offenders’ and the discontinuance of gang databases.”

In an afternoon press release, Abdelhamid and Justice Democrats credited Jacobs’ “unhinged, Trump-like attack” for a banner fundraising day: Abdelhamid announced that she had raised $100,000 within 10 hours of announcing her bid, the fastest fundraising pace of any candidate recruited by the Justice Democrats to date.

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