Challenger Suraj Patel Is First To TV Airwaves In Race Against 2 Veteran New York Democrats

Patel is seeking to unseat Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler in the primary after redistricting put the powerful Democrats in the same Manhattan district.
Democratic candidate for Congress Suraj Patel, seen here during his last campaign in 2020, is now running in the primary against longtime Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler.
Democratic candidate for Congress Suraj Patel, seen here during his last campaign in 2020, is now running in the primary against longtime Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler.
Sachyn Mital/Shutterstock

Democratic primary challenger Suraj Patel is launching his first television advertisement on Thursday, beating Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler to the TV airwaves.

Patel, an attorney and third-time candidate, is running in New York’s 12th Congressional District, which was redrawn to put Maloney, of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and Nadler, of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, into the same district.

In his new 30-second spot, the first from any candidate in the district, Patel argues that Nadler and Maloney, both approaching 30 years in Congress, are past their sell-by date.

“From abortion rights to gun laws to climate change, 1990s Democrats are losing every major battle to Mitch McConnell,” Patel says in an ad as images of Maloney and Nadler appear. “Now we may have defeated Trump, but Trumpism is on the rise. The incumbents have had 30 years. They failed us.”

“We’re in a generational battle for our rights,” he adds. “That’s why we need to elect new Democrats.”

Patel also cites his experience working on both of former President Barack Obama’s campaigns, and in the Obama White House. The ad features a photo of Patel with Obama.

“I’m an Obama Democrat, which is why I know: When we lead with energy, hope, and ideas, we win,” he says.

Patel’s campaign is spending more than $175,000 to air the spot over the next two months, but has an opportunity to increase the volume with additional funding.

The ads aim both to introduce Patel to voters on the west side who are less familiar with him, and reframe the race as a referendum on two out-of-touch incumbent politicians, rather than the relative merits of one over another.

“Fundamentally, the vibes are bad out there. You can’t say, ‘everything is OK’ and run on your seniority in your 31st year in Congress,” Patel told HuffPost. “It’s not going to hold water with voters in New York or across the country. People are hungry for change.”

In terms of name recognition alone, Patel, who came within 4 points of unseating Maloney in 2020, is starting at a disadvantage in the Aug. 23 primary.

But he is evidently hoping that Maloney and Nadler’s focus on each other provides an opening.

Since late May, when court-ordered redistricting put Nadler and Maloney in the same district, the two veteran Democrats have been engaged in a public and bitter feud in the media.

“They have this feeling of entitlement to this district, treating this district like an aristocracy,” Patel said.

Most recently, Maloney, who has touted her work as a path-breaking woman lawmaker, suggested that Nadler and his allies were making too much of his identity as New York City’s last Jewish lawmaker.

“It’s a strange way to run, it’s sort of like, ‘Vote for me, I’m the only woman, or I’m the only white person, I’m the only Black person,’” she told The New York Times.

Patel, who has been on the receiving end of Maloney’s unfiltered ethnic commentary in the past, called her remarks about Nadler “offensive.”

Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), both approaching three decades in Congress, have not gone easy on each other in their primary battle.
Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), both approaching three decades in Congress, have not gone easy on each other in their primary battle.
Patrick Semansky/J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

The ideological stakes of the primary in New York’s 12th are not clear-cut. Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, maintains that he is more progressive than Maloney, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. Unlike Maloney, Nadler opposed the Iraq War and supported then-President Obama’s nuclear nonproliferation agreement with Iran.

Patel, backed by former Democratic presidential contender-turned-independent Andrew Yang, identifies more closely with Nadler’s progressivism on foreign policy.

He also wants both members to adopt a more assertive and reform-minded approach to legislating. He has forsworn corporate PAC money and singled out what he sees as House Democrats’ lack of creativity and urgency in response to the end of a federal right to abortion as a disappointment. Patel called the caucus’s decision to sing “God Bless America” on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Friday ― within earshot of furious pro-choice demonstrators ― “tone deaf.”

At the same time, as the son of Indian immigrants who started a successful hotel franchisee business, Patel has cultivated an air of business-friendly pragmatism that is more common among party moderates. He has rolled out an “abundance plan” to combat inflation that includes calls to undo the still-active Trump administration tariffs on products from China, and is an avid “YIMBY” (meaning “yes in my backyard”) proponent of new residential real-estate development.

Patel also faults some progressive Democrats for refusing to engage with people who don’t agree with them on every single issue. His favorite elected Democrat is Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), a champion of the expanded Child Tax Credit who negotiated with Senate Republicans to ensure that increased unemployment benefits were part of the first COVID-19 relief package in March 2020.

“We used to be a party of persuasion,” Patel said. “We used to find a single issue, pocketbook issues or otherwise, bring people along and establish a beachhead there, and then you grow from there.”

Aside from lawmakers like Bennet, Patel added, “What I’ve seen lately is Democrats do the exact opposite.”

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