Suraj Patel, an attorney and businessman, announced Monday that he is running against Rep. Carolyn Maloney in the Democratic primary in June, handing her another serious challenger.
Patel challenged Maloney in the 2018 and 2020 election cycles as well, coming within four percentage points of unseating her on his second attempt.
He told HuffPost that he believes the challenges facing New York City as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying economic toll make the need for new blood that much more pressing.
“Now more than ever, New York and this country demand a new generation of bold Democrats who are pro-growth, pro-science, pro-democracy,” Patel said.
Patel is now one of several candidates taking on Maloney with varying degrees of competitiveness. Rana Abdelhamid, a Muslim rights activist and Google employee backed by the left-wing Justice Democrats, announced her bid in April.
Maya Contreras, a housing and voting rights advocate, is also running. Her biggest media splash to date was her short-lived hire of a 14-year-old political activist as campaign manager.
Patel, whose Indian immigrant parents achieved success as hotel entrepreneurs, has embraced a host of progressive policy positions during his previous runs. Among other stances, he supports Medicare for All and the decriminalization of sex work, and is deeply skeptical of U.S. interventionism abroad.
But Patel, who teaches business ethics at New York University and worked in the Barack Obama White House, also eschews socialist rhetoric and emphasizes the need for policies that encourage private-sector innovation. That makes him relatively rare among the recent crop of primary challengers, who tend to hail from more doctrinaire corners of the activist left.
“I sit at the ideological middle of this district, which is a progressive and pragmatic district,” he said.
Without mentioning Abdelhamid, Patel implied that his more moderate brand of progressivism would give him a better shot at winning in New York’s 12th Congressional District.
Patel previously ran up his best numbers in the Manhattan-centric district’s youthful precincts in northwest Queens and Brooklyn.
New York Democrats have since redrawn the district to include greater portions of Manhattan and less of Queens and Brooklyn, stretching the district further West in an apparent attempt to shore up Maloney’s position as an incumbent. Those changes both fuel Patel’s critiques of Maloney as an entrenched insider and his argument that he would make a better replacement than someone more left-wing.
“To win elections, you have to build a diverse coalition,” he said. “Very, very, very rarely can you win an election only by catering to one voting bloc, or one demographic or one type of person.”
Maloney, a 15-term incumbent who now chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, has plenty in her past to elicit criticism from progressives. She championed the 1994 crime bill, voted for the Iraq War, and used her platform to elevate skepticism of vaccines as recently as 2012.
The challenge for Patel — and her other challengers — is that Maloney has moved swiftly to shore up her progressive credentials. She is a co-sponsor of Medicare for All legislation, and has made a point of collaborating with progressive titans like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
Patel also faces a daunting fundraising gap with just over four months until the primary. Maloney raised over $1.8 million in 2021 and had more than $1 million on hand at the end of last year.
Abdelhamid, by contrast, has raised nearly $800,000 since beginning her run, and had nearly $380,000 in cash on hand left at the end of December. Contreras had less than $9,000 left at the close of the same period.
Patel believes that for such a longstanding incumbent, Maloney’s support in the district remains relatively soft. Ahead of his campaign announcement, Patel’s team circulated internal polling conducted by Slingshot Strategies showing that 36% of 2020 primary voters plan to reelect Maloney, 40% want someone new, and 26% are unsure.
“If you’ve been in Washington for 30 years, you will necessarily be out of touch with what the rest of us in the real world have to contend with and live with every day,” said Patel, claiming that among other things, Maloney doesn’t spend much time discussing New York City’s housing affordability issues.
“You’re looking at a city that has rising crime rates, incredible rates of storefront vacancies and 9% unemployment,” he added. “All those things are related and they’re problems that are going to require innovative, 21st-century solutions.”