Suraj Patel stood on a stool last night to welcome at least 50 people to the headquarters of his campaign operations in the East Village, Manhattan.
Patel, a former Obama for America campaigner, is one of two candidates challenging U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (Western Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn), who hasn’t lost a primary in New York Congressional District 12 since first gaining the seat in 1992.
The headquarters of the campaign didn’t look like a typical campaign office. Attendees, many of whom were young, went to a bar counter where staffers provided free beer, red wine, and seltzer water. In addition, on a shelf with a variety of red wines, books such as Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “We Were Eight Years in Power” could be seen.
Yet the campaign headquarters does retain semblance of a traditional campaign. While serving alcohol, staffers also had petitions for email updates and signs on the bar counters requests donations through services such as Venmo.
The NYU professor spoke to the crowd after an hour of meeting with several attendees. He began stressing that he did not want to focus his campaign on Maloney. Instead, he referred to millions of people who didn’t vote last presidential election as a reason why he launched his campaign.
“I’m not running against the incumbent,” he said. “I’m running against apathy.”
That said, Patel didn’t hesitate from distancing himself from his opponent. When asked by a woman about the difference between him and Maloney, Patel offered a few examples such as that he would have not voted for the Iraq war and favored former President Obama’s deal with Iran deal.
“She voted against [the deal], which puts her on the side of Donald Trump on the Iran issue,” he said.
Patel also brought up the importance of leadership in District 12. He cited its wealth—the district is the richest area in the United States—and education as advantages that could help ensure the country could lead on problems affecting the country.
“We have an intellectual obligation for a place like this to lead for the Democratic Party and for progressives across the country the basis of an intellectual foundation for policy that actually makes people inspired and vote for us again,” he said.
Patel elaborated on issues he would tackle in Congress if elected, including criminal justice and immigration. For instance, Patel shared that he was the only candidate calling for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be defunded.
“We cannot have ICE terrorizing in our homes, in our schools, in our churches, in our mosques, in our synagogues, while at the same time not being at the border where they belong,” he said.
Christopher Marte, field director for the campaign, pitched attendees to donate as much as they could and shared why he joined the campaign. He remembered going to the endorsement vote from the Village Independent Democrats for Democratic candidate. Maloney won with 20 votes, however Patel obtained 17. He cited this as an example of the potential the campaign had in the election.
“This is a movement and we want everyone involved,” Marte said.
The Democratic primary for New York Congressional District 12 will occur on June 26.