Sander Hicks is a former book publisher, an entrepreneur, a carpenter, and even a singer for a punk band. He expects to add another title to that list come June: the Democratic nominee for New York’s 12th Congressional district.
Hicks, born in Virginia, is one of two Democratic challengers to U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Western Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn), the long-term incumbent representing the district.
Sitting on a bench in Stuyvesant Square in the East Village, Hicks explained that the biggest asset for his campaign was his history of opening progressive-minded businesses. He founded the book publishing company Soft Skull Press in 1992, the coffee shop called Vox Pop in 2003, and the interior design firm named Zen Carpentry in 2013.
“My record as a businessman isn’t running a McDonald’s franchise,” he said. “It’s running social-impact businesses.”
Yet the road to becoming the Democratic nominee is difficult for Hicks. His campaign reported just $2,148 for the last quarter, dwarfed by the six-figure campaign funds for both Maloney and the other contender Suraj Patel. In addition, Maloney received endorsements from every political club in the district.
Nevertheless, Hicks is eager to talk about changes that need to happen not only in the district, but across the country as well. He favors Medicare-for-All, instituting $15 minimum wage, expanding more affordable housing, and putting body cameras on police officers.
Foreign policy is the topic that Hicks talked about the most. From advocating for a reduced military presence overseas to allowing more refugees, Hicks believes the United States government can act with good intentions with countries overseas.
“I really do believe there is a light at our core. There is a consciousness, and we are made for something other than [what] we are doing now for society,” he said.
The 47-year-old also promotes what he calls a public-interest venture capital bank for residents. The potential agency would offer funding for firms, whether a traditional company or worker-owned cooperative, led by residents.
“This would create a lot of ownership opportunities for people in the district [and] employment opportunities for people in the district,” said Hicks.
Improving neighborhoods is something Hicks knows well, using his Vox Pop coffee shop as an example. Located in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, this coffee spot was seen as a “beacon of change.” Hicks said the shop helped the community by reducing crime and attracting other shops to the area.
Vox Pop closed in 2010 after it failed to pay back taxes. Hicks stepped down in 2009 after the city’s health department shutdown the café over unpaid fines over official certifications to serve food and drinks. He noted he worked toward certification after this “chaotic” experience and called the fines “excessive.”
“I have found that the amount of fines and penalties that the average New Yorker has to pay amounts to excessive taxation,” he said.
If elected, Hicks said he would work with lawmakers such as U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii). He met Gabbard while on a recent multi-city tour across the country and valued her independence such as her controversial trip to Syria last year.
For now, he is focused on the primary set for June 26. He is obtaining signatures to put his name on the ballot, sometimes filming his petitioning process for online videos. When talking to people, he distinguishes himself from an incumbent he sees as close to the “establishment.”
“I’m running to rejuvenate a sense of liberation and empowerment for the rank-and-file, the working class, [and] the middle class in this district,” he said.
Moreover, he is planning to increase his funding for the campaign. Hicks received campaign donations worth $1,000 in cryptocurrency and is looking to raise more money after a national tour that yielded more than $12,000. An online fundraising campaign resulted in over $3,000 alone.
“It comes down to who could be a very interesting Congressman to watch,” Hicks said. “Who could really stir things up? Who has a track record of stirring things up [and] thinking outside the box?”