Democratic Congressional candidate Suraj Patel moderated on Tuesday the first of a series of town halls in the 12th Congressional District to answer concerns and questions from constituents.
The forum, held at the Sixth Street Community Center in the East Village, attracted around 25 to 30 people.
Patel noted he started the series to learn from constituents in the community. He added that no questions were screened, and residents could ask whatever they wanted.
The 34-year-old NYU professor is challenging U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (Western Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn), an incumbent he outraised last quarter.
The East Village resident addressed a variety of issues, from foreign policy to Maloney’s voting record. Naomi Pela, also an East Village resident and mother of four, asked what Patel would do to address education and housing.
Patel responded by noting the federal government does not provide sufficient funding for the district despite the money sent by New Yorkers. This caused issues such as schools requiring adequate money.
“I would be a key proponent for sustainable development and fighting for public dollars for education,” he said.
A tense moment came when Lina Wu, an NYU student, asked about a New York Post article last month over comments made by Patel toward Olympic athlete McKayla Maroney and an alleged romance between John Stamos and a 17-year-old girl.
The woman asked whether Patel could represent people like herself, a survivor, after making “inappropriate sexualized comments.”
Patel explained he would have not written them if he knew about the experiences of the Olympics athletes. He added it did not reflect his feelings and called the statements “dumb.” He also accused Maloney’s campaign of being behind the article.
“I will be a fighter and advocate for you, for victims, and I’m going to do my best to do that,” he said.
Wu later said she asked the questions after feeling “tired of men in power not being held accountable to rape culture.” She also felt unsatisfied with Patel’s response as it did not address the concerns she raised.
“What survivors like me want is full on accountability. Accountability is not making up excuses. Accountability is apologizing and admitting you should never have done that (rather than calling it some tactic by the other campaign to derail you),” she said.
The Indiana-native continued to distinguish himself from the incumbent, noting he would have never voted for the Iraq war and supported the Iran nuclear deal. A campaign representative for Rep. Maloney noted the lawmaker expressed regret for the Iraq vote and defended the agreement from Republican efforts to unravel it.
Even after the town hall ended, residents continued to ask questions and his solutions to issues. Some even approached him for one-on-one conversations.
During the discussion, Patel reiterated he was not beholden to anyone and without an “establishment.” He viewed this not as a disadvantage, but an opportunity to represent residents throughout the different neighborhoods.
“That’s what a representative is supposed to do. The job of a representative is to take the hopes, dreams, [and] aspirations of the district and fight like hell for them,” he said.