CROTON-On-HUDSON, NY — May 24, 2020 — Eight candidates have qualified for the ballot in the June 23 Democratic primary election to fill the seat of retiring Congresswoman Nita Lowey in New York’s 17th Congressional District, which includes Rockland County and parts of a dozen towns in northern Westchester.
The frontrunner is State Senator David Carlucci who has represented Rockland in the New York State Legislature for the last decade. Carlucci was a member of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a notorious group of Democratic State Senators who supported Republican control of the State Senate. In 2018, six of the eight members of the IDC were defeated in primary elections, replaced by Democrats who then went to Albany and proceeded to enact Democratic priorities that had been stymied for a decade by the IDC. Carlucci survived that purge, defeating his challenger on the strength of 12,000 votes he received in Rockland. He has since attempted to rebrand himself as a “real” Democrat, while leaving behind his seat in the New York State Senate to run for Congress.
Democrats in Westchester, which comprises about 60% of the Democratic vote in the 17th District, are uniformly opposed to Carlucci’s attempt to succeed Lowey in Congress. However, with seven other candidates in the race, Carlucci could win the primary with a plurality of the vote. Democrats who oppose Carlucci must coalesce behind the strongest challenger to Carlucci if his path to Congress is to be blocked.
The decision about who that candidate should be depends upon the qualifications of the candidates and the resources they bring to the fight. I believe that candidate is Evelyn Farkas, the daughter of refugees from Communist Hungary who settled in Chappaqua in the 1950s, worked hard to establish a middle class lifestyle that allowed Evelyn to go to college and grad school and build a successful career as a foreign policy expert and senior Congressional staffer. She is the best candidate to stop David Carlucci.
Why is Farkas better equipped than the other candidates to win the Democratic nomination? Let’s start with the money. To effectively promote a Congressional campaign through television advertising and direct mail, candidates will probably need to spend at least one million dollars during in the months leading up to the June 23 primary election. Data from the latest financial reports indicate that three of the seven candidates in the race lack the resources to make the case to voters that they are best suited to represent the district in the House of Representatives.
By the end of March, neither Catherine Parker, Asha Castleberry-Hernandez, nor Allison Fine had raised more than a fraction of the funds needed to make their case through direct mail and television advertising. Parker had raised only $128,599 and had just over $6,000 in the bank. Hers is not a serious campaign. Similarly, Castleberry-Hernandez, a thoughtful and articulate military veteran, does not have the funds to compete, having raised $65,959 with $44,838 cash on hand. That is about enough money for two pieces of campaign mail and no TV. The third candidate lacking the resources to compete is Alison Fine, who raised a little over $300,000 but has only $75,839 left to spend. In March, Fine suspended her fundraising in the face of the coronavirus crisis and is focusing her efforts on a daily email newsletter that lists resources available to people during the shutdown. Unfortunately, this noble effort will not be sufficient to get her message out to enough voters to win the nomination.
That leaves four candidates who have raised enough money to be a viable alternative to the frontrunner Carlucci: New York Assemblyman David Buchwald and three first time candidates: Mondaire Jones, Adam Schleifer, and Evelyn Farkas.
Buchwald has the advantage of being an incumbent member of the New York Legislature. Early in the campaign, he garnered the endorsement of many local office holders, but his fundraising has been anemic. Although he had nearly half a million dollars of cash on hand at the end of March, half of that is borrowed money. His actual fundraising had slowed to a trickle even before the pandemic shut down traditional fundraising activities; he raised less that $100,000 in the first three months of 2020. It appears unlikely that he will be able to raise the money necessary to introduce himself to the 80% of the district that he has never represented as an elected official.
Mondaire Jones of Rockland County is running a campaign based on his personal story and his progressive policy views. He has the endorsement of Elizabeth Warren and members of “the Squad,” a group of first term Congresswomen led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who support a leftist agenda exemplified by the call to scrap Obamacare in favor of Medicare for All. Jones got a head start in the race by launching his candidacy last summer as a challenge to Congresswoman Lowey before she announced her retirement, saying he was “fed up with Democrats not fighting hard enough for the things we say we believe in.” By the end of March, he had raised $830,702 and reported having $544,025 in the bank. That’s real money, but not enough to overcome doubts about his left wing agenda and resentment among main stream Democrats for having disparaged a beloved Congresswoman whose three decades of service has led her to become chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
Adam Schleifer leads the pack in fundraising with a total of $2,343,487 raised and a million and a half in cash on hand. Son of the founder of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Schleifer reports personal wealth in excess of $31 million. He and members of his family have poured nearly $2 million into his campaign. But at 38 years of age, his qualifications for the office are thin: he has worked as an assistant U.S. Attorney and a consumer advocate for the New York State Department of Financial Services.
That brings us to Evelyn Farkas, the only candidate with significant experience in public service at the Federal level whose resume is tailor-made for the U.S. Congress. She was most recently Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Obama administration and previously spent nearly a decade working on Capitol Hill as a senior staffer for Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin. She was one of the first to sound the alarm about Russian interference in the 2016 election, earning her the denunciation of Sean Hannity and others who continue to deny Russia’s role in Trump’s election. This range of experience has earned her the endorsement of over a dozen members of Congress and Obama Administration officials who recognize her ability to hit the ground running in the House of Representatives, Sean Hannity,
Farkas has also raised more campaign funds than anyone else in the race (except for Schleifer, the one percenter). By the end of March, she had raised $924,611 and had a war chest of $688,129 available for a media campaign to get her message out through TV and direct mail and to build a field campaign tailored to contacting voters directly through phone banking, text messaging, and social media.
The choice for Democratic voters who want to stop David Carlucci from slithering into Congress comes down to this question: Which of the four viable candidates combines a record of relevant service with the ability to mount a campaign that can overcome the advantage that David Carlucci brings to the race? For me, the answer is simple. Evelyn Farkas stands out because of her experience, her contacts in Congress and the Executive Branch, and her national stature as a foreign policy expert. She has also put together enough financial resources to make her the best bet to defeat the IDC turncoat who, by fluke of circumstance and geography, started the campaign at the head of the pack.