Congressional Democratic Candidates Square Off at Forum

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by Rick Pezzullo –

Nine of the most prominent Democratic candidates vying to succeed retiring longtime Congresswoman Nita Lowey looked to gain an upper hand in front of more than 300 area district leaders and other voters at a recent spirited forum at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry.

The more than two-hour January 26th forum was sponsored by the local Democratic committees of Dobbs Ferry, Elmsford, Greenburgh, Irvington and Tarrytown, along with the activist group, Indivisible Rivertowns, and The Hudson Independent.

The field of candidates hoping to represent New York’s 17th congressional district currently stands at 19, with 16 being Democrats. Lowey has been in office since 1989. The district has not sent a Republican to Congress in decades. Primary elections will take place on June 23.

Taking part in the forum, which was moderated by Barrett Seaman, Editorial Board Chairman of The Hudson Independent, were: Westchester County Legislator Catherine Borgia, who represents Ossining, Croton and Cortlandt; State Assemblyman David Buchwald (White Plains); State Senator David Carlucci, former member of the Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC) in Albany who represents Westchester and Rockland; Evelyn Farkas, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense under President Obama; Allison Fine of Sleepy Hollow, author of three books on how non-profits can best utilize social media; Asha Castleberry-Hernandez, an Army combat veteran who served as a national security advisor to the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016; Mondaire Jones, who worked in the Obama Justice Department; Westchester County Legislator Catherine Parker, who represents Rye; and Adam Schleifer, a former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles and New York state consumer protection regulator.

Drawing some ire from the crowd was Carlucci, who was greeted by a small group of demonstrators from the Westchester Coalition for Legal Abortion as he walked into the Rotunda at Mercy. All the other candidates appeared to have pockets of supporters.

Carlucci, who has served in Albany for 10 years, maintained he was the most productive lawmaker in the state last year by getting 36 bills signed into law.

“We need a representative who can hit the ground running,” he said. “Being a progressive is about being for progress. We have to fight and protect the middle class.”

Buchwald, a graduate of Yale and Harvard universities who is currently serving his fourth term in the Assembly, stated on a lengthy resume that was handed out to audience members that he was the lead sponsor of 70 bills that have become law.

“I’ve been someone who produces results,” he said. “If you elect me (to Congress), I’ll be a tenacious fighter. The reason I’m running is to help people and solve problems.”

Farkas, a resident of Chappaqua who has been a staffer for both House and Senate Committees, contended she was the most qualified to serve “from day one in the spirit of Nita Lowey.”

“I’m running to protect the American Dream,” Farkas said. “This is personal for me. I will fight for this district and the things you care about. We are losing a legend. You can pick someone who has no legislative experience, who doesn’t know where the bathroom is, who doesn’t have the fighting spirit or the grit, or you can choose me.”

Jones, the youngest contender in the race at 32, a graduate of Stanford and Harvard Law School and openly gay, was endorsed two days after the forum by presidential candidate, Senator Elizabeth Warren.

“I’m running for Congress because we need to send someone who will be a champion for everyone and for whom policy is personal,” he said. “We need to fight for the bigger structural changes.”

Castleberry-Hernandez, a Tarrytown native, said she was running to help the working class.

“We shouldn’t have to deal with so many economic injustices,” she said. “I represent the voices that are not part of the discussion.”

Schleifer, whose father is the founder and CEO of Tarrytown-based Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, said he was the only Democrat in the race who has been a state and federal servant.

“As a prosecutor, I stood up for the vulnerable and those without a voice, and that’s exactly what I’ll do in Congress,” he said. “Our job is to ensure everyone can live out their own individual dream.”

Parker, who at one point during the forum confronted Carlucci about holding up reproductive rights for women as a member of the IDC, said she fought to have Westchester become a climate change community.

“This is a war on climate change,” she said. “We need someone who will go to Congress and stand up.”

Fine recently stepped down as national chairwoman of NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights League, and is past president of Temple Beth Abraham.

“I’m running in this race to lead us to the next chapter,” she said. “I absolutely love this community. You can’t teach vision; you can’t teach leadership.”

Borgia, a former town supervisor in Ossining who has served eight years on the county Board of Legislators, said she has a proven track record of results.

“I fight hard for the constituency I serve,” she said. “I’m running for Congress because I know what it’s like to fight for people. Right now, it’s a scary time but a time of great opportunity. Right now, things are not running smoothly.”

The candidates also briefly addressed questions posed about criminal justice reform, health care, student debt and immigration.

So far, only three Republicans have entered the race: Jarred Buchanan, 35, is a New York City policeman who last ran unsuccessfully against Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney in the adjacent 18th district but has registered with the Federal Election Commission to run in 2020 in the 17th. The other GOP candidates are Josh Eisen, Ph.D., of Harrison, a business owner and self-described “progressive Republican,” and Yehudis Gottesfeld, a chemical engineer from Rockland.

To view the 17th Congressional district forum, please click on: Part 1: Part 2:

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