Just like several members of the shrinking pool of Legislators known as New York’s congressional delegation, Representative Nita Lowey has been in office for decades. She was elected in 1988 when the father of our current governor led New York, and only a handful of women served in Congress.
While the House is an institution that rewards longevity, Lowey is considered a true pioneer. She rose to the top of the power structure, becoming the first woman to chair the Appropriations Committee.
Her decision to retire at the age of 82 has left a rare opening in the state’s congressional delegation, so it’s not surprising seven candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination to succeed her. That number was higher, but several candidates have dropped out.
The 17th District includes Westchester and Rockland counties. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district by a more-than-2-to-1 margin, so the primary, which takes place on June 23, is considered critical.
“This is a fascinating race,” Bruce Gyory told Spectrum News. Gyory, an adjunct professor of political science at the University at Albany and a senior advisor at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, says there’s a geographic element to the race. “If you look at the district in terms of the census, it’s a little more Rockland than Westchester. But if you look at where the primary vote is coming from, it is more Westchester than Rockland.”
The contenders are an impressive group.
There are a couple of defense and national security experts who are veterans of the Obama and Clinton administrations. There are two legislators who currently serve in Albany. There’s an activist and former Chair of the national board of NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation; a former assistant U.S. Attorney; and a Westchester County Attorney who served in the Department of Justice during the Obama administration.
Westchester County Legislator Catherine Parker announced the end of her campaign last week. Her name will still appear on the June 23 ballot.
Because enrollment numbers strongly favor Democrats, pollster Steve Greenberg told Spectrum News that “the odds are that whoever wins the Democratic primary is likely to win in November.”
But there’s a caveat.
“With seven candidates, no public polling, on a Tuesday in June, in the midst of a global pandemic with protests on the streets of many towns, it’s hard to predict the victor of a Democratic primary," Greenberg said.
Assemblyman David Buchwald’s campaign website states he has more endorsements than anyone else in the race. Indeed, he has earned the plum backing of popular Westchester County Executive George Latimer, who used to work with him in the Assembly.
Another Albany lawmaker, State Senator David Carlucci, is also running. While he serves as chairman of the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee, to some he still bears the mark of his former association with the IDC.
According to City & State, “His past allegiance to the state Senate Independent Democratic Conference, which notably shared power with Republicans, will likely become a main line of attack from his opponents.”
There are two especially well-funded candidates. Adam Schleifer is a former assistant U.S. attorney and son of the founder of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. As a special associate counsel for the New York State Department of Financial Services, he helped lead enforcement efforts against predatory payday lenders. Schleifer has been endorsed by some heavy political hitters including former speaker of the NYC Council, Christine Quinn, and Representative Steve Israel. Additionally, endorsements have come from Michael Gerrard, founder and director of Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, and the Andrew Sabin, a professor of professional practice at Columbia Law School; Moms Demand Action; and Pro Choice Votes.
If David Buchwald has the most endorsements, Evelyn Farkas' are the most high-profile. Farkas is a defense expert and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and German Marshall Fund. She is also a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense under President Barack Obama. Some of the contacts she made in Washington are supporting her candidacy. They include a who’s who of Clinton and Obama cabinet members, like former Secretary of State John Kerry; former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta; and former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta.
Another candidate with impressive foreign policy credentials is Asha Castleberry-Hernandez, a major in the U.S. Army Reserves, former combat veteran and national security expert. Professor Castleberry-Hernandez teaches Foreign Policy and Grand Strategy at Baruch College.
She joined the Army after 9/11 and served on a 30-month deployment supporting U.S. Central Command in Kuwait, Iraq, and Jordan as a senior advisor on Security Cooperation and the Anti-ISIS Military Campaign.
Castleberry-Hernandez has advised both Hillary Clinton and Kirsten Gillibrand on foreign policy issues. If elected, she would be the first African-American female veteran in Congress.
Mondaire Jones is considered the most progressive candidate of the group. He, too, has ties to Washington D.C., where he worked in the Department of Justice on judicial nominations for the White House, including that of future SCOTUS Justice Elena Kagan. Jones also worked as an attorney for indigent clients. Most recently he served as an attorney for Westchester County.
Jones’ progressive views and a life story that took him from Section 8 housing to Stanford and Harvard has earned him endorsements from some of the best-known left-leaning politicians in the country, including Senator Elizabeth Warren; Secretary Julian Castro; Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; and Rep. Ayanna Pressley. He has also earned endorsements from NY Communities for Change; Hispanic Democrats of Westchester; Empire State Indivisible; and NY Immigration Coalition.
Sleepy Hollow author and activist Allison Fine is a former chair of the national board of NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation, and the author of three books on on-line activism. Her endorsements include Naral-Pro-Choice America; Ken Wray, 6-term Mayor of Sleepy Hollow; Ruth Messinger, former Manhattan borough president; former State Senator Suzi Oppenheimer; and Cheryl Contee, founder of Netroots Nation.
On the Republican side, there are two women vying for the nomination.
Yehudis Gottesfeld, a chemical engineer who has earned the endorsements of the Republican Party of Rockland County and the Conservative Party of Westchester & Rockland, and Maureen McArdle Schulman, a retired firefighter and first responder to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks who is endorsed by the Westchester Republican Party.
Gyory predicts that two endorsements could tip the scales in the Democratic primary: that of incumbent Lowey, who remains quite popular, and the New York Times. Because CD-17 has both an affluent and highly educated electorate, Gyory says the Times’ imprimatur will have an especially large impact.
Another factor in the race will be turnout.
“You’re going to have a lot more voting than anyone predicted,” Gyory said. “Statewide, over 900K people, almost all Democrats, have requested absentee ballots.”