Third Time May Not Be Charm for Patel as Voters Reluctant to Embrace Generational Change

Yves here. The press and commentators, along with NC readers, often and correctly complain about the political gerontocracy in the US, particularly with Team Dem. Even thought this article is a New York City vignette, it describes many of the forces that keeps these old farts in their elected positions. Admittedly, seats in districts where both parties have to duke it out, unlike the five borough monoculture, might find voters to more amenable to generational ceiling-breaking.

By Shantel Destra. Originally published at THE CITY on August 9, 2022

Congressional District 12 Democratic candidates Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Suraj Patel and Rep. Jerrold Nadler. Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY, Suraj Patel for New York/Facebook

With 75-year-old Upper West Side institution Rep. Jerrold Nadler and 76-year-old Upper East Side institution Rep. Carolyn Maloney neck and neck as the two longtime members of Congress face off in the same newly redrawn district, their main challenger wants to make the race about age and new blood.

The Democratic primary for New York’s 12th Congressional District is just two weeks away. Potential voters in Manhattan told THE CITY that, while they’re open to the call for generational change, they just don’t know enough about third-time candidate Suraj Patel, 38, to make the leap.

When the candidates met in a debate last week, Patel ripped into both Maloney — who has been in Congress since 1993 and chairs the House Oversight Committee — and Nadler — who’s been in Congress since 1992 and chairs the House Judiciary Committee — arguing it’s time for new representation.

“Democrats lead best when we lead with new ideas, energy, and a new generation of leadership,” said Patel. Invoking the name of the Senate minority leader, he added, “1990s Democrats have lost almost every major battle to Mitch McConnell and the Republicans.”

Patel, a lawyer by training who worked on President Barack Obama’s campaigns, challenged Maloney in the 2018 and 2020 primaries, coming within three points of victory in 2020 — when the district also included a swath of western Queens from which he drew significant voter support.

But older voters in the solely Manhattan neighborhoods now encompassed by NY12, many of whom have been voting for either Nadler or Maloney for 30 years, told THE CITY they aren’t ready to turn the page. And younger voters were even less likely to know the status of the election.

Joyce Stillman, a longtime resident of the Upper East Side, said that while Patel makes a good point about the need for generational change, she also feels the two incumbents in the race “know the ropes,” and that experience is helpful in Congress. Stillman, 83, said she plans to vote for Maloney.

“I do appreciate the younger view. But I don’t know about him,” she said of Patel. “I don’t know what he stands for. I do know what Maloney stands for and what she’s done.”

Similarly, Sharon Mosse, who’s lived on the Upper East Side for over 30 years, underscored that people she’s talked to don’t know who Patel is or what he stands for. She even wondered if Patel had done any campaign marketing.

“Young blood and new blood is always a good thing, but I don’t know his policies at all,” Mosse said.

Winston Wright, 66, did believe it was time for at least one of the incumbents to step aside.

“I’m sorry to say it, but I agree that Nadler is old school. I do think it’s time for fresh thinking in Washington,” said Wright, who has lived on the Upper West Side for 15 years. But he also admitted he didn’t know much about Patel.

Laurie Scheck, 60, said she hadn’t been following the race closely but she’s tired of elected officials not delivering on promises.

“I heard Nadler and Maloney were on TV and Nadler couldn’t even remember what he was trying to say,” said Scheck. “I think they’re too old.”

Meanwhile, Upper East Sider Ronald Morenzi, 63, has supported Maloney before and wants her to stay.

“I think experience and longevity mean something,” he said. “She’s done a good job, otherwise she wouldn’t be there.”

Turnout Key

While the primary contests in June for statewide races and Assembly districts saw extremely low turnout across the state, the Aug. 23 primary for House of Representatives and State Senate seats is expected to be even worse for several reasons: It was added at the last minute; there are no state-wide races on the ballot, and many New Yorkers are out of town in late summer.

Like most districts, the bulk of the old NY 12 population are residents under the age of 65, according to Census Bureau data based on the previous lines. Nadler’s old 10th Congressional District, which has mostly been incorporated into the new 12th, had similar stats.

Still, senior voters may sway the race. Older people typically show up at the polls in larger proportions, and several younger people THE CITY spoke to in the district and didn’t want to be quoted said they had not paid enough attention to the contest to comment on it and hadn’t planned to vote.

One youngish voter, 43-year-old Brian Van Nieuwenhoven, said he’s lived Maloney’s district for the last 13 years and sees the new-blood argument. Democrats would benefit from “boosting younger elected officials,” he said.

“The two incumbents are of retirement age. I do appreciate their energy for public service but, for a younger voter, something is lost in perspective when Congress is full of people 30 to 40 years your senior, ” said Nieuwenhoven.

But, he added, he believes the race will come down to Maloney and Nadler, so while he agrees with Patel’s call for generational change, Nieuwenhoven doesn’t see him as “right for the role.”

Seniority Is Power

Ester Fuchs, an urban politics professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, highlighted the idea that the congressional race is between the incumbents — referring to them as “two iconic figures in New York City politics.”

She believes a political upset — with Patel securing the Democratic nomination — is unlikely given that many of the progressive voters and supporters Patel had in Queens have been cut out. Fuchs said Patel doesn’t offer anything politically to District 12 voters that can’t be found in the two incumbents that have been representing them for decades.

“I don’t get the sense that being young is sufficient enough to get rid of one of two senior legislators when people understand that seniority in Congress actually gives you power,” said Fuchs.

Fuchs also pointed to another obstacle hindering Patel from securing the nomination in August: He doesn’t have key support from the progressive Working Families Party or the support of star New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Queens/The Bronx), which Fuchs said could bring young voters to the polls.

Other experts agree the likelihood of a Patel nomination in the primary is unlikely. Douglas Muzzio, professor of Political Science at Baruch College, said that if Democrats lose majority control of the House in November, keeping Nadler or Maloney in control will allow either to serve as ranking members of their respective committees.

“New York City clout will be minimized with the election of Patel,” said Muzzio. “He’s going to be a backbencher,” said Muzzio.

The Gourmet Deli at the intersection of 1st Avenue and East 90th Street had a “Suraj Patel for Congress” poster hanging in its storefront window — one of the few signs of him running in the district.

When asked about the sign, the workers told THE CITY they “had no idea who that guy is or how the poster got on the window.”

A fourth, long-shot candidate in the NY12 race, Ashmi Sheth, didn’t get to appear in last week’s debate because she didn’t meet fundraising benchmarks. At 28, she’s even younger than Patel.

“It is absolutely time for new representation in NY-12. 32 years in the same seat is not democracy,” Sheth told THE CITY on Tuesday.

She also believes it’s important to consider what the new representation will look like. “If it’s the same way of doing politics in a younger body, then we can’t achieve the structural changes that actually make politics more inclusive,” she said.

Maloney, Patel, and Nadler will meet once again on the debate stage at Hunter College Tuesday night at 8 p.m. The hour-long event will be hosted by City & State New York and broadcast on WPIX-11.

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  1. kriptid

    Resident of NY-12 here.

    The support for any of these candidates seems anemic in my part of the Upper East Side. I think I’ve seen one poster for Patel outside of a closed business. Nothing for Nadler or Maloney, excepting the standard fare on the outside of Maloney’s campaign office, which I pass by occasionally.

    Fun anecdote: the one piece of mail I received so far came from Maloney. It was a glossy 4×6 card with a bunch of bullet points about how much she supported Israel with some dramatic-looking Star of David in the background. Now, I’m not ignorant as to the logic of sending out such a thing to potential voters in the Upper East Side, but this is really the content you’re sending out mass mailers over? Your allegiance to a foreign government? I found it repulsive, personally.

    Anyway, there’s nothing that jumps out at me about Patel to convince me that he isn’t just another AOC clone. A fresh face who talks a lot but will do very little, given the chance.

    Since I am a non-partisan voter, I’m pretty cynical about NYC politics. Unless you’re a registered Democrat, you’re at the mercy of the mob here, and the corrupt machine is so big I tend to think the results of elections here matter much less than in other places where there’s more diversity of political thought. Here, there are just these mild ideological skirmishes that are forgotten about the week after the primary.

    The only remaining question is which member of the gerontocracy (Maloney or Nadler) will be my representative.

    1. Pat

      I am in the also ran Manhattan district, so the only old school Democrat running is the attempted return of Liz Holtzman. But even with a wider range of younger candidates the campaign seems anemic and tone deaf. Today’s score was two big shiny mailers for Mondaire Jones with the dreaded “fight for” framing.

      Unless the unlikely happens and Liz squeaks through, our representative won’t be geriatric but there is every likelihood they will be just as deaf to the actual needs of their constituents but hypersensitive to the special interests who backed them.

    1. James E Keenan

      “[The Democrats] seem to have no problem finding tens of millions of believers who will stick with them rather than try some other party – not the Repubs.”

      Given the difficulty in getting third parties on the ballot in most states of the U.S. — New York state is actually one of the easier states to do this, as evidenced by the mention of the Working Families party in this article — I think that statement should be reformulated as:

      “[The Democrats] seem to have no problem finding tens of millions of people who are stuck with them and are unable to try some other party – not the Repubs.”

    2. Bart Hansen

      Third party candidates do not do well here in the us. For the next election, check out how they do. Newspapers will have the results on the day following. I suspect will have results as well.

  2. YankeeFrank

    This will all change as the reality of the ongoing collapse starts to really bite in richer enclaves like the UES. And then even milquetoasts like Patel better start singing a new tune or a fresher upstart will be the star. Though I have to say I don’t hold out much hope for the younger generations either. This country has been psyopped so hard for so long most people don’t know which way is up anymore. The CIA/Pentagon info warfare has done its job and we’re just one big rolling disaster now. For some insight this piece is quite interesting: (linked from Martyanov’s site: Of many interesting points in this piece, reflexive games and psychology to the military psyops complex is of top importance: a hall of mirrors where truth is irrelevant and confusion is the goal (until the rocket slams into your face).

    I remember in the late 90’s and the oughts how many in our braindead media went on about “information” replacing oil, etc as the most important commodity. Many believed this nonsense and now all we can do is build unnecessary online services while our real infrastructure disintegrates all around us. The older generations (Boomers and Gen-X) were born into a cultural and physical infrastructure that was so well made and they so spoiled by it they thought it was some sort of universal phenomenon that would always exist, endlessly available to exploit and loot.

    The only question is what’s going to bring on the full collapse. Will it be nuclear annihilation, infrastructure and/or ecological collapse, a financial tsunami or the big one these past few years — human health. The vax having done its job (make a few people much wealthier) its secondary effect — serious weakening of the human immune system and all that flows from that — well who can say? The fact that any or many of these are on the table goes to show how we’ve let go of the rope.

    1. Greg

      Agreed, it has been made patently obvious this year that the “knowledge and service economy” is an entirely unsustainable fantasy economy.

      I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop here in NZ. Under successive governments, “we” embraced this idea that everyone could shuffle imaginary paper all day and sell each other goods made in southeast Asia and we’d all get rich.

  3. Michael Fiorillo

    I live in the district. Maloney has always been a big nothing, and while Nadler mostly served his district pretty well over the years, his #McResistance maximalist embrace of Russiagate and everything that entailed, combined with his age and lack of vigor, also make it time for him to vamoose…

    But the alternatives are less than uninspiring, aren’t they?

      1. Pat

        In my district, my initial culling included things like working for Obama or Clinton, endorsements by Steve Israel and Pelosi, etc.

        I am down to only four candidates that must be examined, with stands, policies and history to be looked at. And the saddest part is knowing as I do that, that anyone I might vote for will be lucky to make it past single digits in percentage of the vote.

    1. ChrisPacific

      Also running on “new ideas” while apparently not having any actual ideas. Shades of Buttigieg there.

      I looked up some of his policies – he seems like a supply sider, monetarist and neoliberal who believes in free trade, tariff reduction and getting rid of regulation, and that all of this will magically bring about a whole range of desirable outcomes like solving the climate crisis through some unspecified mechanism. So Hillary Clinton lite, basically (minus the grift, but give him time). He does support some policies like Medicare for All, but so did a lot of people on paper.

      You don’t have to be old to be intellectually bankrupt.

      1. Big River Bandido

        In other words, he’s got nothing to separate him from the two geriatrics in the race except identity politics.

  4. psmith

    I voted for Ashmi Sheth, who supports Medicare for All. Her campaign has not received much media attention and she was not invited to participate in the debates, but since there is a left alternative to the above three candidates on the ballot, I figured I would vote for her.

  5. Watt4Bob

    IIRC, and I believe it may have been in an article here on NC, there was analysis done that explained our collective economic decay as being in part related to the fact that the dims, in the aftermath of Viet Nam, and Watergate, were anxious to get rid of the old folks in the legislature, and in doing so flushed a lot of the institutional knowledge that resided in the old guys, as concerns how our country’s economy works.

    I remember being like everyone else, thinking that getting rid of Nixon meant we won.

    In hindsight, we were wrong, and we not only let our guard down, we more or less ignored the dims selling us out for the next fifty years.

    Abandoning engagement in economics and money, in favor of focus on social issues, it was posited, left the path clear for the republican business champions to have their way, and here we are.

    1. Matthew G. Saroff

      There was a cultural shift, but I peg it to 1974 after Nixon resigned.

      It was a wave year, and brought in a huge number of Democrats, not because of policy, but because of the disrepute that Nixon transmitted to the Republican Party generally,

      The new crowd, or the generation of Biden and Pelosi, saw the path to victory as waiting for Republicans to step on their own genitalia, as opposed to governing well and for everyone.

        1. Michael Fiorillo

          Which also corresponds to the opening bell of neo-liberalism in the US: the 1975 Banker’s Coup – mistakenly referred to as the NYC Fiscal Crisis – in New York, whereby social programs were sacrificed in favor of All Markets, All The Time…

  6. Starry Gordon

    ‘When asked about the sign, the workers told THE CITY they “had no idea who that guy is or how the poster got on the window.”’

    Actually, it’s pretty easy to figure out who Mr. Patel is and what he at least pretends to stand for. There is a reasonably informative web site, for example, and he’s been noticed in various mainstream media. However, the Democratic Party is conservative and even Patel’s very mild progressivism seems to be too much for its leadership, its stars, and most of its foot soldiers. Hence, the gerontocracy. It’s what Democrats want: don’t rock the boat. It seems odd that proggies keep running at it as if it wanted them.

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