On Tuesday, June 28, Democrats in the Third Congressional District will have the opportunity to vote to select their candidate to replace outgoing Congressman Steve Israel. We have five excellent candidates to choose from.
What I am looking for is strong protection of Israel (where we break with progressives), civil rights and justice, environmental protection, climate action, gun violence prevention, policies that support working people and middle-class Americans. Also, I look for actual plans, solutions, rather than a slogan or easy description of what’s wrong. We know the “what.” What we need is someone with a grasp of the “how.”
The House of Representatives is the closest link a local community has to the federal government (whereas the Senate is absorbed with loftier policy, big-picture issues), so an essential ingredient for a Congressman should be the depth and breadth of experience at a local level and an ability to expand that experience to a national stage.
The debate that was held here by the Great Neck Democratic Club at Great Neck House last month to a standing-room-only crowd was very substantive, the questions were very pointed, giving the candidates a showcase in which to reveal a lot about their grasp of issues, the depth of their experience beyond being able to mouth slogans, as much as their sensibilities, inclinations, orientation and priorities.
Jonathan Clarke has a wonderful origin story – growing up poor, a father who was a disabled vet, putting himself through school and becoming a lawyer focused on ethics. His entire campaign is a more extreme version of Bernie Sanders, if that is possible. Clarke is a crusader, but he brands as corrupt anyone who has participated in politics under the existing system. He equates taking donations of any sort as a bribe, but of course, Sanders also takes donations. And Clarke’s entire campaign – like Sanders – begins and ends with the notion of a political revolution. That didn’t happen and won’t happen. Another disqualifying comment was his simplistic adoption of the hardline progressive view of appeasing Palestinians as if that would lead to a two-state solution and “peace” with Israel. “Palestinians are living in a situation where there is no opportunity…,’’ he said. “We should be focusing on development, give people voice, so they don’t believe their only recourse is to launch rockets.”
Steve Stern’s campaign is obsessively focused on women – and I am not swayed by the fact (as he mentions over and over and over again) he is the chosen one of Congressman Israel. But of course Stern would get Steve Israel’s support because they are from the same Suffolk area – Israel only became our Congressman because of redistricting.
Anna Kaplan, North Hempstead Town councilwoman, has already made history by being the first Iranian-American woman elected to office. She has a compelling origin story – escaping Iran after the Islamic Revolution as a 12-year old (which she never fails to emphasize), but simply lacks the experience to move from a town council position to the U.S. Congress. Interestingly, she seems to be the best funded candidate, judging by the barrage of expensive mailings, TV commercials, banners and such. She is getting a boost from Emily’s List.
The two candidates that most deserve election to Congress are Tom Suozzi and Jon Kaiman – both with vast experience, bold vision and political courage, both smart and savvy. Both would be strong (presence) in that Chamber of Horrors that has become the Congress. Both have been immersed in local affairs and understand how they intersect with the federal – for example, both have successfully lobbied in Washington for millions of dollars in funding for projects. Both have already represented diverse populations the size of some states. Both are mature and ready to move up to the national arena. Both have shown an appreciation and respect for the role that government can play and should play in people’s lives – a good force for creating opportunities, leveling the playing field – rather than seek to go to Washington to “blow it up” (as Donald Trump has promised).
But you have to choose one, and I will be supporting Jon Kaiman, who has all of what Tom Suozzi has but has less of his arrogance, an even more rounded resume, even more intimately connected to day-to-day affairs (the Sandy Relief, for example, NIFA chair). And Kaiman has proved really innovative in modifying programs to fit a suburban environment – 311, Project Independence – even visionary. And he has shown courage, such as his long-term stand with SANE/Peace Action on nuclear disarmament. When faced with NYMBYism or the reflexive opposition, he typically finds a way toward compromise and consensus.
What I liked most about Suozzi was his brownfield redevelopment, his focus on sustainable development for a New Suburbia. But the very thing that earned Suozzi the New York Times endorsement – his desire to eliminate local governments through consolidation, which he continues to believe is the best solution to derail the inexorable march of property taxes – seems to contradict the sensibility that a Congressman should have, in being locally focused.
When Kaiman was Town Supervisor, I called him a politician in the Roosevelt (Teddy and Franklin) mold. Competent, experienced, bold. In judgment, policy, vision, competence, intelligence, personality and temperament, Kaiman is my choice for someone whom we will be able to be proud of in Washington.
I like that Kaiman prioritized sustainability during his tenure that he implemented in practical fashion – building codes that reduced carbon emissions, that he took over neglected parks from the county. He really seemed to understand the quality of life issues. But he also was skilled in addressing the town’s finances and budget. He brings just the right sensitivity to and understanding of local issues to the House, which is designed to be the agency for local expression in national government. He has stated that his top priorities are “securing the future of Social Security, rethinking Common Core and teacher assessments, and fighting climate change.
In the end, though, each of these candidates properly embraces Democratic ideals, priorities, agenda. In the end, it will come down to a clash between the Democratic vision and the Republican vision. There is no contest: The Republicans have been responsible for the gridlock, the anti-democratic, pro-corporatist policies that are the basis for the so-called “Angry Voter” (and why I can’t understand why the Angry Voter is rewarding the Republicans and taking out their frustrations on President Obama and the Democrats who have not controlled Congress since Ted Kennedy died).