Democrats seeking to represent the new 10th Congressional District — which consists of Lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn — appeared in the first in-person candidate forum, kicking off what is expected to be one of the most closely watched midterm races in New York City.
Hosted by the Stonewall Democratic Club of NYC, which represents LBGT interests, the forum drew six participants, a few of whom needed little introduction. Ex-Mayor Bill de Blasio, Westchester County Rep. Mondaire Jones, political newcomer Elizabeth Kim (no relation to the reporter), state Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, and City Councilmember Carlina Rivera have all filed the necessary campaign paperwork. They were joined by former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, who in recent days said she was considering a run.
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Each of them have been lured by a rare open seat that materialized after a state judge ordered the state’s congressional district maps be redrawn after the courts found the lines had been gerrymandered to benefit Democrats.
The event, which was also broadcast via Zoom, did not feature any fireworks and revealed little substantive differences between the candidates. However, it offered district voters the first glimpse of a field that features sharp contrasts in background, experience, age and style.
Jones, Niou, and Rivera are all in their thirties, potentially setting up the race as a contest between younger lawmakers of color and older white establishment Democrats.
“Why am I running? I'm running because these are very dark times,” said the 80-year-old Holtzman, the oldest participant in the forum who has also served as city comptroller and Brooklyn district attorney.
In a line that showcased both her age and experience, she added: “I took on Richard Nixon and I can take on Donald Trump.”
Meanwhile, de Blasio, 61, who is campaigning less than six months after leaving one of the most high-profile offices in the country, introduced himself as someone with deep ties to the district, which includes his home in Park Slope and New York University, where he was an undergraduate.
Citing the hallmark policies of his eight years as mayor — the end of the policing practice known as stop and frisk and universal pre-K — he argued that he would pour that same progressive energy into Congress.
“We need a movement to change the politics of Washington that is profoundly broken,” he said.
Jones enters the race with the thinnest connection to the district but he has a head start in fundraising, having already raised nearly $3 million that was initially meant for a re-election campaign in the 17th Congressional District, which covers Westchester and Rockland counties.
He was among those forced to reconsider their options after the redrawn maps amounted to a re-shuffling of the deck for some Democrats. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee who currently represents the nearby 18th Congressional District, opted to run for Mondaire’s seat after facing the prospect of a tougher election in his district.
A freshman congressman, Jones, 35, is one of the first Black, openly gay members of Congress. During the forum, he emphasized that he was the only sitting member of Congress in the race.
“I don't just want to talk about the stuff I'm going to do in Congress,” he said. “I want to talk about the stuff I'm already doing in Congress.”
Niou, an Asian American state Assembly member who has been outspoken about hate crimes, began her remarks by condemning the false viral rumors that identified Tuesday’s mass school shooter in Texas as a trans individual.
“You can't make this stuff up. Our communities are under attack,” she said, before adding, “The people who are closest to the pain should be closest to the power.”
Rivera, who is Latina, also argued for more diverse representation.
“I think what's ultimately important is we want to deliver for the people that we represent,” she said. “How are we going to make sure that we are keeping the door open for future generations of leadership?”
In a nod to her age, Rivera said her “energy” was among the characteristics that set her apart.
Holtzman responded by saying that her proudest achievement was winning “workhorse of the year.”
“I'm not giving up on being energetic,” she said.
At the far end of the spectrum was the little known Kim, an upstart candidate and self-described “social scientist” who has raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars.
“You're probably wondering, ‘who the hell is she and why is she up there,’” she said during her introductory remarks, eliciting chuckles from the audience.
She later added: “There's a lot of reasons that I shouldn't be here. But the fact of this beautiful city is that it makes moments like these possible.”