On Tuesday night, a trio of opposing personalities took the stage at CUNY’s Graduate Center for a televised debate between candidates in New York’s 12th Congressional District, hosted by NY1 and WNYC. One was laid-back, though at times stumbling and concise to a fault. Another was quick to defend her accomplishments, preemptively cutting herself short when no time remained on the clock. The third stayed largely on the attack — buzzing with energy.
Dispositions aside, Reps. Jerrold Nadler, Carolyn Maloney and lawyer Suraj Patel do, at the core of many issues, see eye to eye. “We are on this stage, star-crossed lovers,” Patel said of his opponents. “We are arguing right now, but the fact of the matter is we’re on the same team.” The 90-minute debate was moderated by NY1 political anchor Errol Louis and WNYC senior politics reporter Brigid Bergin.
Maloney and Nadler showed camaraderie on stage, but also struggled to differentiate themselves from one another. “I didn’t want to run against my good friend Jerry Nadler; We have been friends and allies for years,” Maloney said.
A contentious redistricting process unexpectedly pitted the two longtime neighboring Upper West Side and Upper East Side incumbents and House committee chairs against one another. When asked by Patel why Nadler endorsed Maloney prior to the shuffling of district lines, and in spite of her controversial record on vaccine safety, Nadler responded that “in the contest between you and her, I frankly thought she was the better candidate” — a sentiment he admitted still stands.
Patel drove home his differences from the representatives first elected to Congress in the early 90s. “Tonight you’re going to hear two distinct arguments from three candidates,” he said at the top of the evening. “Two of them are going to be talking about the past — and I’m going to be talking about the future.”
Health and Abortion Rights
The night kicked off with a discussion of a new concern plaguing the city: monkeypox. Nadler, Maloney and Patel all acknowledged shortcomings in the country’s response — but the conversation grew feistier as candidates turned to the topic of COVID-19 and vaccines.
Asked about her stance on the debunked link between vaccines and autism, about which Maloney has on occasion brought into question, Maloney said she supports vaccines and “the science behind vaccines,” before offering a less direct answer when pushed. “If we are a country that can’t even study anything anymore, I regret that I ever asked a question about vaccines or supported a study on whether or not they’re effective,” she said.
Later, the three again shared much the same view on the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade. “We need strong women to go to Congress who know these issues and will fight like hell to protect a woman’s rights to choose,” Maloney said. Nadler highlighted his endorsement from NARAL Pro-Choice America and Patel questioned why action hadn’t been taken already, in the past 50 years, to protect reproductive rights nationwide.
Crime, War and Effectiveness In Congress
A discussion on crime — and on the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, supported by both Nadler and Maloney — exposed a few differences between the trio of candidates. While Nadler defended the 1994 law, Patel voiced concern about a certain “fundamental problem.”
“Unless you believe in reincarnation, one life sentence is, well frankly, quite enough,” he said. “You don’t get deterred because we add penalties to crimes; What you do get deterred by is being caught.” He supports directing funding toward closing unsolved violent crime cases.
Maloney, Nadler and Patel agree on adopting a stricter stance on guns. On the topic of bail reform, they all said that whether a person should remain in jail pre-trial ought to instead be determined by a judge.
Asked later to define differences between the two incumbents, Nadler invoked the pair’s voting records. He voted against the war in Iraq, Maloney voted for it. He voted against the Patriot Act, which expanded FBI surveillance post-9/11, she voted for it. Finally, Nadler voted for the Iran deal, which she voted against.
As for what they both have over Patel? “With seniority comes clout — and the ability to get things done,” Nadler said. He admitted that working with Republicans has been difficult, going so far as to say that he can’t partner with them on “issues like immigration and democracy.”
Patel, however, was the only one to definitively back a 2024 reelection campaign from President Joe Biden. Maloney’s statement — “I don’t believe he’s running for reelection — came after a slew of other Democrats also declined to offer support, the Associated Press reported. She’s since backpedaled by tweeting that she’ll “absolutely support” the president, should he launch a campaign.
Resiliency and City Infrastructure
Addressing climate change and resiliency, Maloney highlighted her fight to limit pollution from power plants including “Big Allis,” in Queens, which she said is being transformed into a “green” hydropower plant. Nadler advocated for the Green New Deal and for building sea walls to protect the city — a proposition that Patel contested, arguing instead for the implementation of a “living shoreline” that he suggested would be more effective against rising tides and less environmentally costly.
On the topic of local infrastructure projects, candidates spoke about plans for Penn Station, the Gateway tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey under the Hudson River and the Second Avenue Subway extension. Maloney drove home her commitment to finishing construction of the Second Avenue Subway in her current district, accusing Nadler of piggybacking on her progress.
“I am so used to people claiming credit for my work,” she said, adding, “you can claim all the credit you want.”
“Tonight you’re going to hear two distinct arguments from three candidates. Two of them are going to be talking about the past — and I’m going to be talking about the future.” Suraj Patel