Congresswoman Nita Lowey’s retirement announcement quickly sparked what already looks to be a competitive race to fill her seat in New York’s 17th Congressional District. Several candidates have already filed with the Federal Elections Commission to run, and others are expected to enter the fray.
The tone thus far, though respectful, is somewhat contentious amongst the three highest profile candidates in the race as the River Journal went to press. (While others have filed with the FEC, like nonprofit project coordinator Luz Awilda Moreno Casanova, school teacher Lola Osorio and stay-at-home mother Jo-Anna Rodriguez-Wheeler, they haven’t raised any money and the latter two also haven’t made official candidacy announcements.)
The first to enter the race was Mondaire Jones, a lawyer from Rockland County and former staffer to then-President Barack Obama, who actually launched his campaign in July, three months before Lowey announced her retirement. The decidedly progressive candidate had some pundits speculating he could ride a heavily liberal, young-leaning wave that ushered Alexandria Octavio-Cortez into office, which precipitated Lowey’s decision to step aside rather than entering a potentially grueling primary. However, she says she had already been mulling over retirement to spend more time with family. His major opponents are State Assemblyman David Buchwald and State Senator David Carlucci, both of whom quickly launched their campaigns on the heels of Lowey’s October 10th retirement announcement.
“My jumping into this race in July was nothing personal. Nita Lowey’s legacy is something I’m inspired by…a legacy I intend to expand upon,” said Jones in an interview with the River Journal. “I’ve noticed the two candidates in this race have not come out with policy proposals as I have.”
The 32-year-old Jones, who if elected would become the first openly gay African American member of Congress, said, “Like other Democrats in this district and in the country, I’ve been frustrated with the slow pace of progress for solutions to the big problems in this country.
“My strategy, even as I pay great respect to members of the Democratic establishment, is to primarily speak to voters, to everyday people as part of this people power campaign,” Jones continued, while drawing a contrast between himself and his rivals, saying his “friend” Buchwald has instead been busying himself with “getting as many endorsements as possible from Democratic committee members and elected officials.”
Just don’t label Jones an “outsider” in the race, even as he’s pledged not to accept donations from corporate PACs. As he’s quick to point out, he’s “the only candidate who has worked full-time in the federal government in the form of having worked in the Obama administration.”
Assemblyman Buchwald once interned for Lowey in the 1990’s and assures voters he’s the candidate best-suited to carry on her work. “Congresswoman Lowey was a champion of investments in health and scientific research, and I think those are crucial for our future prosperity,” Buchwald told the River Journal via email. “She has had one of the highest environmental ratings from the League of Conservation Voters, and that fits well with my having a 100% pro-environment voting record every year I have been in the State Assembly.”
Protecting the environment in the area is an issue Buchwald seems intent on maintaining. He wrote, “Preserving clean water, from our waterways leading to and including the Hudson River, as well as from the wells so many area residents depend on, is of special importance. I have already as a state legislator passed legislation that assists projects along the Pocantico River, including its stretch past Briarcliff Manor and Sleepy Hollow.”
Carlucci is currently the most well-known candidate for District 17 residents, since he represents a Senate district that includes part of Rockland and Westchester Counties, the same land covered in the Congressional district. He also comes with some controversy: Specifically, his past membership in the Independent Democratic Conference. This coalition of eight Democratic senators broke away from their party to align with Republicans, thus giving the GOP control of the chamber. The IDC disbanded last year with the majority of the group losing in primaries.
In addressing Carlucci’s past with the IDC, Buchwald subtly brought it up in an interview with The Journal News, saying his own record is one of “being a steadfast Democrat…against anyone.” Jones has been far more aggressive on the topic, calling Carlucci’s membership in the rogue committee a “betrayal of New Yorkers and the Democratic Party” and labeling the State Senator a “Trump Democrat.”
In an interview with the River Journal, Carlucci said of the IDC, “I went through a primary last year where it was front and center. I talked about it. The IDC is gone. It’s dead. I’m a progressive Democrat and have always believed in progressive Democrat values.”
Carlucci—who says he would caucus with Democrats if elected to the Congressional seat—would rather voters concentrate on other aspects of his political past, namely his successful Senate record, where he passed the second-most bills this past session.
“Most of the time, solving a problem doesn’t mean writing a law, it means navigating through the red tape, through the bureaucracy of government, and that’s something I know and understand very well from working in almost every aspect of government,” Carlucci said. “Whether it’s the town, state, or federal level, I have the experience, and I know how to cut through the red tape to get results for the people I serve.”
Though far less competitive than the Democratic field at this point, the Republican Party could still see its own crop of entrants jockeying for an open seat in a district long considered to be an untouchable Democratic stronghold. Currently, the Republicans have only one official candidate in Josh Eisen of White Plains, though former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino has indicated interest. Still, Lowey won reelection with 88% of the vote in 2018, and Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1 in the 17th district.
Though Buchwald, Carlucci, and Jones sit on top of the Democratic primary race thus far, others are speculated to join, including Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti and Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, both of Westchester County. However, the most instantly recognizable name once rumored to be mulling a run, former first daughter Chelsea Clinton, shot down talk she would seek the seat during an appearance on “The View.”
Of those Democrats actually running, a couple of common themes unite them: To serve and strive to improve the lives of residents in the 17th District, and a pledge to hold President Trump accountable and fight back against his more controversial policies.