Suraj Patel is an attorney and worked for the campaigns of President Barack Obama. His parents’ family business is involved in hotel management and development.
This interview with Mr. Patel was conducted by the editorial board of The New York Times on July 28.
Read the board’s endorsement for the Democratic congressional primary for New York’s 12th District here.
Kathleen Kingsbury: My first question — I think I understand that you have to reject the premise of off the bat — but can you talk a little bit about what you see yourself being able to accomplish if there’s a Republican-controlled Congress? And be as specific as possible, but also is there a one big idea that you’d pursue on a bipartisan basis?
Absolutely. Before I start, I do want to say something about how honored I am to be in this room with you guys for the first time. My family ran a bodega when I was 5 years old. We would wake up at 5 in the morning, and we would get The New York Times. Back then, in 1989, you could get it, if you ran a bodega, in separate sections for cheaper if you stacked it together yourself.
And we slept on a one-bedroom apartment floor, so when someone woke up, everyone woke up. It was my grandparents, my parents, all of us in a line. And at 5 a.m., I remember stacking, collating this paper together to sell at our bodega for an extra dime. And so being in this room, in and of itself, is an incredible honor. To have this endorsement would be an incredible honor, for two or three generations of Patels who came from India, from farming sugar cane to being here. So thank you for having me.
And I will take your question. One of the things that I have done in this campaign is produce an inordinate amount of policy. I am a person who takes up his pen. And one major chunk of that is obviously the abundant society, which is about economics; the dynamic society, which is about innovation; and government reform and democracy reform writ large. The last part is the one I want to take for your question because I studied at N.Y.U. Law School.
And the person who developed the National Environmental Protection Act, NEPA, was Dick Stewart, and he was my professor. And he used to say, I birthed a great idea that’s become a demon, that NEPA, which does environmental reviews, is now used — it used to be that a 10-page impact assessment was produced after a few months. We’re looking at 2, 6, 8, 10 years for impact assessments that have stopped clean energy projects across this country, that have stopped things that will stop climate change.
Now, as a builder myself, I know that delays in time raise risk of incompletion, which also that means raises risk of interest rate costs. When New York City built the Second Avenue subway line, it cost $1.6 billion a kilometer to build. That is 6 and half to 8 times what Paris just produced an automated state-of-the-art subway line through Paris just this year. And the reason is our costs are incredibly high because our delays are high. The country has become a vetocracy. The city itself has become a vetocracy. The results of that are, seeing $5,000 a month of average rent in New York, in Manhattan, or $4,000 a month the median rent.
[The first phase of construction for the Second Avenue subway has an estimated cost of $1.7 billion per kilometer.]
We have a livability crisis and a crisis of no. Now, I think you can find Republicans across this country who would agree with you that we need to reform some of these laws. And that isn’t to say that I’m trying to damage the environment, but there are substance-based laws and rules that you can change to — that Europe does, for example — that have actual, a shot clock on NEPA, 16 months, with an impact statement that isn’t something that can get taken over by special interests to kill projects that are necessary.
Even in New York City, even in New York this cycle, in the last budget, the New England delegation was begging for a provision pill, a poison pill, that would kill offshore wind in the Northeast because it requires American mariners, American engineers and American ships to produce this offshore wind. Well, we don’t have the expertise for it right now.
Jake Auchincloss and others — and others were begging for this to be removed. For some reason, I don’t know why, my opponents, both Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler, were silent on that issue and it made it into the bill, making it harder to build offshore wind. The vetocracy problem is something that’s bipartisan. And it’s something that I would like to take on.
Now, for the first time in 20 years, in two decades, Gallup reported this week that Americans trust Republicans on the economy more than they trust Democrats. And the reason that is, is because we have failed to address things like inflation when they came. And if we failed to address inflation — I’m the only Democrat in the entire country who has a comprehensive plan on inflation and acknowledged it months ago.
[A Pew report published on July 13, about two weeks before this interview took place, concluded that “Americans express unfavorable views of both major parties.” Forty percent of Americans responded that they agreed with the Republican Party on economic policy.]
I was the first Democrat in the country to acknowledge — because my sister-in-law, my toddler nephew is 14 months old now. He was 11 months old at the time. And I went with her to five grocery stores — we went to Gristedes, we went to Associated.
We ended up going to that Costco past the Upper East Side in order to find baby formula, infant formula. And I did what I do best, which is to take up my pen. I wrote my way out. I watch a lot of Hamilton, by the way.
And I was able to write an op-ed and call for the president to invoke the Defense Production Act to produce more baby formula in America before any Democrat or congressperson said anything about it. And that op-ed published in your very editorial page. And two days later, the president invoked the D.P.A.
And a month later, we find that 40 percent more baby formula is being produced in the United States of America. Now, there are still more steps to be taken. For god knows what reason, we have a 20 percent tariff on baby formula. I can tell you one reason. Ninety-eight percent of it’s produced by three companies in the United States of America.
[U.S. tariffs on infant formula are as high as 17.5 percent. In July, about 30 percent of baby formula supplies were out of stock. The shortage is ongoing.]
It’s protectionism, writ large. Most of this baby formula would be coming from the Netherlands. What are we afraid of — tall, happy babies? The answer is that this is about crony capitalism in Washington — corporate PAC money and captured interests.
So there are a number of things about reforming our government that I believe Republicans are correct on that we need to be a part of, that we need to be at the table for so that we can make sure the environment’s still protected while reforming the things that are making our infrastructure incredibly expensive.
Mara Gay: I think actually you talked a little bit about housing. So we can move on.
Kathleen Kingsbury: Yeah, Jyoti, maybe, do you want to —
Jyoti Thottam: Yeah sorry I just — I just want to, Suraj, we’re just very conscious of time here. So Mara’s going to ask you the next question.
Kathleen Kingsbury: No, no we just decided you’re going to ask the next question, Jyoti.
Jyoti Thottam: OK, so on inflation —
Kathleen Kingsbury: No, no, not inflation.
Patrick Healy: Yeah we talked about it — voting.
Jyoti Thottam: Oh, voting. OK. So can you do —
I do want to talk about inflation, guys. Go ahead.
Jyoti Thottam: That’s right. We heard about inflation. Can you talk a little bit about what specifically you think Democrats can do to protect democracy?
Absolutely. Liberal democracy, it’s the core of my campaign. Liberal democracy as we know it is under attack from Ukraine to across the world. There is a lot of academic literature that tells you that when a new medium of communication comes about, it is easy for populist and authoritarians to take advantage. The radio corresponds to World War I, television corresponds to World War II.
[It was not until the post-World War II era that televisions became common in American households.]
And today we’re living in an era where one-half the population believes everything on social media, and one-half doesn’t — which means we need a group of people to ferry us to the other side in this very dangerous moment. And that means we need people who understand these mediums and how they work in order to regulate them, in order to fight for people.
I will also say I’m the only candidate that’s affirmatively pro-democracy in this race. Because I — two years ago, when I lost to Carolyn Maloney by 2,700 votes, in a race in which 12,500 ballots were discarded, both of my opponents were silent. I took on what others said was a quixotic quest. I spent three months of my team poring through photocopy after photocopy of absentee ballot requests.
We ended up going to court, successfully suing Andrew Cuomo, in an injunction that got 1,200 ballots counted. And not only that, but our moves, our waves nationally helped change the way ballots were counted and vote by mail for the November election and in New York. We took the absentee rejection rate in New York from 25 percent — which was 100 times higher than that of a Scott Walker Wisconsin State — down to 10 percent. We’re still not great here.
[In 2020, reports found that over 20 percent of absentee ballots were invalidated in some parts of New York. The Times was not able to confirm how much Mr. Patel’s lawsuit lowered the rate of absentee ballot invalidation.]
But we added a red line and a check mark and all of that. But across the country — I’m sure all of you in this room agree with me — we were watching with pins and needles, Pennsylvania and Georgia, the days after the election when ballots were coming in. Guess what, guys? Those ballots would not have been counted if state laws didn’t change after the fact that we made noise about this.
And some of what I’m talking about in this race is about meeting the urgency of the moment to take on gerrymandering, to take on voter suppression. Look, why are we in this race in the first place? Because The New York Times reported in November that Congresswoman Maloney attempted to gerrymander young and Latino voters out of her own district in order to secure her re-election.
And the person who gave her — gave her his constituents — was Jerry Nadler, and that snaking district that made national news, cost the Democrats structurally four or five seats for the next decade because they took that away. And it was an unconstitutional gerrymander in state after state. When given the referendum choice to outlaw gerrymandering, voters have chosen in Ohio, in red states and blue states, to outlaw gerrymandering.
We should go with a referendum-based program across this country to give people the right to choose their own representatives, and not the other way around.
Patrick Healy: You made some critiques of Democratic elected officials, like your two opponents. I’m wondering, do you see — do you think that Democratic elected officials are out of step with Democratic voters on immigration these days, on L.G.B.T.Q. rights, on any one issue —
One hundred ten percent. I think the reason that we are in this race, and squarely in it — and our polling this morning shows that we are at a 25 to 31 to 31 race — is because people believe that our current elected leaders are out of step.
Patrick Healy: On what issue? Can you give us an issue, or —
On the issue of, for example, abortion rights — we had an eight-week period, a head start to figure out what to do. The response from the administration in Congress was so lackluster that it backfired on some of these folks who thought we could just use it to gin up donations and votes.
So I wrote an op-ed a few weeks ago. You’re going to keep hearing that. Because I’m a very long writer, as you can see, about Medicaid and abortion. The F.D.A. in the United States of America has shown its failure time and again in the last few years, whether it’s on baby formula or its failure to inspect a Danish plant that has one million monkeypox vaccines that should be sent here. Or we just should just trust the European Union’s inspections regime because, frankly, it’s likely better than ours?
But anyway, on monkeypox, we have a million monkeypox vaccines still waiting in warehouses. But back to this issue about where the abortion pill situation sits. The F.D.A. only allows RU486 or Medicated abortion, up to Week 10. The European Union allows it to Week 12.
Almost every study shows that it’s equally effective up to Week 14. We should expand telemedicine abortion; we should make it clear that it is not illegal to serve abortion pills across state lines. And most importantly, we should ask that the F.D.A. — my opponents should have been writing letters to the F.D.A. urging them to increase the time period for medicated abortion.
That’s an example of what proactive active urgent leadership looks like within our own city. Sorry, I can let you keep going.
Kathleen Kingsbury: Eleanor, do you want to jump in, please? We’re already halfway through our time.
Kathleen Kingsbury: We’re only on our third question.
Eleanor Randolph: In this case, we only want yes or no —
Kathleen Kingsbury: Just yes or no. Nothing more.
Mara Gay: That’s it. I know it’s hard.
Sorry. Sorry, sorry, sorry.
Eleanor Randolph: All right. Do you want to expand the Supreme Court?
Eleanor Randolph: Do you want to end the filibuster?
Eleanor Randolph: Should there be term limits for members of Congress?
Eleanor Randolph: What about age limits?
Eleanor Randolph: And Should Biden run again?
Eleanor Randolph: OK.
Kathleen Kingsbury: Alex?
I’d love to give you some explanation for those.
Eleanor Randolph: No —
Alex Kingsbury: Moving on. I’d like to ask about the war in Ukraine. I wonder if you think there should be an upper limit on the amount of taxpayer dollars going into that conflict, and if we should affix any conditions to the money that we’re spending there?
Absolutely not. First off, the Ukrainian ally and the European Union is at the front lines of a lifelong — first inning of a battle against authoritarianism in this world. And we ought to prepare for that battle — first by arming our Ukrainian allies with defensive weapons to get Russia out of Ukraine.
I would not accept a cease-fire that allows Ukraine and Russia to annex the amount of Donbas and eastern territory they already have. We’ve seen this move before. First it was Crimea. Then it was Donbas. We’ve seen this move before, in 1937. We know how this works.
So not only do I think we should allow — we should continue providing military aid to Ukraine, but I actually think we need to do more. I urge Janet Yellen to use the Exchange Stabilization Fund to prop up commodity production in our allies and in our own country by providing price guarantees and price floors.
You see, commodity production — and I’m not just talking about oil; we’re talking about wheat, barley, fertilizer, ammonia — commodity production is historically and notoriously a very boom and bust thing. And therefore, to get over the investment hurdle rate, you’re going to need price guarantees. You’re going to need purchase guarantees in order for someone to start up that production.
We need to bring more of that production away from Russia and China, frankly, and toward North, South America and the rest. I also would urge the Biden administration to utilize its already existing powers under O.F.A.C.
[O.F.A.C. is the Office of Foreign Assets Control, an office under the Department of Treasury that enforces trade sanctions.]
See, currently O.F.A.C. can only do negative sanctions, which is to say it’s a punitive thing for sanctioning. However, there is nothing to stop O.F.A.C. from using constructive powers, which means supporting the burgeoning wheat export industry from India, supporting the burgeoning supply shipping industry in ally of Egypt.
And the reason I say that is because while we slept for the last 15 years, China has done this in sub-Saharan Africa, in South America and across the world, and has used its economic might as a form of diplomacy.
We have the tools and means to do it. But we have to take this seriously. This is the first innings of this battle for liberal democracy. I’m a firm liberal democrat who believes in individual rights. And I think that we don’t have enough people serious enough about this who can articulate this vision to help keep the American public engaged in this fight.
Jyoti Thottam: You spoke quite extensively about NEPA as a bipartisan sort of fix to move forward on climate. Is there anything else, specifically, that you think the Democrats could do to move forward so that the U.S. can meet its commitments on climate change?
Absolutely. Two years ago, I wrote a project called “The Discovery Project,” which calls for a space race-scale innovation investment in America. At the height of the space race, we spent 2 percent of our budget — federal budget — on research and development. Basic research and development the private sector does not do because the profit horizon for that kind of investment is too far away.
It’s called “The Discovery Project,” cleverly, because sometimes you have to do everything you can to spray and pray and find things that you don’t know about yet. That investment in the ‘60s and ‘70s led to things like the human genome, the internet, Velcro, Tang.
[Tang, the American drink mix brand, was formulated in 1957 by the General Foods Corporation. It became popular after NASA astronauts consumed it in outer space.]
But at the same time, here in biotechnology and genomics, we have an opportunity — and in climate science — we have an opportunity to do one thing and one thing that will finally settle this issue once and for all. A massive investment in innovation research and development to bring the kilowatt/hour cost of renewables below that of fossil fuels so that within 10 years, it is economically unviable to build fossil fuel plants or use them anymore.
And the reason that’s important is very simple. India and China and sub-Saharan Africa — sorry.
Jyoti Thottam: So I get why it’s important. But you’re suggesting basically a big federal investment with that as a goal.
With the goal of bringing the cost of renewable energy down. So right now, we use a lot of subsidy — this last bill has a $7,500 subsidy, the Manchin bill yesterday — which I think is very good, by the way — has the $7,500 subsidy for E.V.s.
But you could take that money, actually, honestly, and instead of that kind of giveaway, you know, embark on science. By the way, in this — there’s something specific to New York 12 about this. If any of you have ever lost a parent or a grandparent to dementia or Alzheimer’s, we have the ability in this country to map the brain much in the same way that we did the human genome.
Medical researchers have been begging for more funds like Operation Warp Speed to finish this job five years faster. Langone, Presbyterian, Mount Sinai — dotting my district are exactly the leading-edge places that do this research. The $620 million allocated to it, if doubled, would make half the time for these kinds of things. It’s an incredibly cost-effective investment for a district that suffers from some of the highest levels of anxiety in the world.
And I think we have to look at the future and talk about it.
Kathleen Kingsbury: Mara, why don’t we do the lightning round?
Mara Gay: Great. We have a little pop quiz for you.
Mara Gay: Just do the best you can. The first question is, how does Plan B work?
Plan B is a form of contraception that’s effective up to 72 hours. Its efficacy wanes over 72 hours, so should probably be called not the morning-after pill, but the night-of or right- after pill. It’s really just a concentrated dose of the same hormone that is in your daily birth control pill.
It’s a synthetic form of progestin. What it does, is helps your uterine lining shed so that a zygote cannot implant. It is firmly not an abortion pill. That is something very important that Democrats and others seem to keep missing. Because RU486, or an abortion pill, medicated abortion, is significantly different.
[Research suggests that Plan B does not prevent implantation.]
Now, as a person who has a personal experience in this — and millions and thousands of women, hundreds of women I know, including my fiancée, who have had this experience — for no good reason is Plan B available behind the pharmacist counter in places where people may judge you. It has no reason to not be right next to condoms and other forms of contraception.
Because that is exactly what it is. And if someone finds themselves in a bind — by the way, and it’s $50, $45, $50. It’s not actually very affordable as a daily basis for working families.
Mara Gay: I’m going to cut you off. I’m sorry, this is my lightning round. And it’s lightning round, meaning quick. It prevents ovulation. So thank you. Do you own a gun?
Mara Gay: No. Is that a no?
Mara Gay: Have you ever fired a gun?
Mara Gay: OK. When and where.
At a clay shooting ranch thing at a law firm summer associate event. One time.
Mara Gay: Wow. Thank you. What is the average age of a member of Congress?
Mara Gay: 58. What about the average age of a U.S. Senator?
Mara Gay: 64. Please name a member of Congress — just one, dead or living — who you most admire and would emulate if elected to serve.
Living, Lauren Underwood is a very good friend of mine and a person that — it’s a lightning round, so.
Mara Gay: Thank you. What is your favorite restaurant in the district?
GupShup, which is around 20th in Murray Hill. It’s a friend of mine’s Indian restaurant.
[GupShup is in the Manhattan neighborhood of Gramercy, south of Murray Hill.]
Mara Gay: Great. I’d like to ask — you accepted Andrew Yang’s endorsement. Yang left the Democratic Party after dropping out, well, after losing the mayoral race last year. If elected, would you support the ideas that he championed?
No. I mean, look — one, Andrew Yang endorsed me. I didn’t endorse him.
Mara Gay: You accepted the endorsement.
I accepted the endorsement. First as an Asian American person, being the first South Asian person to be in office east of the Mississippi River, a specific type of representation’s missing anywhere in these states is important to me. And I think Andrew found that to be a compelling reason during this moment of violence against Asian Americans.
[There is at least one other congressman of South Asian descent who represents a district east of the Mississippi River. Raja Krishnamoorthi, who represents Illinois’s Eighth Congressional District, is Indian American.]
Secondly, I will say that when we won that 2008 election — and Barack Obama takes a lot of heat these days from people and Monday morning quarterbacks about not doing enough. But let’s remember, we had Democratic senators from Arkansas, Montana, Alaska, Ohio, Indiana.
It was a time when we used persuasion and a big tent to win this country. And he should get credit for that if he’s going to get flak for not doing quote unquote, “enough,” which I think is absurd, given that he insured 30 million people forever. But anyway, with Andrew Yang, that’s part of my calculus here.
We have to build a big tent. We can’t push away people simply because they’re upset at us. The whole way to win this country back is going to be by coming back with the politics of persuasion. Sixty-nine percent of Americans support Roe v. Wade, but 49 percent voted for Donald Trump. The fundamental question here is then: What are we going to do to win those people back?
[A Gallup poll published in June found that 58 percent of Americans were opposed to overturning Roe v. Wade (a reasonable proxy for their support for the measure). In the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump won about 47 percent of the vote; according to a Pew report, only 66 percent of Americans cast a ballot that year.]
You have to build a big tent or else you can’t govern this country.
Mara Gay: Thank you.
Kathleen Kingsbury: Patrick, why don’t we go to go to your question.
Patrick Healy: Sure. Why should voters elect you or Democrats like Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney, who enjoy seniority and years of experience in office?
Well I have some fundamental differences with both of them. And I believe that there’s issues of their record. For Carolyn Maloney, for example, someone who voted for the Iraq War, someone who voted for the ’94 crime bill, which created an incarceration problem in this country that Black and brown adults still deal with to this day, and cycles of poverty, someone who voted against the Iran Peace Deal that both Iraq — that both Israel and the United States supported at the time. And it was President Obama’s signature diplomacy move.
And of course, she spent over almost two decades being the leading anti-vaxxer in Congress. And I don’t trust her judgment. Both take enough corporate PAC money to make someone blush. Michael Bennet, in a purple Senate seat, in a difficult election cycle, still doesn’t take corporate PAC money.
Why in the two richest districts in America you would have to go to corporations to take your money, is well beyond me. Both engaged in a gerrymander. But I’m going to talk about the seniority piece to answer your question.
[While Mr. Nadler’s and Ms. Maloney’s districts are not the richest in the country, the districts are among New York City’s wealthiest and most unequal districts.]
You can look right across the river to see a congressperson who has significantly less tenure, significantly less seniority, but significantly more impact on the conversation and lifting the voices of working people, people of color in this country, and on the Democratic Party. And that is Hakeem Jeffries.
He was elected when he was 43. I will be 39 at inauguration. There’s nothing to say that you need tenure to have impact. And I don’t think that every single person that is, you know, older needs to be kicked out of Congress. Look at John Lewis. He ran through the tape with cancer. But he still had a massive impact on the national conversation and was in touch with his district.
[Hakeem Jeffries was 42 when he was elected to Congress in 2012.]
I don’t think Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler are in touch with this district. They don’t ride that Union Square subway every day like I do and see how crowded that platform is. They didn’t knock on 13,000 doors or talk to people. I walk eight miles a day — I could show you if I had my phone, but you guys didn’t allow me to bring it — to talk to voters in this district and learn from people that had $5,000 median rent.
[Before entering the meeting room, Mr. Patel asked if he could bring his phone with him and was told he could. The median rent in Manhattan is about $4,000; the average rent roughly $5,000.]
Actually today was a study published that said that the New York’s population — Manhattan’s population — declined by 6 percent after the pandemic. But the number of people under the age of 18 declined by 7 percent. Number of people under the age of five declined by 9.6 percent, which means we’ve got a lot of people in my own cohort and my own family, frankly, who have this very difficult decision of choosing between having a family in this city and living in the city that they love, or being able to afford it at all.
[Economic Innovation Group published an analysis on July 27, a day before this interview was conducted, on families with children who left major cities during the first year of the pandemic. According to the analysis, the population of people under the age of 18 declined by 5.1 percent and the number of people under the age of five declined by 9.5 percent.]
And the people in office — both Nadler and Maloney — have contributed to a culture of NIMBYism and “No” — opposing the SoHo rezoning that had an incredible amount of affordable housing. And by the way — wealthier parts of this district and city need to accept affordable housing. The reason is, because when market rate rents are higher, you need less of them to subsidize the amount of affordable housing.
If you’re going to send all your affordable housing to the ends of our subway lines and to Black and brown communities to bear the brunt of gentrification, one, economically it makes less sense. And two, from a justice and equity perspective, it makes less sense.
Both are major contributors to that. They both oppose the Blood Center. They both oppose this on the Upper East Side — what an appalling thing to do in the middle of a pandemic. For someone, frankly, with Maloney’s anti-vax, anti-science history, to go out and oppose a blood center shows you just how entitled some of these folks are to their district.
[Since this interview took place, Representative Jerrold Nadler’s campaign confirmed that he did not make a public statement about the proposed upgrades to the New York Blood Center.]
And in fact, yesterday — and this is an incredibly sad thing — a biker, a 29-year-old biker, was killed on 84th and Madison, just a few blocks away from Carolyn Maloney’s house. I just gave a statement on it because The Post reached out to me today and it is fresh in mind.
[Carling Mott, 28, was biking on 85th Street between Park and Madison Avenues when she was fatally hit by a tractor-trailer.]
But there are voice mails. Carolyn Maloney’s personally lobbied to have that bike lane not added within her own neighborhood. And a young woman has died. As a city biker myself, as a biker myself and my family and my staff, one, I think that’s appalling.
But this idea that these federal congressional representatives do not treat these districts like fiefdoms, and that they do not have an impact on choices of housing or homeless shelters, or things like that, is actually inaccurate.
Kathleen Kingsbury: We have time for one last question. The only area I think we didn’t cover is what do you think Congress needs to do more of in terms of trying to curb gun violence?
Yeah. So, everything. When the ‘94 assault weapons ban passed — one of the things I would say is 1990s Democrats have no answers for today’s Republicans. And part of the reason is when the ‘94 gun bill passed, assault weapons ban passed, it passed with less than 60 votes, which means it wasn’t filibustered.
It passed with Republican and Democratic support. And we’re living in a different era. Mitch McConnell’s thrown the chessboard across the room. And yet our Democrats are still up there with easels talking about maybe we’ll get there if we do these minute background checks thing.
So I think that we have to tackle the gun problem by first off, being clever legally, here. After what the Supreme Court did, I think in a state like New York, you can expand the definition of sensitive places. Listen, I hate to say it this way, but the playbook that the Republicans showed us and used to chip away at the margins of Roe v. Wade is the exact playbook we’re going to have to use on guns in reverse — by chipping away, state by state, law by law, about what constitutes a sensitive place, what constitutes an assault weapon, what constitutes too much.
And then we have to use the power of the purse and finance. BlackRock — the largest contributor in PAC money to both of my opponents — in the country is the largest single shareholder of the top four gun manufacturers in this country. So we have to go to the economics.
[According to campaign finance data compiled by OpenSecrets, PACs affiliated with BlackRock have contributed no money to Jerrold Nadler in the 2022 cycle. PACs affiliated with BlackRock had given $2,500 to Carolyn Maloney, but they were far from the largest contributor in PAC money to her campaign.]
Kathleen Kingsbury: OK.
Mara Gay: Thank you so much.
Kathleen Kingsbury: Thank you so much for your time.
You guys, thank you so much. This was really enjoyable and went extremely fast.
[The editorial board added one follow-up question for Mr. Patel.]
Mara Gay: So can you just tell us what you consider your biggest accomplishment other than running for Congress at this point?
Yes, I can. I’m incredibly proud of, you know, stepping up and helping and cofounding the Arena after the 2016 election. I think that we were able to engage about 4,000 people who have become Democratic stalwart working staffers for campaigns across the country and do it on our own volition.
I woke up three days after the Hillary election that I was working at, at the Javits Center, and a bunch of us got together and said, “We need to get off the mat and do something about this.” We convened a summit seven — 35 days later in Nashville, where 700 people attended.
I noticed something, Mara. I noticed that, you know, everyone was like, oh, look how many we had. I noticed as a person doing the intake that 40-plus percentage people had never done a single thing in politics before. And I realized we had this incredible generational change moment where people were awakened for the first time.
So we continued to build Arena. To this day, that organization — which I left after I started running — has been instrumental in helping Democrats across the country win.
And I mentioned you guys, Lauren Underwood, and I didn’t get to go into detail about that. Lauren is in our plus six district and outside of Illinois, Chicago-land, right? It was a six- person primary field, six white men and her. She couldn’t even get the Emily’s List endorsement for her primary. And I think we need to get past that kind of thinking.
[Emily’s List endorsed Lauren Underwood on Jan. 28, 2018, ahead of the Democratic primary for District 14 in Illinois.]
So I flew out there and I helped put together her campaign from day one and got her to $100,000 with Arena support and all of that. And she ended up winning. Not only did she end up winning, she became one of our best congresspeople, I think. And it proves the point that you don’t need to be a certain demographic or a certain age or anything to win office. So we were able to engage a whole new generation of leadership by building that organization, you know.
[While Arena supported Lauren Underwood’s 2018 campaign, Mr. Patel’s campaign confirmed after this interview took place that Arena did not raise $100,000 in funding.]
And then the other one, I will say, the second one, you know, I mentioned to you guys in the beginning, my family story. The reason that I ended up working for my family after law school is because we faced seven foreclosures at the same time. It’s why I forewent a job directly in the new administration after I worked in the campaign, because a lifetime of work that we put together from my grandparents and my parents, and then the financial crisis fell into, you know, after TARP passed.
It didn’t support small businesses or local community banks. What it did do instead was enrich large banks and their balance sheets, but it never trickled down. So we faced a maturity of defaults for construction we just did.
I worked that out for three years. We made sure every employee got paid in full, had health care, and came out the other side, including every contractor. I did that again this year for one other place during the Covid-induced pandemic.
So, you know, it feels like sometimes that you need political accomplishment to be office. But I think some of these things in the more real world are much more relatable to people in this district who are facing the same questions, including foreclosures, that would help restaurants and hospitality folks here in New York City itself navigate that as well, with that experience. So I guess I would say those there are two: One’s political and one is significantly more personal and important, frankly. And that’s it.