By Michael McDowell
At home on the Upper West Side, Congressman Jerrold Nadler held court at a boisterous and well-attended town hall on Monday night, which served as both a celebration of recent Democratic victories and a rally to mobilize voters ahead of the November 2018 midterm elections.
The event, which was held at Symphony Space on Broadway and 95th Street, featured the unexpected appearance of Congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as well as a number of other prominent New York City Democrats.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who introduced Rep. Nadler, rallied the crowd with talk of impeachment—after Democrats flip the House of Representatives in November, that is.
“The energy in New York City is real, people are so fired up, so ready to go, so ready to take back our democracy, so ready to make sure that Congressman Jerry Nadler becomes Chair of the Judiciary Committee,” Stringer said, to loud applause. The Judiciary Committee, among other activities, considers articles of impeachment; Nadler, if Democrats do take the House in November, would become its Chair.
Nadler, however, did not address impeachment, and instead focused on the importance of November’s midterms.
“I don’t have to tell you what’s at stake in this election, that this election is critical. Nancy Pelosi often says that we come before you every two years and we say ‘This is the most important election, ever.’ And it’s usually true. It’s certainly true this year. We must stop this administration, and the Republicans who are using this moment to push the worst possible agenda, and to attack the foundations of our democracy. Simultaneously, we must move to the positive, proactive things we want to do to protect our values and people,” he said.
Nadler sketched the road ahead, if Democrats are to regain control of the House.
“Right now there are over a hundred targeted races around the country in the House, of which about 53 or so are extremely competitive for Democrats…We need 23 seats gained to get the majority…But in order to do this, we have to win seats that are traditionally Republican, seats like Max Rose in New York’s 11th Congressional District. Max is our candidate, Donovoan is the Republican incumbent, in Staten Island and Southern Brooklyn. Candidates like Antonio Delgado’s Race in the 19th Congressional District in the mid-Hudson Valley against Faso. And I have a particular interest in Faso because when I was in the Assembly years ago, Faso was the Minority Leader, and he’s just as fascist now as he was then. Seats like Andy Kim in New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, MacArthur is the incumbent, who introduced a particularly devilish amendment against the Affordable Care Act. Seats like Mikie Sherrill in the 11th Congressional District not too far from here in New Jersey. Seats like Susan Wild in Pennsylvania 7th, where the Republican incumbent is retiring. These races are going to depend on turnout and energy.”
The audience was particularly enthusiastic when Nadler turned to the recent defeat of members of the state’s Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). To a roar he introduced Robert Jackson, who last week defeated State Senator Marisol Alcantara, a former member of the IDC. After a contentious primary, Jackson emphasized the need for Democratic unity, and said that November is “about all of us working together in order to make sure that New York State is truly blue, and to make sure that the House is flipped!”
But it was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a rising Democratic star who is likely headed to Congress next year, who stole the show. Her appearance, which produced an audible gasp, was unannounced.
“As Congressman Nadler stated, the stakes in this election couldn’t be higher…Our Founding Fathers always stated that this is the pursuit of a more perfect union—and our job is to find out what more perfect means to our generation. So to me what more perfect means is a livable wage for every person in this country. To me what more perfect means is a criminal justice system that elevates justice over the persecution of communities of color. To me what more perfect means is one man, one person, one vote—and that dollars do not mean more than people in this country.”
The power of the individual to effect change in politics was a key theme of the evening, and major community organizers were well represented. National Organization for Women New York head Sonia Ossorio invited volunteers to participate in get-out-the-vote efforts. “You will be successful when you have worn out your sneakers or your flats,” she said.
Ian Christie, Deputy Political Director for Swing Left, reminded the audience that there remain only 50 days—or seven weekends—before the November elections.
“When you think about Danny O’Connor [in Ohio] losing an election by 1600 votes, 0.4 percent difference between win or lose, when you think of Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania’s 18th winning by 755 votes, it means that if you sign up to go knock on doors during that last weekend…you may be the difference,” Christie said.
Nadler himself is no stranger to close elections.
“When Ian talks about close elections…I was elected to the State Assembly years ago by 73 votes. Prior to that, I lost an election, once, by 18 votes. After that election, I cannot tell you how many people came up to me and said, ‘If I had known, I would have voted!’”
State Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side and Hell’s Kitchen, encouraged the audience to mobilize, “so you can help with the revolution, so you can help make sure Jerry is Chair of Judiciary, and I look forward to being there with you because we’ve got to flip this country back to where it belongs.”
Members of the audience had a diverse range of questions. A man asked about the representation of people with disabilities in campaign materials, as well as the efforts Democrats are making on behalf of Americans with disabilities.
“One of the battles we have in Washington, which so far we’ve actually won, the Republicans every couple of years try to eviscerate the Americans with Disabilities Act. It comes before the Judiciary Committee, and we have managed to beat them back every time, so far. But this is also at stake,” Nadler said.
Ocasio-Cortez also responded.
“I believe that we really truly do have the seeds of a renewed ADA movement in this country. In the town halls and listening stops we have in New York’s 14th—my district is in the Bronx and Queens—and even in other places in the country, in Delaware, in Michigan, this topic comes up in every single conversation.”
Regarding messaging, a member of the audience expressed his concern over the increasing prominence of socialism in the Democratic Party.
“I would like all of you to get away from this socialist turn—I would like you to say, ‘We are Democrats who believe there are certain things that should not be run for profit. We believe in capitalism, but we believe in capitalism with regulation. We don’t want to take away capitalism, but we know human nature, and it needs regulation.’ Socialism is a word that infuriates the other side,” he said.
“Don’t let the right define us…I’m not here to sell an -ism. I don’t think any Congressman comes out and says, ‘Hey, I want to knock on your door and talk about late-stage hypercapitalism. I’m a late-stage hypercapitalist, let me sing the joys of a less-than-living wage. Republicans don’t say that. And we don’t name it either. We don’t say they believe in extremist capitalism in which people should be paid less than the amount that they can afford to live in this country.”
Calling attention to the august demographics of the audience, a woman asked where the younger folks are, and what Democrats are doing to engage them.
Ocasio-Cortez had an answer.
“There’s this idea of the non-voter as apathetic, uneducated, not understanding of the system, but in my congressional primary we expanded the electorate 68 percent over the last off-year midterm…In fact, if you look at the breakdown, it was young people, young voters voting in an off-year midterm primary election that really brought home the win. It was young people across race, across income, across class.”
“I think two dimensional and left and right is the most mistaken frame that we can possibly use to understand the electorate…our politics are not left and right, our politics are up and down. We, as Democrats, are champions of the bottom—we are champions of the middle class, the working class, and the poor, and I will never shy away from that…A rising tide lifts all boats.”
Nadler urged attendees to mobilize.
“The more we join forces, the more organized we are—it’s good that we’re angry—but we have to be organized and strategic…and if we do the work to help campaigns around the country, we will win, we will win control of the House, maybe even control of the Senate. I’m beginning to think that’s possible.”
Nadler, who recently became a grandfather, has represented the Upper West Side in some capacity since 1977.
Also in attendance were State Sen. Brian Benjamin and City Councilman Mark Levine.