By Michael McDowell
Primary Day is June 23rd, and incumbent Congressman Jerry Nadler faces two challengers: Lindsey Boylan and Jonathan Herzog. The Rag spoke with each of the candidates. A televised debate between the candidates is scheduled for June 17th on NY1.
The following conversation with Jonathan Herzog has been condensed and edited.
West Side Rag: Could you please introduce yourself, and tell me about your priorities as a candidate?
Jonathan Herzog: I’m a civil rights organizer and legal advocate, born and raised in New York’s 10th District, on the border of Hell’s Kitchen and the Upper West Side.
I’m running for Congress because we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, and the fourth Industrial Revolution. More than 100,000 Americans have died—we’re seeing a 9/11 death toll every single day—more than 40 million are unemployed, we’ve entered a new Great Depression, and Congress has been on recess.
When Congress returned to session, led by the incumbent, they returned to pass a multi-trillion dollar bailout for the largest multinational firms, not having learned from the 2008 financial crisis.
I’m running on 21st century solutions to these 21st century crises, beginning with a universal basic income, a data bill of rights establishing data property rights, as well as public financing of our elections, and a fundamental rebuilding of the common good and common infrastructure in the wake of collapse of institutions and fundamental faith.
WSR: Before your campaign, can you give me a few examples of grassroots issues you were involved in?
JH: What I’ve been fighting for, over the past few years, is bringing universal basic income to the mainstream. This is the Civil Rights fight of this era, this is what Martin Luther King was fighting for nearly 50 years ago, before he was assassinated. He called it a guaranteed minimum income for all.
I joined the founding team that built Andrew Yang’s presidential campaign. We started with five other folks on the team: no media, no polls, no press. National support for universal basic income was in the low single digits, or low double digits. Now, some public polling shows that upwards of 80 percent of all Americans support a form of basic income, of recurring cash relief, at least during this pandemic.
WSR: You’ve said that “Attacks on Jews are leading indicators of a state of political and economic unrest…We see this register in societies and economies that are dead or dying.” Can you explain?
JH: This is actually quoting Bari Weiss, and others like her, who’ve looked at the data and history of anti-Semitism.
Multi-decade dynamics are tearing liberal democracy at its seams. American life expectancy had declined for three years in a row, consistently, before Trump and before Covid, for the first time since the Spanish Flu. Deaths of despair, due to suicides and drug overdoses, [surpassed] vehicular deaths as the leading cause of death in the United States. This is just one indicator of many.
What happens in societies that are dead, or dying, or falling apart at their seams, is that the Jew fills in the answer for the narrative, or fills in the answer for the scapegoat. In Germany, beginning in 1928, you saw a one-to-one correlation between the rise of unemployment and Nazi vote share in the Reichstag.
The US Federal Reserve projected 32 percent unemployment in the United States in 2020. It’s just the stark empirical reality, that when our way of life falls apart, scapegoats become more and more powerful in people’s minds.
WSR: You have argued that BDS is anti-Semitic; the Iran Deal was ill-conceived; and you support a two-state solution. These issues matter to voters on the Upper West Side. Can you talk about this?
JH: I am the son of immigrants from Israel, went to Ramaz, and really grew up in the Israel advocacy community. The unfortunate reality is that these crises run deeper than we believe. The most vital, crucial, impactful thing we can do to protect the security and stability of the Jewish community worldwide and the Jewish community in Israel is to have a stable, whole, and strong United States of America. In order to do that, we need to fundamentally rebuild and reinvest at home.
I’ve spent many years on liberal, elite college campuses and can tell you countless stories. One that comes to mind is the fact that Sodastream was banned on Harvard’s campus on account of being a microaggression. To those who are concerned, I hear you, I hear you so deeply, and it’s ten or a hundred times worse than you can imagine.
That said, there is much greater cause for hope. The challenge right now for the American Jewish community, torn between far left and far right populism, is the sense that we have to ally ourselves with what is known, or leave the Democratic Party.
Part of the reason that I’m running is to say, we don’t have to settle for this false choice, we can be loud and proud progressives, we can be loud and proud at the vanguard of civil rights fights for this era, and the Jewish community has to build its foundation and reassert its home, proudly, and we don’t have to settle for anything less.
WSR: George Floyd’s funeral was last week, and we’ve seen the New York legislature pass the repeal of 50-a. What do you have to say about police reform?
JH: More than 1,000 Americans have been shot and killed by police, and we don’t have time for silence or lip service. We need real structural change.
I support prohibiting chokeholds, neckholds, and other excessive force; demilitarizing law enforcement; mandating a federal standard for use of force, only as a last resort; having a national public database covering police misconduct; ending qualified immunity; and reducing the use of pretrial cash bail. We need fundamental systemic reform.
WSR: The NYPD budget has ballooned to $6 billion. Would you support defunding the NYPD?
JH: I think the framing around defunding does a little bit of a disservice because it feeds into the false narrative that we don’t have enough resources. What I would be more of a proponent of is creative financing mechanisms like a value-added tax (VAT), or like exploring a common ownership self-assessed tax.
We can grow the pie, for all, to invest in education, and housing, and health care, but we’re talking about robbing Peter to pay Paul right now, and we don’t have to accept that dynamic.
We’re talking about a country where trillion dollar firms pay zero or near zero in federal taxes, and this is only going to accelerate and grow as human labor becomes less essential to the creation of trillions of dollars in value. Our fights should be more about what can we build versus what can we tear down.
WSR: How would you fight to improve conditions at NYCHA?
JH: This is exactly what I mean by robbing Peter to pay Paul. New creative solutions like quadratic funding, or like a common ownership self-assessed tax system, would enable us to have a multi-trillion dollar investment in public infrastructure that we haven’t seen in decades. [NOTE: A campaign spokeswoman sent the Rag the following paper, covering quadratic funding.]
Right now, we’re working on investments in public infrastructure made nearly a half century ago. In the 10th District, one of the most educated and liberal districts in the country—with a very high median income—one in six people live in poverty, and you have crumbling public housing opposite luxury housing developments on the other side of the street.
New creative solutions that put more resources to work offer us a way forward where we’re not constantly mired in the same cycles of rhetoric and inaction.
WSR: We’ve seen a lot of talk about “rent strikes,” but residential and commercial landlords have mortgages and city taxes to pay. Some have argued that the federal government is the only entity that can run a deficit to absorb the economic effects of the coronavirus calamity. How would you push for funding to save city and state budgets, as well as renters and mortgage holders who live in the district?
JH: The federal government should certainly fill in the renters and mortgage payment hole. Unfortunately, whether we like it or not, the federal government is the sole entity—and really the federal legislature, which has the power of the purse, the mandate, the scope, and the scale—to deal with a crisis at this scale.
We’re talking about more than 40 million Americans that are unemployed, but, critically, economists have looked at this and said, 40 percent of these jobs will be permanently lost. So that’s at least 16 million jobs permanently lost, more than double [the number of jobs lost] during the financial crisis.
The federal government needs to step in to meet rent payments and mortgage payments, but it has to do much, much more than that. If you look at the CARES Act and the HEROES Act it was a complete and utter disaster. We learned nothing from quantitative easing.
This wraps into our conversation around resentment and anti-Semitism, because what you saw in the wave of Occupy and the Tea Party, and the rise of the far left and the far right, it emanated out of an age of impunity and unaccountability. The fed just injected $1.5 trillion into the capital markets as tens of millions sit unemployed and tens of thousands die.
We need to do much more, and that begins with recurring cash relief now.
WSR: If you intend to have children, would you aim for public or private school, and why?
JH: Most certainly I’m biased by the incredible education I got in public school, and the tragic reality of how we’ve defunded and privatized really all sectors of the common good, including education.
The reality is that if you look at the most rigorous studies of educational outcomes, 2/3 of education outcomes are determined by non-school factors. Parents on the West Side know this. Parents across the district know this.
This is why we need new financing mechanisms, because right now our property tax-based system of determining the quality of our local public schools is unsustainable.
Having gone to Ramaz, and Hunter, and Harvard, and NYU Stern, and worked in private law firms and investment banks as well as in the public sector and nonprofit sector and political campaigns—the best thing for all of us, regardless of our resources, is having a restoration of the common good and public infrastructure, beginning with education.
WSR: So it would be fair to say you would see yourself as a public school parent?
JH: Yeah. Everyone should have the choice, but we should have a strong, robust, healthy, viable, and sustainable public [school system], for everyone.
We’ve let the market zero out and determine what is of value, and you know this so well in the context of local journalism, where hundreds of local papers have shuttered. We can’t have a functioning democracy if people don’t know what’s happening in their community, and we can’t have a functioning democracy if people don’t have an education in civics.
WSR: Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you’d like to address?
JH: It’s a great moment to be speaking with you. We’re building this incredible momentum at the right time. In many ways, there is great hope. We’re days away from the primary, and if we get just 15,000 voters—just 2 percent of all of the people on the West Side of Manhattan and South Brooklyn—to see this vision for themselves and a new way forward, we will win, and we will carry that vision forward.
WSR: Thank you.
Primary Day is June 23rd. More information on how to vote is available here.
Photos via Herzog campaign.