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As the newly-rendered 12th Congressional District’s contentious primary draws near and polls tighten, will reports of voter registration nightmares, a potentially absentee Hamptons-bound voter base and Upper East vs Upper West battles bring the focus on the voters of Hell’s Kitchen?
The battle between longstanding representatives Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney — senior Democratic allies turned bitter adversaries — and Suraj Patel, running a grassroots campaign that hopes to unseat them both (Patel came within four points of besting Maloney in 2020) intensified following Tuesday night’s primary debate.
While both Maloney and Nadler highlighted their records — Maloney emphasizing her role in the creation of the Second Avenue Subway, paid Family Leave and the Credit Card Bill of Rights, while Nadler argued his record of fighting off Trumpian Republican policies is more relevant than ever — Patel sought to distinguish himself from the longstanding representatives as badly needed new blood.
“Two of them are going to be talking about the past, and I’m going to be talking about the future,” said Patel during his opening debate remarks, noting: “1990s Democrats have lost almost every major battle to Mitch McConnell and Republicans. Trumpism is on the rise, even if we defeated Trump. To defeat it, we need people with new ideas and energy.” Referencing the year that both Maloney and Nadler were elected to Congress, Patel added: “It’s time to turn the page on 1992.”
The debate turned contentious during discussion over vaccines, in which Patel accused Maloney of spreading misinformation by previously endorsing anti-vax legislation and attending vaccine-skeptic rallies. Maloney denied that she is anti-vaccine, while Nadler showed solidarity by telling Patel that he still endorsed Maloney in 2020: “despite her unfortunate record on vaccines, because in a contest between you and her, I thought she was the better candidate. I still think so,” he added.
The unified front between the rivals — who during the debate referenced each other as “good friends” — belied a simmering struggle between them. In a recent New York Magazine article profiling their bad blood, Maloney stated that after finding themselves pitted against each other in the new 12th, Nadler told her to step aside, and after refusing him, “we haven’t spoken since”.
Nadler has repeatedly pointed out that Maloney voted in favor of both the Iraq War and the Patriot Act, calling it a “cowardly” vote in his remarks to voters. Maloney countered that Nadler not only has attempted to take credit for her ascent in politics, but also for projects that she’s spearheaded throughout the years. Maloney accused Nadler of lying about his involvement in the Second Avenue Subway, adding in a statement to the magazine, “I do not know of one project he’s brought to the West Side.”
Described in the article as an ideological battle between the Upper East and Upper West Sides — “Daniel against Zabar’s, Carl Schurz against Riverside, Gossip Girl against Seinfeld “— the race has reignited cultural rivalries between previously aligned neighborhoods in a way that Hell’s Kitchen and Midtown seem almost purposely left out. Aside from a shoutout from political stats site FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver to “no man’s land” (Silver lives near Penn Station), there has been little mention in the recent race’s media coverage of the local needs in Midtown West.
Even Silver’s assessment of Midtown seemed limited in scope, as he told New York Magazine: “What kind of people live in midtown essentially? Probably people who prioritize convenience, probably people who have a job in finance, almost for sure someone with a decent income that does not have kids. You have a lot of people who work in high-income jobs, and they’re progressive up to a point, not the type of anti-Wall Street Democrats.”
Both Maloney and Nadler have garnered Hell’s Kitchen support, however. In a race that has fractured many previously peaceful Democratic interest groups into factions over their endorsement, the Hell’s Kitchen Democrats voted to support Maloney, while West Side City Council Members Gale Brewer and Erik Bottcher, Democratic nominee for the 75th Assembly district Tony Simone and state Senator Brad Hoylman have all publicly endorsed Nadler. As for Patel, his most notable endorsement thus far has come from Hell’s Kitchen local and former mayoral candidate Andrew Yang.
But for the everyday citizens of the new 12th District, choosing a candidate may not even be their biggest challenge. As reported by Gothamist, the New York Board of Elections (BOE) recently sent 17,000 voters updated registration forms incorrectly marked — often placing voters into districts where they don’t live or updating redrawn districts incorrectly. While the BOE assured voters that the errors had been corrected and that they would send out amended forms prior to the August 23 primary, the firm’s history of clerical errors has caused unease that voters would show up to the wrong polling location on primary day.
Those West Siders who are ready (and properly assigned) to vote may have a unique chance at influencing the race, however — growing concerns over the district’s wealthy, absentee voter base, decamped to their Hamptons hideaways during the August primary may leave a loophole for passionate Hell’s Kitchen voters to make “no man’s land” heard once more.
The primary to choose the Democratic nominee for the new 12th District is August 23. You can look up your voter registration and polling place here.