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Nadler and Maloney trade barbs at Jewish forum

The veteran Democratic incumbents take gloves off as primary approaches to fend off ‘generational change’ campaign of newcomer Suraj Patel

Days before early voting kicks off for New York’s primary elections, veteran Democratic Reps. Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney threw shade at one another Wednesday evening in front of a crowded Jewish audience, arguing over who got more bills through the Senate and signed into law, and accusing each other of not telling the truth.

It was the sharpest exchange yet between the two incumbents, who have worked closely together over their 30 years in Congress representing different parts of the city but are now facing off for a single seat because of redistricting. Still, the pair remained aligned on many issues — especially in ganging up against the third candidate on stage with them, Suraj Patel, whose campaign is a call for “generational change.” Patel is 38, Nadler 75 and Maloney 76.

Nadler and Maloney had largely avoided personal attacks or even openly differing with one another since redistricting combined Nadler’s home base of the Upper West Side with Maloney’s Upper East Side stronghold. Both have maintained strong ties with Jewish and pro-Israel groups and are endorsed by AIPAC; Nadler is also backed by J Street.

But as the Aug. 23 primary approaches, Maloney challenged Nadler’s heavy focus on his status as the city’s lone remaining Jewish House member. Nadler called Maloney “gullible” for voting to support the Iraq War, and, during an exchange over her pre-COVID history regarding vaccines, each accused the other of saying things that are “untrue.” Nadler also suggested that if Maloney’s vote against the Iran nuclear deal in 2015 had prevailed in the Senate, “Iran would have an atomic bomb already.”

The most recent public opinion poll, by PIX11, shows Nadler with 40% of likely Democratic voters, Maloney with 31% and Patel with 11%; 17% remain undecided, according to the poll. Another poll, conducted for the Indian American Impact Fund, which backs Patel, showed the two incumbents nearly tied and Patel at 20%. 

The district includes a significant number of Jewish voters — about 30% of the Democratic primary electorate, according to data analyzed by Prime New York, a consulting firm, for the Jewish Community Relations Council.

From left to right, NY-12 Democratic primary candidates Suraj Patel, Rep. Jerry Nadler, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney at a debate co-hosted by the Forward on Aug. 10, 2022. Photo by Gili Getz

Wednesday’s forum, at the Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center on Manhattan’s East Side, was the trio’s third faceoff over a week. It was co-moderated by the Forward’s editor-in-chief and the president of New York Jewish Agenda, a group that aims to amplify Jewish voices in politics.

In his opening statement, Nadler said that if he’s not reelected, “the Jewish community will be the only large community in New York without any representation.”

Maloney countered that by pointing out that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who resides in Brooklyn, is Jewish and that there are several Jewish candidates vying for a separate New York House seat.

“I think the main thing is what is the person’s merit, what is the person doing, not only for members of the Jewish faith, but for all people,” she said. Maloney also touted her record on Israel, echoing President Joe Biden’s statements that “you don’t have to be Jewish to love Israel and work for the issues important to the Jewish community.”

Patel, who, if elected would become the first South Asian member of Congress elected east of the Mississippi River, said that while representation matters, shared values are more important. He also made the case that as a young person of color, he is best positioned to address the divide among Democratic officials and voters by taking his party’s mainstream position on Israel.

Patel aligned himself with Nadler’s positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iranian nuclear issue. Maloney was slightly to their right, saying she would oppose a new nuclear deal, for example.

Fending off Patel’s generational change argument, Nadler and Maloney both argued that their seniority, including leadership of House committees, were critical to effectiveness on Capitol Hill. But they butted heads over who had accomplished more over their three decades in Washington and how far Iran is from a nuclear bomb.

At one point, Maloney lost her cool as Nadler accused her of lying about her record on vaccines against childhood diseases like measles and mumps. “For years, she introduced nine bills against vaccines, she introduced resolutions, she tried to take $80 million away from the CDC, and we are seeing the bitter results now,” he said.

“That is not true,” Maloney interrupted, calling it “a cheap attack.”

The two warmly shook hands at the conclusion of the 90-minute discussion.

Earlier in the day, Nadler and Maloney attended Gov. Kathy Hochul’s signing ceremony of a bill that would ensure schools provide high-quality Holocaust education. In her remarks, she acknowledged Nadler as the informal dean of the House Jewish Caucus and noted that Maloney sponsored the federal Holocaust education bill that passed in 2020.

Hochul told the Forward she invited both House members since they are friends. “To me, it is heartbreaking to think that one of them will not be returning to Congress,” the governor said, adding she will “leave that decision up to the voters.”

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