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Sean Patrick Maloney locks in Jewish support in competitive reelection bid for upstate New York seat

‘All those people who want to weaken Israel are not supporting me,’ the incumbent Democrat said in an interview

“I will not be a Joe Crowley,” Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney told a number of Jewish leaders during a recent campaign stop in Pomona, New York. He was referring to the former powerful representative from Queens, New York, who was surprisingly defeated in 2018 by a relatively unknown progressive candidate — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Maloney, a five-term Democratic incumbent, is facing a tough primary challenge from a better-known progressive, Alessandra Biaggi, who in the same election season ousted Jeff Klein, the New York Senate kingmaker from the Bronx.

Maloney, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is trying to stretch his lead in the polls as he seeks reelection in the redrawn 17th District in the Hudson Valley. That includes reaching out to Rockland County’s sprawling Hasidic communities, which have made it the county with the largest Jewish population per capita in the nation.

Gedalye Szegedin, the administrator of the village of Kiryas Joel in Orange County, which is part of the 18th District represented by Maloney before redistricting put his home in the new 17th, said the representative has been a “responsive, active supporter” of the Jewish community since he was first elected in 2012. “He has prioritized and provided exemplary constituent services and consistently advocated for investment in community development and local priorities.” 

A Maloney campaign spokesperson, Mia Ehrenberg, said he knows never to take local Jewish communities for granted. “He knows that support from the Jewish community is earned and he has enjoyed engaging with Jewish leaders throughout NY-17 as part of that outreach.”

At a house party Sunday afternoon, Maloney told approximately two dozen Jews that as a mainstream Democrat he is well positioned to get things done despite the bitter partisanship that prevails in Washington.

“There are people on both extremes who want perfect solutions,” Maloney, 56, who calls himself a Bill Clinton Democrat, said in an interview. “I’m a congressman who believes that imperfect progress is better than perfect gridlock.”

He noted that he’s always represented a district with conservative leanings.

Former President Donald Trump won his current congressional district in 2016, while he won it by 11 points. “I’m a Democrat who can win in a conservative district because I get things done,” Maloney said.

Jewish support

Clinton, who lives in the 17th District, endorsed Maloney. His wife, former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, didn’t weigh in. Biaggi served as the deputy national operations director for her 2016 campaign. 

Former Jewish representative Nita Lowey, a Democrat who represented the district for three decades until her retirement in 2020, endorsed Maloney, touting his leadership “on issues of concern to the Jewish community, including efforts to combat antisemitism in the Hudson Valley, across New York and around the world.”

Maloney is also backed by the American Israel Policy Action Committee, as well as the Jewish Democratic Council of America and the Democratic Majority for Israel. An AIPAC spokesperson said its donors have contributed more than $70,000 to the Maloney campaign through their portal. DMFI, which has spent to date $53,000 on Maloney, launched a digital ad Sunday that highlights his support for LGBTQ equality, abortion rights and his drive “to end MAGA hate and violence.” 

Biaggi, 36, is backed by Ocasio-Cortez, the Working Families Party and other progressive groups. In an email to supporters, the Biaggi campaign criticized the DMFI spending, describing the group as “a corporate-funded super PAC who have spent millions of dollars attacking progressives across the country” and warned that the pro-Israel group is “positioned to pour even more outside cash into this race.” Yuh-Line Niou, a congressional candidate in the 10th District who said she supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, has encouraged her followers to donate to Biaggi’s campaign. 

In the interview, Maloney drew a contrast between himself and his primary challenger on Israel. “All those people who want to weaken Israel are not supporting me,” he said. 

Biaggi, who represents the Jewish community in Riverdale, has distanced herself from Ocasio-Cortez and her allies, telling Jewish Insider that she supports the Jewish state and opposes BDS. 

But Maloney pointed out that “a lot of her supporters” do support BDS. “You should ask Biaggi why she is comfortable having the support of people who support BDS, of people who would undermine Israel,” he said. “I don’t want the support of those people. I’m not going to play footsie with anybody who would undermine Israel or who would support BDS.” 

“People don’t have to worry about me,” Maloney added. “They don’t have to worry about whether my supporters will be pushing me to undermine Israel.”

David Neustadt, a spokesperson for Biaggi, called Maloney’s comments disappointing. “Senator Biaggi has made her position on BDS extremely clear, and if her opponent disagrees with her actual position, he should say that, instead of engaging in cheap fear-mongering,” he said. “Senator Biaggi doesn’t share every single position held by every single person who has endorsed her. It seems safe to assume that her opponent also does not agree with every one of his endorsers on every issue.”

Looking toward Election Day

Maloney said his internal polls show him leading by double digits, but he’s not taking anything for granted. He also said he’s conducting himself in a way that would allow him to unite the party if he gets the nomination. On Saturday, the first day of early voting, Maloney earned the coveted New York Times endorsement.

Locking up Jewish support ahead of the Aug. 23 primary could also benefit him in the general election as he faces a possible Republican challenger with the financial support of the National Republican Congressional Committee. 

Michael Lawler, a first-term Republican Assemblyman whose district includes the Orthodox community in Ramapo, is the leading candidate to win the GOP nomination. And though Trump bested Clinton in the district in 2016, President Joe Biden won the 17th by 20 points over Trump in 2020, but the margin in the newly redrawn district was half that.

Experts predict the Orthodox voting bloc — estimated between 18,000 to 25,000 votes — will be a weighty factor in the outcome in November. Yossi Gestetner, head of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council, said Lawler is very popular with his community, who tend to vote Republican in national elections.

Lawler received a maximum contribution from Carl Paladino, a controversial Buffalo Republican and a candidate for Congress in western New York who expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler’s leadership style. William O’Reilly, a spokesperson for the Lawler campaign, said it’s actually Maloney who is tainted by antisemites. As DCCC chair, Maloney supports the reelection campaigns of “every radical antisemite in the Democratic Party,” O’Reilly said, naming some of the most progressive members of Congress.

Maloney is trying to convey confidence. “I’ve won five times in a district that voted for Donald Trump,” he said about his prospects in November in a two-fold pitch to both Democrats and conservatives. “People want a strong Democrat in this job who can beat Republicans. And if people want someone who is bipartisan, then they can look to my record as someone who doesn’t just win the election, but then brings people together to get things done.”

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