Saturday, February 27, 2016

Steve Israel Is Retiring. Will Long Islanders Replace Him With A Genuine Democrat? Meet Jonathan Clarke


If you define Long Island as Nassau and Suffolk County, as most New Yorkers do, you're looking at 4 congressional districts, all won by Obama both times he ran. All 4 current congressmembers are more conservative than their constituents. Failed PR executive and former Blue Dog Steve Israel has represented NY-03 for 16 years since winning the open seat by defeating an African-American woman, Joan Johnson. About a third of the district is in Suffolk County (from Kings Park and Commack west to Huntington), another 10% is in eastern Queens (Glen Oaks, Little Neck, Bay Terrace, Beechhurst, and Whitestone) and the bulk of it is northern Nassau County (from Plainview, Hicksville, Old Westbury and Syosset to Oyster Bay, Glen Cove, Port Washington, Great Neck and Manhasset). In the 2012 congressional election about 110,000 votes were cast in the Nassau part of the district, 91,000 votes in the Suffolk part and 34,000 in the Queens section.

It hasn't come out yet which pending corruption case involving Steve Israel drove him into announcing his early retirement. Let's not look a gift horse in the mouth. Fact is, Long Island primary voters will pick their party nominees June 28. It appears the GOP has coalesced around state Sen. Jack Martins, who might make a more formidable candidate if he weren't so tied to Dean Skelos and the biggest corruption case to have rocked Long Island politics in decades.

The Democratic race is more interesting. The best-known establishment figures are basically run-of-the-mill hacks: serial loser Tom Suozzi, termed-out Suffolk County Legislator and Steve Israel protégée Steve Stern, Iranian-American multimillionaire Anna Kaplan and Jon Kaiman, who has been bouncing from political appointment to political appointment. These are a sad lot of the kinds of generic Democrats who have tarnished the party brand on Long Island and left voters scrambling to figure out the lesser-of-two evils in election after election. Fortunately, this one has a difference: Jonathan Clarke, an attorney/activist, is the sole progressive running in the NY-03 primary and he represents a unique opportunity to elect someone who aspires to serve the public, rather than self-serve. He endorsed Bernie Sanders and is running on a platform that, in large part, mirrors a Bernie's far-reaching reform vision. The focus of Clarke’s campaign is geared towards fixing a corrupt campaign finance system and he has asked the other candidates in the primary to enter into a binding agreement to limit the amount of spending the primary to $300,000. All four have refused and have instead vowed to spend millions of dollars.

In 2015, New York was ranked the most corrupt state in the Union with over 30 indicted politicians, and New York’s Third Congressional District is in no way immune to political corruption. The owns of Oyster Bay and North Hempstead, which are in the heart of the district have recently been rocked with scandals. On Long Island both parties are eerily centrist and share a passion for political corruption. The district includes some of the wealthiest individuals in America who live in elite communities along Long Island’s Gold Coast just above a mostly blue-collar majority in the middle of Long Island, which was the former home of Grumman... and now disappeared good union jobs.

Not without reason, disgusted Long Island Democratic voters have been turning to the GOP, sickened by the corruption and ineffectiveness by the party that's supposed to be effective and not be corrupt. A recent poll indicated a generic Republican would defeat a generic Democrat in the congressional race to replace Israel. This underscores the need for a nongeneric Democrat this year.

And, Jonathan Clarke is the epitome of a nongeneric Democrat.  An activist/attorney and managing partner in his law firm, Clarke & Fellows P.C., he uses the profits from its personal injury cases to fund a pro bono program that provides legal support to individuals involved in animal rescue. He may have a short political resume but he feels his lack of political experience is a strength in this race where people are tired of career politicians and fed up with the establishment.

When we spoke with Jonathan this morning, he emphasized that "We can't afford to lose this opportunity to elect Bernie Sanders. There simply is too much at risk. You do not have to look far to see the effect of a corrupt campaign finance system in our district. Steve Israel, who I will be replacing, said that the effect of Citizens United made it impossible for him to effectively legislate since he spent a large part of his day 'dialing for dollars' and since he was tired of the perpetual fundraising, he would be stepping down. Bernie Sanders will prioritize overturning Citizens United, and this will have an effect that will reach far beyond freeing up legislators to actually legislate. Overturning Citizens United will fight systemic corruption and go a long way to improving our economy.

"This is because this corrupt campaign finance system bolsters a rigged economy in which Wall Street is deregulated to the point where risky trading is the norm. The effects of deregulation were made evident in 2008, and this connection between deregulation and campaign contributions is undeniable. What is more, the money in politics has allowed the wealthy to become super wealthy. It has allowed the wealth to concentrate and ossify in an elite few who are not sharing their prosperity.

"Here in the 3rd district, this rigged economic system caused a mass exodus of people under thirty five. This is essentially because nobody can afford to live here. It is hard to get a mortgage after the 2008 meltdown in general, but it is especially hard when most young people already have a mortgage’s worth of debt in the form of student loans. The economic distress the young are feeling is only made worse by the fact that we are loosing good jobs due to horrible trade policies that will only be made worse if the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is allowed to pass. The result of no jobs and high student debt will result in a generation that will be stuck in limbo for decades who will struggle to get by on sub $15 an hour living wages."

If you'd like to help Bernie and Jonathan, this Bernie ActBlue page is for contributions to his campaign and to the campaigns of congressional candidates, like Clarke, who are running on the same policies and with a similar vision. He's not going to be financed by corporate special interests or even the kind of institutional Democratic money Israel is directing towards his crony, Steve Stern. Just click the thermometer:

Goal Thermometer

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