NEW YORK ― It’s not often that rival candidates for the same public office convene a joint press conference.
But on Monday, Rep. Mondaire Jones and state Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou, both candidates for the Democratic nomination in New York’s newly drawn 10th Congressional District, did just that in front of New York City Hall in lower Manhattan.
Standing in front of a row of aides holding double-sided signs that said “NYC is NOT for Sale” and “Anybody but Goldman,” the pair of progressives expressed concern about the threat that the race’s frontrunner, Dan Goldman, posed to the city and the country.
“Conservative Democrat Dan Goldman cannot be allowed to purchase this congressional seat, certainly not in one of the most progressive congressional districts in the country and not at a time when our democracy is in crisis,” Jones declared.
Niou offered a similar message, while adding a jab at other candidates who did not attend the event.
“We’re standing with the people,” she said. “And it’s disappointing that more of the candidates in this race can’t make that commitment.”
“We are reaping the consequences of our failure to coordinate and coalesce.”
– A veteran progressive campaign strategist
When pressed by reporters, neither Niou nor Jones would single out anyone by name for their absence.
The unusual event was the first real sign that panic is setting in among left-leaning Democrats fearful that the Aug. 23 primary for an open, liberal seat is slipping out of their grasp.
Goldman, a former federal prosecutor who led House Democrats’ impeachment of then-President Donald Trump in 2019, has used some $4 million of his inherited wealth to establish dominance on the television airwaves. The most moderate viable candidate in a crowded field of progressive rivals, he has enjoyed a consistent lead in the polls.
And on Saturday, Goldman landed the coup de grâce: The endorsement of the editorial board of the New York Times, an institution with quasi-clerical authority in the affluent, liberal precincts of lower Manhattan and brownstone Brooklyn.
Now progressives who are still reeling from the losses of Democratic Reps. Andy Levin (Mich.) and Marie Newman (Ill.) ― left-wing incumbents ousted in other redistricting-driven primaries ― are bracing themselves for disappointment in New York City, the site of their greatest triumphs in recent memory.
“The redistricting took people by surprise, but when we have open, safe blue seats like this, progressives need to get together and coalesce. We didn’t do that,” said a veteran progressive campaign strategist, who is not involved in the primary but requested anonymity to preserve professional relationships. “And now we are reaping the consequences of our failure to coordinate and coalesce.”
The MSNBC Candidate Finds His ‘Resistance Democrat’ Niche
Goldman’s defections from left-wing orthodoxy are glaring in a seat that President Joe Biden would have carried by over 53 percentage points.
Goldman is not a proponent of Medicare for All, student debt cancellation or an expansion of the Supreme Court, and he had to walk back a comment that he “would not object” to a state government limiting abortion at the point of fetal viability. When it comes to foreign policy, Goldman is unlikely to veer from the establishment script by, for example, using his platform to criticize the Israeli government. And he refuses to sell his investments in News Corp, the parent company of Fox News, under pressure from his opponents. (Goldman also previously held a stake in the gun maker Sturm, Ruger & Co., although his campaign said he was unaware of it; it said he was also unaware that his investment manager recently sold the stock.)
“Mr. Goldman is a hypocrite,” Jones said on Monday. “He continues to invest in Fox News, the biggest disinformation machine this country has ever seen, while pretending to care about the state of our democracy.”
Goldman, who has promised to put his assets into a blind trust if elected and supports barring members of Congress from trading stocks, said Monday that his record as a prosecutor is testament to his integrity.
“Regardless of whatever stocks I may have owned, at the U.S. Attorney’s office, I took on corporations, I took on Wall Street banks,” he told reporters at a press conference in the Financial District.
Whether Goldman’s explanations win over the most committed progressives may not matter. Like many heavily Democratic districts, New York’s 10th is not uniformly left-wing. And in the district’s deeply partisan, but often fiscally conservative neighborhoods, Goldman’s résumé ― and his wealth and elite pedigree ― have been an asset.
Goldman parlayed his work as the lead impeachment counsel against Trump into a gig as a contributor on MSNBC. Especially in the wake of the FBI’s recent raid of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, the kinds of Democrats who watch MSNBC continue to put a premium on Goldman’s chief selling point: His professed experience with, and commitment to, protecting the United States’ democracy.
“It’s one of those rare districts where voters actually do care about democracy and impeachment.”
– Lis Smith, Democratic strategist
“It’s one of those rare districts where voters actually do care about democracy and impeachment,” said Lis Smith, a Democratic strategist who lives in the West Village and is leaning toward voting for Goldman. “The district has strong ‘Resistance Democrat’ vibes.”
In addition, at a moment when the public is anxious about an uptick in crime, Goldman is running as a law-and-order Democrat who worked under the famed former U.S. Attorney ― and fellow liberal celebrity ― Preet Bharara in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
A first-time candidate free from the baggage of a voting history, Goldman casts himself as a champion for racial equality, gun control and abortion rights. A one-minute version of one of his TV ads informs viewers about his work under Bharara, his time during law school on a civil rights case at a naval shipyard, and the racial-disparity research he contributed to “The New Jim Crow” book. The spot also features stills of him speaking to Black voters and Asian voters, and a photo of him posing alongside Eric Holder, the country’s first Black attorney general.
“Running through it all is his commitment to equal rights under the law,” the narrator intones as the camera pans across a photo of him marching in an LGBTQ pride parade.
Goldman’s opponents have focused on the advantage that his status as an heir to the Levi-Strauss clothing fortune provides him, noting the millions he gave to his own campaign. With a net worth of between $64 million and $253 million, Goldman likely would be the wealthiest member of Congress.
In practice, the advantage that Goldman’s wealth provided him is a bit more subtle. As of Aug. 3, Goldman had contributed about $2 million of his own money to his campaign, which spent $2.5 million ― slightly less than Jones’ campaign had spent over that same period. Goldman chipped in another $2 million of his own money in the intervening weeks of the campaign.
But Goldman’s personal wealth likely served as a safety net that enabled him to buy up blocks of TV advertising early on without fear of running out of cash. While Jones beat him to the airwaves, Goldman was outspending him every week by a five-to-one margin or more on average.
Jones, with finite resources, decided to save up for a last-minute blitz: He had nearly $2 million in unspent cash on hand as of Aug. 3. By that time, he had already fallen behind in the polls.
No One Is Coming To Save The Left
Although he has led consistently in polling, Goldman has not decisively broken away from the pack. With early voting already underway, he is the choice of 22% of “very likely” primary voters, compared with 17% for Niou and 13% each for Jones and Rivera, according to an independent, public poll released late Monday afternoon. The New York Times endorsement came out on the last day that the survey was conducted, suggesting his numbers could go higher still.
“The Times is rocket fuel in that district,” Smith said. “It’s more important in NY-10 because it’s just a big crowd of people who don’t have really established brands.”
Regardless, a candidate with less than one-quarter of the vote cannot take the lead in a race with just two or three candidates. And the mere existence of a more crowded field is an indictment of the progressive institutional ecosystem. In order for a progressive to win, movement power brokers needed to convince fewer left-leaning candidates to run.
It’s not the first time that a failure to consolidate has hurt the left. In Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District in 2020, a crowded progressive field cleared space for now-Rep. Jake Auchincloss, a moderate former Republican, to prevail in a primary with 22% of the vote. And in New York City’s Democratic mayoral primary in 2021, supporters of Maya Wiley lamented the failure of left-leaning groups to coalesce behind her sooner, easing Eric Adams’ path to the mayoralty.
“The mayor’s race was an absolute debacle and an embarrassment for the left,” said a mainstream Democratic strategist, who requested anonymity for professional reasons and is not involved in the 10th District primary. “Now you look at New York’s 10th, and the question has to be: What are any of these left-wing groups even worth any more?”
The organization best equipped to play the role of convener is the New York chapter of the Working Families Party, which endorsed Niou. Jones, Rivera and Assembly member Jo Anne Simon have all, at one point or another, been endorsed by the New York WFP, suggesting that the group could have some sway if it encouraged them to bow out.
“Not nearly enough people in this district know the dangerous, unrepresentative views of Mr. Goldman, to say nothing of his tactics to distort the democratic process, using millions of dollars of his inherited wealth.”
– Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.)
Asked whether the WFP has plans to try to halt Goldman’s momentum, the group called for progressives to rally behind Niou, but did not specify whether it meant voters or candidates.
“Dan Goldman’s views on abortion, health care, and so much more are out of step with this overwhelmingly progressive district,” Sochie Nnaemeka, the New York WFP’s state director, said in a statement. “Progressives have a chance to stop Goldman from buying a Congressional seat with his inherited wealth, but we need to come together around our strongest candidate now ― and there’s no question that candidate is Yuh-Line.”
State Sen. Julia Salazar (D-N.Y.), the first of the current crop of democratic socialists elected to New York state government, echoed that call.
“Every New Yorker should be concerned that a billionaire can purchase a congressional seat instead of working to democratically represent them,” Salazar, who supports Niou, told HuffPost. “I share that concern and that’s one reason why I support the only grassroots candidate in this race.”
Jones, a past darling of the WFP, moved to Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, from the suburbs after court-ordered redistricting put fellow Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney’s home in the same district. Maloney, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, announced plans to run in Jones’ seat. Rather than run against Maloney ― and face a difficult general election, too ― Jones chose to run in New York’s 10th, where he has struggled to overcome skepticism over his lack of ties to the district.
When asked on Monday, neither Niou nor Jones was willing to entertain the idea of dropping out and endorsing another candidate. While Jones trails Niou in the latest poll, he has plenty of reasons to dismiss the suggestion. With the primary election just a week away from concluding, he likely is the only contender with the financial resources to bleed Goldman.
Jones begins his barrage against Goldman on Tuesday with a TV ad attacking Goldman’s “dangerous views on abortion” and other offenses. A pair of digital ads amplify that critique and contrast Goldman’s investments in corporate bogeymen with Jones’ humble upbringing.
HuffPost asked Jones whether he would like prominent progressives such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) ― all of whom have thus far declined to weigh in on the race ― to make their views known in the interest of stopping Goldman.
“Not nearly enough people in this district know the dangerous, unrepresentative views of Mr. Goldman, to say nothing of his tactics to distort the democratic process, using millions of dollars of his inherited wealth,” Jones replied. “If the people you just named want to help clarify those stakes for the people in this district, then I personally would welcome them amplifying this information.”
HuffPost reached out to all four lawmakers to ask if they are willing to endorse someone and if they are concerned about the prospect of a divided progressive field facilitating Goldman’s victory. None of them responded with information about an endorsement, or otherwise reflected on the prospect of a Goldman win.
A Third Way?
HuffPost caught up with candidate Rivera as she was beginning an evening of canvassing the heavily Latino section of Sunset Park, Brooklyn. She would later meet up with two influential allies, Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) and New York City Council member Alexa Avilés, a rare democratic socialist who is not supporting Niou.
Rivera tried to be nonchalant about her reasons for skipping Niou and Jones’ press conference earlier in the day.
“We were just focusing on voter contact,” Rivera said. “That’s where I feel the best time is going to be spent.”
Rivera made clear, however, that she shares her rivals’ concerns about Goldman.“He’s given three different positions on abortion access in six weeks,” she said. “I find that to be unacceptable.”
But when HuffPost asked Rivera whether she, rather than Niou or Jones, is the best alternative to Goldman, she reverted to humility. “The people of NY-10 are gonna decide that on Aug. 23,” she answered.
Rivera later expressed frustration that the poll that came out on Monday was conducted in English and Mandarin, but not Spanish. Latinos make up 19% of the mostly white district’s population, which is also 22% Asian American.
Rivera has cast a unique profile in the race ― and not just because she is the only Latino candidate. With roots on the left, she is a supporter of Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and student debt cancellation, as well as a champion of affordable housing development and non-police methods for preventing violent crime.
But Rivera has shifted to the center in recent years, raising questions about her core convictions. In 2020, she joined left-wing council members in voting against the New York City budget on the grounds that it didn’t cut police funding enough. This year, having already entered the congressional race, she voted with moderates in favor of a budget that held police funding harmless while cutting funding to other agencies.
“Carlina is right there for them.”
– A mainstream Democratic strategist
Unlike those who believe that police funding must be reduced to make way for social spending, Rivera told HuffPost that she now believes violence interruption programs and other policing alternatives have to be “complementary strategies to law enforcement.”
Rivera also has taken a moderate line on U.S.-Israel policy, in contrast with Niou’s lukewarm support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel. And Niou and her allies have criticized Rivera, Jones and Goldman for accepting donations from real estate executives.
At the same time, Rivera’s support for housing development and climate resiliency projects, despite loud local opposition, have won her the respect of mainstream liberals eager for a progressive capable of saying “no” to entrenched interest groups.
In addition, she has the support of a host of New York City elected officials, and the most labor union endorsements of any candidate. And the warm reception she received in Sunset Park spoke to her popularity among the district’s Latino residents.
The mainstream Democratic strategist argued that if left-wing groups were more pragmatic, Rivera would be the obvious pick.
“Carlina is right there for them. And they’d rather get behind a severely flawed candidate in Yuh-Line who is just never going to win,” the strategist said. “She’s too far outside the mainstream of the Democratic Party and this is not a [Democratic Socialists of America] district.”
But Velázquez, who excitedly sold pedestrians leaving a C Town supermarket on Rivera’s candidacy in Spanish, was unconcerned about the lack of progressive consolidation against a well-funded, white candidate.
She had been through it before ― in 1992, when redistricting prompted then-Rep. Steven Solarz (D-N.Y.) to run in a crowded field of Latino candidates, including Velázquez.
“He lost and I’m here,” she said with a laugh.