Almost three years ago, a little-known left-wing organization helped stage Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s shock victory over Representative Joseph Crowley in a House primary. Last year, the Justice Democrats group helped Jamaal Bowman oust Representative Eliot Engel in another House primary.
The group has now found its next target in New York: Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, 75, a Democrat first elected to Congress in 1992, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
Justice Democrats will support Rana Abdelhamid, a community organizer and nonprofit founder, in her attempt against Ms. Maloney, laying the groundwork for a generational, ideological, and insider-outsider battle that will test power and the energy of the left. with President Donald J. Trump now removed from office.
Ms Abdelhamid, 27, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America and very focused on issues of access to housing and equity, intends to officially launch her candidacy for the 2022 primary on Wednesday.
“We strongly believe in Rana’s leadership abilities to build a coalition as we have been able to do in some of our previous elections,” said Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats, adding that she believed Ms. Abdelhamid could enter. in contact with young voters. , working-class voters of color, older white liberals and those inspired by left-wing leaders like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez.
Ms. Maloney’s neighborhood, New York’s 12th District, is home to wealthy and enterprising moderates along Manhattan’s East Side. But it also includes deeply progressive pockets of the city in West Queens and a corner of Brooklyn with a well-organized left-wing militant scene.
There is great uncertainty around what the district will ultimately look like after an expected redistribution process, and Ms. Abdelhamid is not Ms. Maloney’s only likely challenger; Suraj Patel, who has twice challenged Ms Maloney to no avail, has indicated he intends to run again.
But for now, Ms Abdelhamid’s candidacy will gauge whether New Yorkers reeling from the pandemic and on the road to economic recovery are skeptical of raising another foreign politician to move the city forward – or whether any vast inequalities, which have only worsened over the past year, electorate in an anti-establishment mood.
Ms Abdelhamid, the daughter of Egyptian immigrants, graduated in 2015 from Middlebury College and graduated from Harvard Kennedy School in 2017, with a day job at Google. A first degree black belt in karate, she founded a nonprofit organization called “Malikah” – “queen” in many languages - which offers self-defense training and other efforts to empower women, an initiative that ‘she threw after a man tried to pull it off. hijab when she was a teenager.
She embraces her age as she presents herself as an agent of change who fully understands the challenges facing working-class and immigrant communities in the neighborhood: her own family has been excluded from the neighborhood.
“Congresswoman Maloney has been in office for 28 years, longer than I am alive,” she said in an interview this week, sitting outside a restaurant on a crowded street in the Little Egypt enclave. from Astoria, Queens. “Under his leadership, rents only skyrocketed, our public schools became increasingly segregated and underfunded.
“The progressive argument against Carolyn Maloney,” she accused, “is that Carolyn Maloney is not a progressive.”
Ms Maloney describes herself as a “recognized progressive national leader,” and her allies say she has a long history of working for voters – indeed, a map on her Congressional website offers a detailed guide to the fundraising she has. said to have obtained. for projects throughout the neighborhood.
“Carolyn is committed to running again, no matter who comes against her, and she will campaign aggressively as she always does,” said Jim Duffy, partner at Putnam Partners, who works with Ms. Maloney. “She’s never lost a race before. She has no intention of losing this one.
She was not made available for an interview on Tuesday.
Ms Abdelhamid is undoubtedly still facing an uphill battle against a seasoned and well-known Congresswoman, who is in a position to demand tangible federal aid in New York City.
“She is an extremely hard worker, she works for her district, she works very hard on individual cases,” said George Arzt, a seasoned political consultant who advised Ms. Maloney. “Everyone in her neighborhood knows her.”
And nationally, the candidates backed by Justice Democrats have far from a perfect record of success.
But the recent history of New York politics also shows why Ms Abdelhamid’s entry into the race is likely to be taken very seriously.
In 2018, Ms Ocasio-Cortez, then 28, defeated Mr Crowley, who at the time was the 4th Democrat in the House. Last summer, Mr. Bowman defeated Mr. Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Strategists who have worked with these campaigns see another opportunity for significant popular engagement in the 12th District, given the shift in New York politics to the left. “It is a place where our base is active, and many voters and people who have led many of the more recent local campaigns in recent years are here,” Ms. Rojas said.
Ms Maloney, a combat-tested candidate, won her major contests in 2018 and 2020 – though last year she received just 43% of the vote.
Ms Abdelhamid works on a housing affordability platform and a range of other left-wing priorities, including Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and a largely anti-business message. She said she shared a number of goals and values with Democratic Socialists, but was not particularly active in a local section of the group.
She also supports the removal of police funding, describing experiences with family members who have been subjected to arrest and search tactics and raising the issue of police surveillance of Muslim communities. As the victim of assault herself in the hijab incident, she said, she believed in the need for more funds to be spent on community services and speaks passionately about racial justice.
But she will likely face a rigorous examination of her ability to navigate Washington. And she said she doesn’t live in the neighborhood, but instead lives with her family, whom she says supports financially, in another part of Astoria – a fact that will almost certainly become a problem in the countryside.
She lived in the neighborhood until high school, her team says, but her family moved because the neighborhood was getting too expensive. She sought to define her current living situation as a reflection of how the area has become unaffordable under Ms. Maloney’s leadership. Ms Abdelhamid, who is getting married, said she plans to return to the district in about three months.
She still attends a neighborhood mosque and has a clear connection there – an employee of Al-Sham Sweets & Pastries greeted her warmly as she ordered kenafeh, a Middle Eastern dessert, there this week.
“My family is a working class family that cannot afford to live in Little Egypt as an Egyptian family,” she said. “Because of gentrification. And it’s a story that many working-class ethnic communities understand.