The June 26th Congressional Primary Election: What You Should Know

Primary 1Many of us are receiving lots of mail from the Democratic candidates running in the June 26th primary for Congress for the 16th district. The seat is currently occupied by Eliot Engel who has been in Congress for nearly thirty years. Unlike the past, when the seat was uncontested, Engel faces some competition this year.

Although he’s served in Congress for much longer, he only began serving the 16th district in 2013. The 2010 census lead to congressional redistricting in New York, and Engel’s district changed drastically. In the past, Engel represented the 17th district, which included Riverdale and the Northern Bronx, Mount Vernon, the western portions of Yonkers and the Rivertowns, and Southern Rockland County. From 2013 onwards, Engel maintained a sizable portion of the Northern Bronx, but no longer represents Rockland County and instead serves nearly all of Southern Westchester. This change caused both the 16th and 17th districts to lose a sizable amount of registered Democrats, with the 16th district having 19.8% less and the 17th district losing 17.9% of its registered Democrats.

This year Engel is one of four contestants vying for the 16th district, with challenges from Jonathan Lewis of Scarsdale as well as Derickson K Lawrence of Mount Vernon and Joyce Briscoe of the Bronx.

Here’s some information on the candidate's backgrounds and views on the issues:Primary 2Eliot Engel

Eliot Engel has served New York in Congress for 29 years. Among his key issues are equal pay for women, social security and Medicare, gun control, health care, and equal rights. He sponsored the Paycheck Fairness Act to increase penalties for discrimination in the work place, fought against Medicare cuts, received an “F” rating from the NRA, worked to make Obamacare a law, and sponsored the hate crime prevention law. He’s also a strong advocate for protecting the environment, and has sponsored legislation to protect and restore the Hudson River. Engel is also known for his work in Kosovo, where he urged President Clinton to intervene in the fight between Kosovo’s Muslim Population and the Serbians under Slobodan Milosevic to prevent another genocide. He also was among the first to support Kosovo when it declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and helped secure $49mm in US government assistance for the country. For his actions in Kosovo, his face is now on a stamp and a street has been named after him.

Because of his actions in Congress and strong commitment to democratic values, Engel has received numerous endorsements from local officials, including Westchester County Executive George Latimer, State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, and County Legislator Ben Boykin. He’s also received endorsements from organizations including the New York State AFL-CIO, New York State United Teachers, Planned Parenthood, and the Working Families Party to name a few. Engel believes that these endorsements speak volumes to the amount of work he’s done to further democratic values and hopes to continue serving the 16th district.

Jonathan Lewis, has decided to challenge Engel as a newcomer with minimal political experience in county or state government. Lewis has significant volunteer experience and is now a trustee for the Yonkers Partners in Education and served a term on the Scarsdale Board of Education. On the issues, Lewis’ positions are quite similar to those of Engels’, including the need for affordable healthcare, gun safety, reproductive rights, saving the environment, strong national security, and protecting senior citizens to name a few.

Primary 3Jonathan LewisBut this begs the question - why is Jonathan Lewis running for Congress?

According to his campaign website, Jonathan Lewis is campaigning on “Repairing Our Broken Democracy” and cites Engel as a key example of a “broken democracy”.

“Both of my children have Type 1 Diabetes, and several months ago, my daughter and I met with Eliot Engel in Washington seeking to enlist his support to find a cure for Type 1 Diabetes. When my teenage daughter mentioned that something felt off about the encounter, I decided to dig a little. What I found was a deeply conflicted elected official: while serving on the House Diabetes Caucus, which is supposed to represent the interests of those afflicted with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, Eliot Engel has at the same time chosen to accept hundreds of thousands of dollars from political action committees (PACs) representing big sugar companies AND big pharma companies. Eliot Engel has done nothing meaningful against these companies as they have raised the price of life-saving insulin nearly 300% in the past decade. That’s wrong, especially during a time when family incomes have been stagnant”.

It should be noted, however, that Engel has co-sponsored legislation to establish a National Diabetes Coordinator to reduce the progression and impact of Diabetes in America.

To spread his message, Lewis has sent out numerous attack ads against Engel, and has even payed for video ads on YouTube. Engel has taken Lewis as a serious threat, and has spent money sending out ads both attacking Lewis and touting his numerous legislative accomplishments over thirty years in congress. He’s also sent out ads that specifically target the Jewish community that list his numerous efforts in combatting anti-semitism and demonstrating strong support for Israel.

To show his commitment to fixing democracy, Lewis has pledged not to accept any money from corporate PACs or special interests. Engel has fired back at Lewis, noting that Lewis has failed to vote in multiple primary and general elections, thus demonstrating a lack of commitment to “protecting democracy”. Lewis, however, has attacked Engel for a poor voting record within Congress, noting that Engel has second-worst attendance record in the New York Congressional delegation, and has missed over 1,300 votes over thirty years.

In the midst of the back and forth between Engel and Lewis, two other candidates sit in the background hoping for a shot at the 16th congressional seat. Derickson K. Lawrence of Mount Vernon and Joyce Briscoe of the Bronx are also running for the seat.Primary 4Derickson K. Lawrence

Lawrence actually ran against Engel in the 2016 general election as a People’s Choice candidate and lost in a landslide, receiving only 5.3% of the vote. Lawrence has served as the Co-Vice Chair of the Westchester County Charter Revision to renegotiate the charter, Chairman of the Westchester County Homeowners’ Coalition, and Chairman of Westchester County Crime Stoppers. Some of Lawrence’s key issues include protecting the environment (including the labeling of GMO products), ending mass incarceration, and building an economy that works for all.

Lawrence is running because he believes he’s “the only candidate who has a record of improving lives in the 16th congressional district”, and has done so in four distinct areas. On jobs and upward mobility, he played a key role in starting the Mount Vernon Yonkers Bronx (MYB) $$eed Tank, an entrepreneurship program that allowed WCC students to learn to become entrepreneurs. The winner received a $10,000 stipend (paid for by Derickson). He’s also worked to close the achievement gap in Mount Vernon by bringing in Apple Education, a company that helps educators find better methods for teaching special education students. Additionally, he's helped stop gun violence by sponsoring a gun buyback program in Mount Vernon, which was extremely successful. Lastly, Lawrence believes legislation should be introduced at the state level to force pharmaceutical companies to disclose prices before prescriptions are filled and a state dispensary of drugs should be created for competition.

Primary 5Joyce BriscoeJoyce Briscoe is a paralegal who has volunteered within her community at food pantries, the YMCA, and the Red Cross. Briscoe believes that “Her role as a paralegal has helped her to impact the lives of my family and others. Being able to provide information needed to empower them and change their circumstances for the better”. She’s running because she believes that the current candidates do not represent the people in her community and can’t speak to the issues they face everyday.

Briscoe’s key issues include schools, public housing, police re-training/mass incarceration, DACA, and inequality. To fix public housing, Briscoe believes there should be a “contractor bidding/competition for best and fastest “Extreme Home Makeover” “move that bus” renovations, similar to how the reality show homes were completed in a week.” Briscoe believes that competition among contractors will lead to the most positive outcome. On police re-training, Briscoe believes that “Every cop should not be allowed to carry a gun--only the best on the Force….If a person is murdered on an officer’s watch, there must be a mandatory punishment (i.e.: jail, suspension without pay)”

All of the candidates will face off at the League of Women’s Voters Candidates forum on Sunday, June 24th at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville. You can find out more about the forum by clicking here. The primary will take place on Tuesday, June 26th and voting will take place at Scarsdale’s elementary schools.

Primary 6Amount of Money Raised by Each Candidate