Taking no vote for granted, Kew Gardens Hills supporters of Rep. Grace Meng hosted her for an early fundraiser, highlighting her voting record and the very real threat posed by leftists within the Democratic Party who are promising to run primary challengers for every local seat, city, state, and federal. “Over the last six months, we’ve seen how important the political process is,” said Queens NORPAC Director David Steinberg. “We are challenged in this community and region by the fringe element trying to unseat candidates that we support.”
So far, there are two young insurgents seeking to defeat Meng and continue the momentum brought by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s 2018 upset against Joe Crowley and last summer’s razor-thin primary loss by Tiffany Cabán to Melinda Katz in the race for Queens District Attorney.
Kew Gardens resident Mel Gagarin, 37, was a supporter of these two high-profile Democratic Socialists and is now seeking to replicate their message in the Sixth Congressional District. “I came up in traditional Democratic politics and even represented parts of this district as a Congressional Aide in my younger years, but we have lost our way,” he wrote in an open letter to Meng. “It is only by providing a true progressive alternative to the people of our district and this nation, that we can definitively send a message to Trump, his allies, and those who have become emboldened to publicly display their hate.”
Gagarin shares Meng’s positions on expanding Medicare coverage to more individuals and the Green New Deal, but on the US-Israel relationship, he’s expressed views from the leftist playbook. “The Palestinian people are deserving of human dignity, respect, and not erasure. The people of Israel and the people of Palestine want peace, and we can’t confuse the people for the governments that act in their name,” he said in a recent interview with political blogger Elliott Crow.
Gagarin also recently attended the annual party of the Muslim Democratic Club of New York, where he smiled alongside club founder Linda Sarsour. “I got to speak with the incredible @lsarsour at length about foreign policy, which was amazing,” he tweeted. Steinberg pointed to Gagarin’s praise of Sarsour and his assertion that Palestinian people face “erasure” as reasons for mobilizing Jewish voters to give Meng a commanding reelection win and demonstrate that Gagarin’s views do not represent the Democratic Party. “To do this you must register to vote as a Democrat. It is our duty to make sure that Grace Meng goes back to Washington.”
A second young leftist, Sandra Choi of Flushing, is also seeking to unseat Meng, arguing that she is not outspoken enough in opposing President Donald Trump’s policies and being a “product of the Queens machine that thrives on the complacency and disinterest from the electorate.” Choi and Gagarin are knocking on doors and collecting small donations from online supporters, promising not to accept any corporate campaign funds.
Meng’s Kew Gardens Hills supporters were hosted by Shimmy and Sorolle Idels, who never hosted a political gathering in their home, but felt energized by this past summer’s DA primary, when they called on their friends and neighbors to make the difference for Katz. They were joined by Councilman Barry Grodenchik, Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal, and District Leader Shimi Pelman.
Since the loss of Rep. Joe Crowley to Ocasio-Cortez, Pelman has been carrying voter registration forms at Jewish community events, making the case for voting in the party’s primaries. “Only 11 percent of Democrats came out in the Katz-Cabán race. Only 39 percent in this neighborhood voted. She won by 55 votes,” he said. With enough participation, Kew Gardens Hills could be the base for moderate Democrats seeking to keep the party from falling into the hands of leftists.
In her remarks to supporters, Meng summarized her Israel support over the past decade, starting with the Israel trip provided by the Jewish Community Relations Council to freshman lawmakers, which she took after her election to the State Assembly in 2008. She spoke of her grandmother telling her about Shanghai during the Second World War, when Jews and Chinese people lived alongside each other. The feeling of shared adversity also comes from her husband’s family in South Korea, which lives under an ongoing threat of missile attack by its neighbor.
Meng bucked President Barack Obama by opposing the Iran nuclear deal, but she also joined her party’s more activist members in boycotting President Trump’s inauguration. At the same time, she strove for bipartisanship by seeking Republican co-sponsors for items such as federal disaster relief for religious institutions and reducing airplane noise. She did not mention the president or the impeachment hearings at all in her remarks at the Idels home. But she noted how new networks focus so much on the impeachment that the day-to-day work of Congress in passing meaningful legislation is not receiving any coverage.
Meng spoke of a freshman Democrat who was asked by a reporter about the impeachment. He offered to speak about his recent legislation work, but the reporter was not interested. When others in the party tweet only about one topic, Meng’s social media offers proposals on notifying the public about product recalls, participating in the upcoming census, supporting small businesses, Internet service in rural areas, and defending women from violence. That’s the Congresswoman our community needs, outspoken in her support of Israel without missing a beat on consumer safety, healthcare coverage, and Internet service.
By Sergey Kadinsky