When Rep. Nita Lowey announced that she would retire in 2020, people immediately began jumping into the race to replace her. Progressive insurgent Mondaire Jones had already announced his intention to challenge Lowey, and Assemblyman David Buchwald entered the fray soon after the congresswoman broke the news. State Sen. David Carlucci is now the latest person to seek the open congressional seat, officially launching his campaign on Oct. 21. Carlucci’s state Senate district resides entirely within the 17th Congressional District, where he represents a large chunk of the Lowey’s Rockland County constituents. Although Carlucci plans to run a campaign focused on local history, his past allegiance to the state Senate Independent Democratic Conference, which notably shared power with Republicans, will likely become a main line of attack from his opponents.
Carlucci spoke with City & State about his campaign, his past IDC membership and what he thinks of his potential future colleague Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
By running for Rep. Nita Lowey’s seat, you’re going to give up your state Senate seat. What made you decide to enter the race and take that risk?
I have a passion for public service, and I have the energy and experience to be able to deliver for the residents of the Hudson Valley in Rockland and Westchester counties. This year in the state Legislature, I was able to pass more bills than any other lawmaker to make it to the governor’s desk. So I want to bring that energy and passion to Washington. I’ve worked in difficult environments before. Being elected in 2010, in the midst of dysfunction and real chaos that was going on in the state Capitol at that time, I was still able to find a way forward to deliver for the residents that I serve. The issues are great. This is extremely serious. Affordability has to be a top issue.
So did the newly consolidated state and federal primaries play a role in your decision?
It makes it, I guess, more difficult. It would be much easier if you didn’t have to make that decision. But for me, it was very easy because I’ve worked for Congressman (Eliot) Engel. And I’ve worked with Congresswoman Lowey. I’ve always shown that I never take the safe way forward. I’m willing to go against the grain to do what it takes to get results for the people I serve. I’m a Democrat. I’m a proud progressive Democrat. And to me being a progressive means making progress. I’ve been criticized about the Independent Democratic Conference. And I say, look, we went through a robust primary last year. I put it on the line, said what I supported. Some questioned my intentions and questioned if I’d really follow through. When you look at the record, I’ve consistently stood up for progressive values and been a leader and championed those issues.
Do you expect to get attacked for your past IDC membership again?
Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s what we are already seeing from my opponents. I know that’s their message. My message is not going to be attacking my opponents. My message is, we have to work together as Democrats to make sure we’re undoing the horrible policies that have been implemented by Donald Trump. That’s why I say, the rhetoric is one thing, the record and results is another. We might have disagreed on how we get there. But I think we’re in agreement that we need to move forward, and we have to get these progressive policies passed.
Do you plan to work in a bipartisan fashion with members across the aisle?
I look to support the Democratic majority in the House, being 100% with them. What I’m saying is I have no qualms about working in a bipartisan fashion to get things done. When we look at Congresswoman Lowey, she’s been able to work across the aisle and talk to people of all backgrounds to put Westchester and Rockland first. That’s exactly what I plan to do. If we are going to move our country forward, we have to be willing to talk with people we don’t agree with. And I plan on supporting the Democratic speaker and being a strong, reliable Democrat in the Democratic conference.
You say that you are a progressive, would you join with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her wing of the party?
I think you can see I’ll be following, just like Congresswoman Lowey has, being an avid supporter of Israel, being an avid supporter of middle-class families. Those are the people that I’m going to be working with and if Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is interested in those issues and working to make sure that we repeal the SALT deduction and working toward making sure prescription drugs are affordable and those issues, absolutely, I’ll be working with her. But I think you’ll see me more in line with the way that Congresswoman Lowey has governed.
What do you think about your two announced opponents so far, Mondaire Jones and Assemblyman David Buchwald?
I have great respect and admiration for both of them. I think that it’s not an easy decision to run for Congress, and I applaud them for doing that. I think that their voices are important in this debate, and that the more conversations we have, and the more we talk about ideas and plans to move our community forward, that’s a good thing for the Hudson Valley. Ultimately, no matter who wins this primary, I’m committed to making sure that a Democrat wins this seat. If I don’t win, I’ll be working with them in any way I can because I’m not going anywhere.
Your district is almost entirely Rockland County, have you thought about how you would reach out to those voters in Westchester County you don’t currently represent?
Of course. I have to reach out to everyone in the district, and I’ve been fortunate to be able to have served Westchester and Rockland in the state Legislature. So I’m no stranger to any part of the district. I know the district very well. And I’m excited to be able to knock on doors and talk to residents in parts of the district that I haven’t represented before.
Are there any differences between the east and west sides of the Hudson River?
I think it’s actually very similar. The key issue when I’m talking to residents is, we have to get a handle on climate change, we have to continue to protect our environment. We’ve worked hard to make sure we clean up the Hudson River, and I’m working with officials in Westchester to reopen a beach so that we can have public access. I think the environment is very important to residents, and I share that, as well as making sure we have commonsense gun safety legislation just like we’ve done in New York. And affordability is key. It’s the combination of property taxes, health care costs, prescription drugs, utility costs, the cost of tolls, these issues all combined. We need to make sure that the federal government is looking at (that). I think that tolls are one of the most regressive fees that you could have. If you make $30 million a year or if you make the $30 a year, you’ve got to pay that same toll. You won’t get a dime of a tax credit for paying tolls. And that’s an example of where the federal government doesn’t understand what’s going on in the Hudson Valley. Any talk about increasing tolls on the Tappan Zee Bridge is an absolute non-starter for me.
If you had to distill the major issues facing your constituents to the biggest one that will play a prominent role in your campaign, what would it be?
Climate change is obviously a big, big issue. Gun safety – big, big issue. I think rounding it out is affordability. I’m talking to people every day and the struggle of paying bills and just getting by is one that we have to face head-on. We have to get real about poverty in the suburbs. It’s a combination of policy from the top down that is hindering and is really stopping people from leaving poverty. But really when we talk about all these issues, and my background in mental health and working for people with developmental disabilities, is that we have to address these complicated issues like immigration, like domestic violence. We have to make sure that we’re dragging them out from under the rug and into the sunlight and exposing how inadequate some of our laws and policies are. We haven’t really jumped into the real causes of some of these complex issues in society.
Do you foresee ever encountering circumstances that might lead you not to caucus with the Democrats?
The times have changed. I cannot see that happening at all. I would say that now, no, I will definitely be conferencing with Democrats. I’m a proud Democrat and I think under Nancy Pelosi – I look forward to working with her – the current makeup of the Democratic conference I appreciate, have great respect for and look forward to working with each of them.
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