By David Brand
Attorney Michael Weinstock will challenge two-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi in the 2020 Democratic primary for New York’s 3rd Congressional District, which includes about 60,000 Queens residents in the northeastern portion of the borough.
Weinstock is a St. John’s University Law alum, a volunteer firefighter and a former Brooklyn prosecutor. On Sept. 11, 2001, Weinstock was working in the Brooklyn DA’s Office. After two planes struck the Twin Towers, he flagged down a passing ambulance and traveled to Ground Zero to assist other first responders.
Weinstock formally announced his candidacy and launched his campaign website at midnight today.
He told the Eagle he plans to challenge Suozzi from the left.
“I’m actually a legitimate Democrat,” he said. “Suozzi is part of the Problem Solvers’ Caucus, but I call it the Fakakta Caucus … the Yiddish word for screwed up and upside down. All they did was beat the crap out of Nancy Pelosi.”
When asked where he would place himself on an ideological scale from U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (on the far-left) and Suozzi (a centrist), Weinstock said he is “in between.”
For example, he said he does not subscribe to slogans like Medicare for All and Abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but sees the sentiment underpinning those positions.
“I’m not a socialist, but I’m certainly more progressive than Tom Suozzi,” he said, adding that he is “in favor of moving towards universal health care.”
“I still need to learn more about it before I say I’m on board,” he said.
Weinstock said he is not “a big fan of ICE” because the threat of ICE arrest and deportation discourages noncitizens from coming forward to report crimes or assist law enforcement.
“When I was a prosecutor in Brooklyn, I’d rely on neighbors to help prosecute cases of domestic abuse and violence,” he said. “I want people to feel comfortable calling the police and working with prosecutors.”
Weinstock has taken at least one stance sure to alienate progressives, however. In 2012, he wrote a letter to The New York Times supporting the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision, which enabled corporations, nonprofits and unions to contribute unlimited amounts of money to political action committees. The letter seemed to predict his current bid for Congress.
“Few things in life are more assured than for an incumbent member of Congress to win re-election. Incumbents benefit from name recognition and large advantages in fund-raising,” he wrote. “Super PACs help level the playing field by giving a voice to a challenger. Well-intentioned campaign finance laws have made it impossible for most challengers to raise enough money to mount a credible challenge.”
“There is no question that campaign contribution laws should be revised for greater transparency, but the current system with super PACs is clearly better than the old system in which election outcomes were so certain that many parties could not even find a challenger willing to serve as a sacrificial lamb,” he continued.
Weinstock said he decided to launch his primary bid when Suozzi, the former Nassau County Executive, wrote a letter of support on behalf of disgraced former Long Island political operative Gerard Terry, who was convicted of tax evasion.
“I was thunderstruck when Congressman Suozzi decided to pull strings and get his friend released from jail,” Weinstock said.
Weinstock, who is gay, said he wants New Yorkers to take pride in their elected officials.
“I want to be a new voice and a fresh voice and I want to work hard and earn the respect of New Yorkers so they’ll look up to our elected officials,” he said. “Being the first 9/11 firefighter elected to Congress, the first openly gay person elected to Congress [from New York City] would be special, but I wouldn’t want to be a role model for just gay kids. I want to be a role model for all New Yorkers.”
*This story has been updated to reflect that Weinstock would be the first openly gay man to represent New York City in Congress.