Suraj Patel, who is seeking to oust Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney in a Democratic primary challenge on the East Side, mingles with voters at a town hall last month in an East 88th Street church. Photo: Douglas Feiden
The Democratic primary challenger vying to unseat longtime incumbent Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney posted three telltale tweets in 2017 that are raising questions about his rootedness in the district where he is now running for office.
Indiana-raised, East Village resident Suraj Patel is contesting the 12th Congressional District, a prize that takes in the Upper East Side, Sutton Place, Midtown, Roosevelt Island, Union Square, the East Village and parts of Brooklyn and Queens.
But in two of his tweets, the 34-year-old scion of an Indianapolis-based hotel development company called himself a “constituent” of two out-of-town elected officials whose jurisdictions are, respectively, 750 and 100 miles away from the East Side of Manhattan.
And in another, he appears to be enlisting political allies “to help knock out” a conservative incumbent Republican in a different district than the one he is currently seeking to represent.
On February 2 of last year, the first-time candidate identified himself as a “Proud Constituent” of Sen. Joe Donnelly, the vulnerable first-term Democrat from Indiana, according to a review of Patel's Twitter history.
Then on February 12, 2017, he responded to a tweet — about how “real investigations can begin” if Democrats win back the House in the 2018 midterms — by singling out pro-Trump GOP Congressman Lee Zeldin, who hails from Suffolk County and represents the 1st Congressional District.
“Gentlemen, this is why I need your help to knock out @LeeZeldin in NY-1,” he wrote.
Finally, on May 4 last year, Patel tweeted directly to Zeldin: “I'm your constituent, tried to call your office 5 times, straight to vmail,” he wrote. “You're marked for replacement #NY-1.”
The posts surfaced on the eve of the first and only televised debate of the primary campaign, a one-on-one face-off between Maloney and Patel that will air on NY1 tonight at 7 p.m.
A ROAMING REGISTRATION
The candidate's connections to the jurisdictions in which he said he was a “constituent” are his property holdings and voter-registration records.
Patel has owned a condo in Indianapolis since at least 2015 and had for a time collected a “homestead tax deduction” on the property. He has been registered, on and off, in the Hoosier State and voted there in the 2016 presidential election for Hillary Clinton.
In 2017, he bought a traditional shingled Hamptons home on Springs Fireplace Road in East Hampton, and though he never voted from Long Island, he said he was registered there “for a few months” after filling out a loan application and changing the address on his driver's license.
Patel says his permanent address is a condominium on East 12th Street off Avenue A in the East Village that he purchased in January 2011, and he says he has been living in the district since 2006, when he first came to the city from Indiana to attend NYU Law School.
But at different times over a period of less than four years, he has been registered to vote in all three locales, an Our Town examination of his voter-registration history found.
After voting in Indianapolis in 2014, for instance, Patel switched to the city and voted here in 2015 and early 2016 — before changing back to Indiana later in 2016, his campaign said in offering a partial response to multiple questions about his recent voting and tweeting history.
In one 10-month period, between November 2016 and September 2017, Patel changed his registration twice:
First, he was registered in Indiana, where he cast his vote for Clinton, then, in the Hamptons, and finally, on September 18, 2017, back in the city, according to a review of Board of Elections documents.
On October 11, 2017, less than one month after Patel had re-registered from his East 12th Street home, he filed his paperwork with the Federal Election Committee. The Committee to Elect Suraj Patel was up and running.
“Suraj has lived in New York since he was 22,” said Patel spokesperson Lis Smith. “He owns a home in the East Village, teaches business ethics at NYU, volunteers with political and civic organizations, is a member of the New York bar, and has paid New York City taxes his entire adult life.”
She added, “Like many millennials, he was registered to vote at his parents' house since he was 18, and simply chose to vote absentee there in 2016.”
Asked repeatedly over several days, Smith didn't provide detailed responses to questions about Patel's tweets.
The campaign noted that Patel has never lived in Zeldin's district. He had no intention or interest in running on Long Island. Along with his brother, he does own a home in the district, and so as active Democrats, they do have an interest in seeing a Democrat represent the area.
But by the time of the “knock out” Zeldin tweet last February, Patel had already begun the outreach effort for his run against Maloney, the campaign said.
“Maybe he should run in Suffolk County, or in Indianapolis,” said former City Council Member Jessica Lappin, a Maloney supporter who represented the East Side from 2006 to 2013.
Democratic voters will go to the polls on June 26 to choose between Patel and Maloney, the 72-year-old veteran who was first elected to Congress in 1992, and the winner will be the odds-on favorite in the November 6 general election against Republican candidate Eliot Rabin.