A New Challenge to Maloney

Progressive Rana Abdelhamid has the support of Justice Democrats, who helped AOC and Bowman win

| 14 Apr 2021 | 07:03

Come 2022, longtime Upper East Side Rep. Carolyn Maloney will once again face a primary challenge from the progressive left – this time her opponent is backed by Justice Democrats, the same organization that helped Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman dethrone establishment New York Democrats.

Rana Abdelhamid, a community organizer and nonprofit founder, announced Wednesday that she would be running to unseat Maloney in New York’s 12th Congressional district, which covers much of Manhattan’s East Side, as well as parts of Brooklyn and Queens.

“We have a once in a generation opportunity – as we reopen our schools, as we reinvest in our economy – to build a city that works for all of us, no matter our zip code or income; but only if we put in the work,” said Abdelhamid. “That’s why I’m running for Congress, because I love this district – all of this district – and I’m so ready to fight for it.”

A 27-year-old Astoria native, Abdelhamid is the daughter of Egyptian immigrant parents. She graduated from Middlebury College in 2015, from the Harvard Kennedy School in 2017, and currently works at Google. She also runs a nonprofit called “Malikah” – meaning “queen” in multiple languages – that works to empower women with self-defense training. She founded the organization after a man tried to rip her hijab off her head when she was a teenager.

As she announced her candidacy, Abdelhamid said she will be running a campaign focused on affordable housing, racial justice, securing a Green New Deal, and economic security for all.

Family Struggles

Her commitment to these issues, she said, comes from the struggles her family experienced when she was growing up. Her father drove a taxi cab at night to try to keep the family-owned deli afloat, but they eventually lost the store, which Abdelhamid attributes to gentrification and rising commercial rent. For similar reasons, her family jumped from apartment to apartment, moving six times before she turned 9.

“Almost like clockwork, whenever we started to feel comfortable in whichever apartment we lived in, we’d be forced out by rising rents and bad landlords,” said Abdelhamid.

She also spoke of disparities in health care depending on where one might live in the district. Last year, Abdelhamid and her family all contracted COVID-19, and her mother in particular became very sick. When her mother’s breathing continued to get worse and worse, doctors told Abdelhamid’s family she would have a better chance of improving her condition at home than she did going to a Queens hospital. They were advised if things got really bad to take her mother to Manhattan, where hospitals had more resources.

“Fortunately, my mom eventually did get better. But the experience was a turning point for me, a wake-up call,” she said, becoming visibly emotional. “My mom, my family, my community, we’ve been left behind, left to die literally. And political leadership was missing in action.”

“New Type of Leader”

Abdelhamid will not be in for an easy fight with Maloney’s long tenure serving the district, but the last two election cycles have shown that she could be vulnerable to a challenge from the left. In 2020, Maloney eked out a victory over insurgent candidate Suraj Patel, winning by 3,200 votes. With the resume Justice Democrats have built in New York, Abdelhamid may be viewed as a more serious challenger than Patel, who has said in recent weeks he plans to be in this race as well.

“The time of stagnant leadership is over. And a new type of leader and a new kind of voter is rising up all throughout the country, but especially right here in New York,” said Alexandra Rojas, the executive director of Justice Democrats. “Rana is going to form a coalition of young people, progressive communities of color, of immigrants, of small business owners, of working and middle class New Yorkers who are hungry for representation that looks like them, fights for them and believes in them.”

City Council Member Brand Lander, who represents District 39 and is running for comptroller, is also backing Abdelhamid early.

“When I heard that Rana Abdelhamid was running for Congress to bring that idea of young women stepping up through our democracy to fight racism and sexism, to make sure we have a just recovery out of this crisis, to win the inclusive, multiracial democracy that we all deserve - I wanted to be on the team from day one,” said Lander.

New York State Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs, a staunch ally of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was less pleased with Abdelhamid’s announcement, releasing a statement that essentially served as a rant against socialism.

“Make no mistake about it. This challenge is not about progressive causes. This challenge is about one thing: Power,” Jacobs said in the statement. “Maloney has it and the [Democratic Socialists of America] wants it.”

The statement elicited many raised eyebrows from politicos on Twitter, with Abdelhamid calling it “Trump-like” and “unhinged.”

In the end, Jacobs’ statement seems to have helped more than hurt Abdelhamid’s cause. Her campaign used the incident as a fundraising rallying cry, raking in $100,000 after just 10 hours. By comparison, Ocasio-Cortez raised only $60,000 in the first six months of her 2018 campaign.

And Abdelhamid seems to relish the fight.

“It’s gonna be fun,” she said of the months ahead.

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“My mom, my family, my community, we’ve been left behind, left to die literally. And political leadership was missing in action.” Rana Abdelhamid on her mother’s experience with COVID