We have a chance to open a new chapter for our community in the next election. But we will have to face two challenges to do it:
Here are some of the questions I’m asked as I travel our district and some of the answers I give.
How can you win this district?
We have lost three straight elections in this district because people have lost faith in our message, our messengers and our goals. We have to reconnect with the deepest traditions and legacies of the Democratic Party—in FDR, Truman and JFK—to rediscover our purpose and place. We must be the party of patriots and working people. We need to nominate a candidate with a proven record of government service who is working in the district trying to raise a family himself and who knows the struggle our citizens are facing. We cannot continue to do the same things and expect a different result. I spoke about what it will take to win, and my interaction with a “proud deplorable” at a recent candidate’s forum in Hudson.
Who can beat John Faso this time?
As a local schoolteacher here in Woodstock, a former US diplomat who served with distinction in Iraq, and a Hudson Valley farmer, I can beat John Faso and the corrupt culture he represents and truly represent our unique part of New York State. It’s not about money. It’s about people. I believe the right candidate and cause can help us discover a hidden solidarity binding the many constituencies in our district. I believe we can #UniteNY19 with a coalition of working people, farmers, students, veterans, small-businesspeople and more.
I’m standing up now for my community, my family, and the country I served to make sure that we win the representation we deserve in Congress. We are opening the next great movement for social and economic justice in our country. I hope you’ll join our movement.
How can we improve our health care?
I support universal health care and I see the need for it every day in the thousands of uninsured and under-insured people suffering in our district. Over sixty thousand people have no insurance at all and thousands of others can’t afford their deductibles and co-pays and are going without life-saving care. I plan to cast a vote in Congress to provide Medicare for All. Healthcare is a human right and should not be a privilege of the rich. Getting health care shouldn’t depend on your job. It’s time for us to act on what we know is right for all of us and fiscally best for our country. House Resolution 676 calls for Medicare-for-All. We should add our voice to it.
Can our country afford a single payer plan?
Single payer health care will save us money—and save lives. We know this from experience. We already run single payer health insurance plans in the form of Medicare and Medicaid. Those health programs cost us far less in administrative costs than private insurance and produce better results.
Can you help with the cost of prescription drugs?
We can and we must. Many seniors I meet in our district are skipping their medicine or rationing out half-doses because they can’t afford their own prescriptions. There’s a terrible reason those prices are so high: lobbyists and big pharmaceutical firms have rigged the market to rip us off. We must negotiate a fair price and the way to do it is reversing a corrupt decision by our own Congress that made it illegal for us to negotiate a better deal.
Can you protect Medicaid?
We must protect this vital program—it is saving the lives of children right here in our district. I was startled to see our own member of Congress, John Faso, write legislation that would have cut Medicaid for local governments by $2.3 billion and slashed or eliminated health coverage for over 2.7 million New Yorkers. Faso’s proposal would have cut $13.7 million from 13 hospitals here in our district. He is writing policies that would cost us jobs and lives—all to provide tax breaks for wealthy Wall Street donors who do not live in our district.
Can you do anything to improve Social Security?
We have to strengthen and raise Social Security benefits. I have traveled through nursing homes and met many seniors in our district who are struggling too hard and with too little help to make ends meet. Seniors on fixed incomes in our rural communities depend on this income. We can increase their benefits by simply eliminating an outrageous loophole that allows the wealthiest individuals to avoid paying Social Security taxes on all of their income as the rest of us do.
What is your plan to address wages, jobs and inequality?
Corporate power is at the heart of our problems here in America and we have to address it head on by providing better jobs and improving the jobs we do have. Without a strong middle class and the promise of equal opportunity America isn’t America. There are a raft of policies that must be pursued to get our country back on the right track. They include a real pay equity law for women, raising social security benefits, passing universal health care, passing paid family medical leave, and more.
Do you support increasing the minimum wage?
Laws in New York are already in place to increase the minimum wage, and I support them. An increased minimum wage is the best economic stimulus package we can offer, not just to the workers, but to everyone they buy from. I also strongly support paid family and medical leave so that working people can lead productive and fulfilling lives without being financially punished.
Our rural economy is being ignored. What are your plans?
I support a rural and disadvantaged jobs initiative so that young adults and teenagers get the opportunity to join the workforce. When you travel across our district you see firsthand how much we are in need of infrastructure improvement and what a difference it can mean. We must invest in roads, reservoirs, bridges, rail, ports, public transportation and water treatment. We must invest in broadband and recognize that when the Internet is not covering rural America, rural economies suffer.
What do you think about climate change?
Climate change is not only a phenomenon proven by science, it’s a reality myself and farmers in our area are witnessing. The rhythm of nature is out of whack. You can see it when you are attuned to agriculture or livestock and dependent on reliable growing seasons. We have to take action to fight climate change—our economy, our farms, our tourism, and our heritage all depend on it. I will push to put us back into compliance with the Paris Climate Agreement. I will make sure the Environmental Protection Agency is fully funded and put science back to work solving climate-related issues.
Do you support green energy?
I spent much of my career in the Middle East, where endless oil speculation has led to environmental degradation and instability, not success. We need to be innovating in sustainable and renewable energy sources—solar, wind, hydrogen and more. We already have three times as many jobs in solar as in coal, and we could have so many more. We can be creating green jobs that won’t ever be shipped overseas.
What is your plan to deal with unsafe drinking water in our communities?
We must fully fund the EPA and put scientists, not political hacks, back in charge of protecting our drinking water. We’ve paid a terrible price for poor government oversight in Hoosick Falls and Newburgh. We need to increase monitoring of companies that use hazardous chemicals and eliminate the risk of polluting drinking upstate drinking water systems. And companies that break these laws must be held accountable.
Will you defend women’s reproductive rights?
We must defend a woman’s right to choose. Women across our district are rightly disturbed by the backward steps our federal government is contemplating. We must rally together to defend Planned Parenthood too —this is a vital public health service that saves lives and strengthens our communities. We must never be tricked by a congressman who pays lip service to these rights while siding with those who want to strip them.
Do you support LGBTQ rights?
We are America and we don’t discriminate. My own students, who lead LGBTQIA clubs and regularly support each other, are my model here. They know by instinct the kind of society we are supposed to be. I support ending discrimination against all people, LGBTQ and transgender included. No one should be discriminated against because of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, or religion. Workplace or community discrimination of any type must be stopped.
Where do you stand on immigration reform?
We need immigration reform. Many people are brought here as children and need a path to citizenship. We have too many people living in the shadows. We have families torn apart over technicalities in our immigration laws. That is inhumane and un-American. We are a nation of immigrants. I am the grandson of four immigrants. All of my grandparents were Holocaust survivors who came to this country to build a better life. Our country welcomed them as immigrants, and that is how we have built and grown our country.
What about civil rights and criminal justice reform?
We have a president who defended Nazi white supremacists. Unbelievable. Un-American. Nazis murdered my forebears in Europe and tried to kill my grandparents too. Racial justice and civil rights are at the core of the American dream and the American identity. We must end the school-to-prison pipeline and stand up for ALL people – it’s what makes us who we are as Americans.
What is your position and background on United States foreign policy?
As a former U.S. diplomat, I want to work for a foreign policy that puts diplomacy over endless war and restores U.S. leadership in the world. I want to see our country return to international agreements that support our values and interests, like the Paris Climate Accord and the agreement we negotiated to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program. I want to see the United States lead the world as a peacemaker, not an arms merchant. I plan to speak out against policies that betray our ideals, including the crime of torture and the continued exploitation of an “Authorization for Use of Military Force” resolution that has served as a blank check for war by Republicans and Democrats in the executive branch since 9/11. I want to see us remember that our country can never be strong overseas unless our society, economy and citizens are strong at home.
We need a congressman who has experience to break through the gatekeepers and fake experts leading our foreign policy and demand a change. We are in year sixteen of a war on terror that has claimed thousands of lives with no end in sight. I saw this war begin as a young intelligence officer with the CIA and continue through my years as a U.S. diplomat. Now the students I teach have never known life without war. I began my career as a CIA analyst in 1997 under President Bill Clinton’s administration. I wrote for the President’s Daily Brief, briefed members of congress and the Secretary of State, and traveled the Middle East consulting with ambassadors and officials in promotion of a more informed U.S. foreign policy. Fluent in Arabic, I was commissioned as a Foreign Service Officer by the State Department in 2002 and pushed for peace in negotiations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
One year into the Iraq War, the State Department asked me to deploy to Baghdad to help us find a way out of the conflict. I answered that call and was decorated for the work I did to help establish an Iraqi government, draft a constitution for the country, establish a dialogue with the insurgency and set the stage for the U.S. to transfer sovereignty to Iraq. I left upon completion of that work. I returned again to Iraq at the request of the National Security Council in 2007 to assist our ambassador in further negotiations there. I returned a final time in 2008 with General Anthony Zinni, a prominent critic of the Iraq War, on a commission to review the U.S. presence in Iraq.
When I returned to the United States to raise my family and settle in the Hudson Valley, I turned down a lucrative job offer from Exxon because of my opposition to the fossil fuel industry and became the teacher I am now in Woodstock. I want to put my foreign policy experience at the service of our strong and principled community. We must push for a foreign policy that is a credit to our country and strengthens our interests and standing in the world.
What is your position on farming in our district?
We need to support and grow our small farms. They are pillars of our economy, our environment and our community’s health. Small family farms have been a vital part of our heritage for hundreds of years — and every dollar they make and worker they employ represents a boost to our local economy. Right now they are forced to compete with agribusiness giants who squeeze them by controlling supply chains and depressing prices with irresponsible farming practices that mistreat workers and damage our soil, air and water.
We need policies that reduce the tax burden of labor and equipment costs for our small farmers as well as their property taxes. We also need to hold corporate giants economically responsible for the damage they do to the environment. We need to promote sustainable farming practices because climate change and associated changes in growing seasons and flooding represent a grave threat to local farmers and to our planet.
Agricultural policy is an area I know intimately from my work on our family farm in Putnam County where we are members of the Farm Bureau. We have had our farm since my childhood, and I have worked there raising Boer Goats, Angus Cattle, and Bourbon Red Heritage Turkeys. We have practiced sustainable management of our pastures and produced pasture-raised, grass-fed beef and poultry as a healthy alternative to the products of industrial agriculture. It has always been an uphill battle, and I have experienced firsthand the challenge of producing a sufficient return on the labor and love put into farming in the Hudson Valley. We have and continue to promote agri-tourism to make ends meet, as do many Hudson Valley farmers. We must support our small farms or lose a vital connection to the wisdom of the earth.