I grew up 2 blocks from the Brooklyn part of what is now NY-11, the Staten Island/Brooklyn district that keeps swinging back and forth between conservative Republicans and conservative Democrats. Progressive community organizer Brittany Ramos DeBarros aims to break that cycle and Blue America aims to help her.
We’re endorsing her today because we found her determined to help lead the fight to build a better, more just world; the world that we deserve and that is spelled out on the issues page of her campaign website.
First she has to defeat conservative Blue Dog Max Rose in the primary and then the garden variety Republican incumbent who beat Rose last year, Trumpist patsy Nicole Malliotakis, who voted to over-turn the election, voted against the January 6th commission, voted against COVID relief, and is advocating against the reconciliation package. ‘
Instead of asking Brittany to talk about the issues that animate her campaign, we decided to try something different today. We asked her how a progressive– rather than a GOP-lite DCCC type candidate– can win in a district that has always been sold to the media as right-leaning. Please give it a read and consider contributing to her campaign by clicking on the thermometer below or at this link.
If we don’t win, we all lose
-by Brittany Ramos DeBarros
I’m running for Congress here in NY-11, which is a battleground swing district made up of Staten Island and South Brooklyn. I’ll tell you more about myself later, but this campaign isn’t about me. I had no aspirations to run for office and I was reluctant when members of my community asked me to do so.
Establishment types and most people here are convinced– and have been peddling the idea for years– that a Democrat has to run to the right here in order to win, but that is a strategy that has failed to manifest itself into long-term victories for the Democratic Party. I know that not only can I win in both the primary and general, but I’m also convinced we will lose the general if we end up with a typical Blue Dog Democrat nominee.
It’s amazing to me how confident some folks are in their assumptions about what’s possible here in my community when they know so little about what’s really going on here politically. I was a debate nerd so let’s go down the list argument and rebuttal style.
Overall, the perception of our district, especially Staten Island is that it’s very conservative. It’s true that Trump won here by a significant margin and there is an energized Trumpist base here. But it’s also true that Bernie Sanders is VERY popular here.
In fact, in the 2016 primary, Bernie decisively won both Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, two of the largest Democrat strongholds on the Brooklyn side of the district, and several neighborhoods throughout the middle and southern parts of Staten which are typically perceived as almost entirely intractable to Democrats, let alone progressives.
My point is that it’s important to understand why Trump is popular.
When you combine the quantitative data with the ground truth, it becomes clear that this place is less conservative than it is anti-establishment. The framework that drives political decisions for the majority of people here is less about left vs. right, and more about top vs. bottom. Trump and Bernie both positioned themselves as outsiders and populists ready to take on the corrupt political establishment. Trump promoted a racist, exclusionary populism that primarily punches down and Bernie an inclusive, working-class populism that punches up.
Folks sometimes say things to me like, “If Max Rose and Joe Biden, conservative Democrats, lost by such a margin to Trumpists there, how could someone like you have a shot in hell?” When you realize how strong the anti-establishment sentiment is here, it becomes so obvious that it’s exactly because they were both perceived as typical party politicians up against authentic champions for the working class that they lost so significantly.
Establishment and traditional Democratic campaign strategy is built around an assessment of how to win in the political conditions that already exist. They recruit safe candidates they believe existing, active voters will support. They build their field strategies around turning out double and triple voters, and winning over conservative swing voters. They have spent years conditioning Democratic primary voters to believe that the safe bet is the traditional, candidate who also happens to also typically be an economically privileged white man because of unconscious biases in who we perceive to be viable and how we assess viability.
Perhaps that was once true.
But in the last ten years, we’ve seen Occupy Wall Street, historic racial justice uprisings, the rise of proto-fascism and, in turn, the growing dissatisfaction with the corporatist partisan duopoly. Because of all this, we’re seeing a growing trend in which Democratic primary voters nominate traditional candidates over progressives believing they are going with the safer choice, only for those candidates to go on and lose to Trump-backed candidates in the general.
For example, Amy McGrath beat out Charles Booker but went on to lose to Trump-endorsed Mitch McConnell. This happened despite the fact that polling showed Booker with a significantly stronger chance of beating McConnell before the primary.
The distressing reality is that Trumpism is energizing and to beat it, we need energizing candidates that can fight fire with fire.
In NY-11, we’ve had a revolving door of both Democratic and Republican Representatives in this seat. Democrats have been able to win with a strategy that centers flipping conservative swing voters, but when it’s time to legislate, they are in the impossible position of trying to be all things to all people. They end up alienating both the left and right flanks either through action or inaction and losing reelection.
We need a new strategy. We have never, to my knowledge, had a well-resourced campaign for this seat that prioritized energizing and growing our core base instead of trying to flip someone else’s base.
We’re building it, and not only can we win this way, but we’re building a campaign that will help transform the political landscape here in the process.
It’s little known that registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in this district almost 2-1, but we really have a turnout problem. In the 2018 Democratic primary, which was considered one of the more exciting primaries for the seat here, Democrat turnout was only around 11%. The common rebuttal to this argument is that many registered Democrats are conservatives in actuality, and that’s definitely true for a portion of them here, but certainly not 90% of them.
I knocked doors for Max Rose that year because I wanted to remove Republican Dan Donovan and what I heard at the doors of low propensity voters was not conservatism, it was hopelessness and disillusionment.
They said things like, “that guy sounds good but someone like that can’t win here,” or “why bother, you can’t even tell the difference between the Republican and Democrats who get elected here,” or “why should I show up for these people when I only see them during election time and my life never actually changes.”
Unfortunately, Max Rose swung more to the right in office than most of us expected and further eroded trust. Many of the movement organizations that ran independent expenditures and helped him get elected in 2018 refused to lift a finger for his reelection in 2020– I believe he lost because of this despite being an incumbent and significantly out-fundraising Malliotakis. He lost credibility and she benefited from Trump at the top of the ticket.
It is my firm belief that if Rose or someone like him is the nominee next year, we will lose again.
We cannot allow this to happen. Many of the community leaders and organizations who helped Rose win in 2018 are the same people who recruited me and are backing our campaign this time. We even have the support of some of his former staffers.
We are already knocking doors, phone banking, and registering new voters. We have over 180 volunteers signed up and over 80 have already gone through our orientation. We’ve raised over a quarter million in grassroots contributions and we’re not taking a dime of corporate PAC money. We have early endorsements from PCCC, Way to Lead, MoveOn, Brand New Congress, and, today, Blue America.
My campaign slogan is “Unbought, Unbossed and Unafraid.” It honors the legacy of the incomparable Shirley Chisolm and countless women of color candidates who run because our people, working class people across the board, need someone who will fight for us.
It’s a reminder to stay true to myself and the long legacy of freedom fighters that paved the way before me and will continue the fight in generations to come.