An Ideal(ist) House Candidate from NYC

NEW YORK  — Jeff Kurzon loves New York. Even more than the city he has called home for almost a decade, he loves its residents.

The progressive Democrat is taking that commitment further, combining it with his strong sense of ethics, to launch a campaign to represent his district in Washington. He is seeking to unseat the current representative of the city’s Seventh District, Nydia Velázquez (D), in the primary this June.

Kurzon praised the incumbent on several points, but said the main difference between the two was that Velasquez was beholden to banking and financial institutions, such as Goldman Sachs.

Kurzon prides himself as being the only federal candidate who will not take any PAC (political action committee) or lobbyist money.

Of course, this very stand may potentially hurt him when it comes to big money he will need for the elections. However, he hopes that through an intense grassroots efforts, crisscrossing the district and knocking on doors, he will make it to Washington, without having to sell out his values.

“It is difficult to be a candidate for public office, but if there is an open seat, it is a little less challenging,” Kurzon said. “The biggest challenge is not to take PAC or lobbyist money.”

Among the issues that are atop his list include public education, increasing the minimum wage and fighting for broad campaign finance reform.

The Seventh District cuts through portions of Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan, including the Queens neighborhoods of Ridgewood and Woodhaven, the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bushwick, Red Hook, East New York, Brooklyn Heights, Sunset Park and Williamsburg and part of Manhattan’s Lower East Side and East Village.

Kurzon is an attorney born and living the first few years of his life in Watertown, before the family moved to New Hampshire when he was 16.

“I have fond memories of living in Watertown,” he said.

He moved to New York in 2002 as a summer intern first, and later in 2003 on a permanent basis.

His law firm handles small and medium enterprises. In addition, he has extensive litigation practice and has handled class-action suits and other disputes.

As Kurzon says, “three out of eight” of his great-grandparents are Armenian. “I am more Armenian than anything else.”

Kurzon visited Armenia on a trip with Virginia Davies, a  supporter of the Tufenkian Foundation’s efforts in Nagorno Karabagh and Armenia. While in Armenia, he said, he went camping for two weeks to really get a feel for the land. He loved Armenia, saying “it is a beautiful country and has great food.” He met up with a French tour group to see the sites and said he was moved by the spiritual nature of the country and that he would love to go back.

While Kurzon praised Velazquez, with doing public service, he said she has been in office so long that she is out of touch. He added that most members of Congress take about 30 percent in PAC and lobbyist money. Velazquez, he noted, took about 70 percent in the 2012 election. In that election, he said, she raised $900,000 to get 17,000 votes. There are 300,000 registered Democrats in the district, he said, though only 30,000 voted in the general election.

The Republicans need to worry, he said, because “their brand” is damaged as a result of the party’s position on gun rights and opposition to same-sex marriage.

“Even if we assume that the Democrats are the good guys, we need to ask why only 10 percent are voting,” he asked. “People become so cynical” because of the power and influence of entities like Goldman Sachs.

He added, “You have to ask what they are getting in return.”

For Kurzon, campaign finance reform begins with curbing the power of PACs, whose power, he said, is pervasive and often destructive. He said just the night before he had read the details of the Affordable Care Act and one of the things that was glaring in the wording was that a provision had been inserted in the bill making it illegal for a physician to ask whether the patient owns a gun and if he or she knew how to store them properly. The section, he said, came as a result of a push by the National Rifle Association (NRA), the powerful and wealthy gun lobby.

“Statistics show that you are actually less safe with a gun in your house. There are chances for accidents or self-harm. This is an example of how money and politics corrupt our system. The wealthiest hold sway over our politicians,” he said.

Another area of interest to him is the carried interest loophole. That is when hedge funds, which make money off the massive amounts of other people’s money in their control, pay a much lower tax rate on the money they make than they should.

He noted, “There are few politicians, whether Democrat or Republican, who talk about it. [Financial institutions] are the base of financial support from the wealthiest.” Such money power plays, he said, “are good for some, but bad for all.”

“We just continue to get on the path that our country is own with infrastructure not updated, teachers not paid enough, growing inequality, lower corporate tax rates and all those loopholes,” Kurzon said. “There is so much cash on the books.”

Another item on his list of goals is providing jobs for the large number of unemployed in his district. “There is very high unemployment in my district,” he said, with a certain percentage living below the poverty line. “People are struggling.”

Bolstering the middle class and creating more public-sector jobs in the improvement of infrastructures and education for him are both vital.

Among the things his district needs is help with sorting public housing. Much of the public housing in the district is mismanagement with one building covered with scaffolding for 14 years, or apartments plagued by mold or just remaining empty while there is a long waiting list for many.

The phrase “affordable housing” seems to a buzzword, but he said he preferred the idea of mixed housing. He noted that the rents were so high in the city that few indeed met the rule of thumb of spending one third of their income on housing.

“I can relate to this,” he said.

Prices are very high, thanks to gentrification.

Kurzon explained that he is a wholehearted supporter of the efforts of Harvard’s Prof. Lawrence Lessig to bring major electoral reform in the fundraising arena.

He held a march crossing New Hampshire this winter, in which Kurzon participated. “This is more and more something that people are discussing. This election is on whether or not we need to do something about big money and politics.”

He added, “94 percent of the time, the candidate with the most money wins. It is absurd. The voters in my district are smart and just need to meet me. I am planning tow walk around 10 miles a day starting in March,” he noted. Once the weather is better, he intends to canvass his entire district door to door, harkening back to “an old fashioned grassroots” style of campaigning.

He said the process so far of reaching out to voters has energized him and that he is “really optimistic.”

“This campaign is successful already. I plan to win but whether I win or lose,”  he said, he feels he is connecting with the people in the district.

“I enjoy helping people It is the best part of the job,” he said.

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