I’ve lived nearly my whole life in this beautiful place. Born and raised in Ulster County in a working class family who taught me what it meant to work hard, serve my community, and fight against injustice. Those that know me know I have dedicated my life to fighting for issues of social, racial, economic, and environmental justice. I’ve been blessed to be able to do that work for over a decade with Citizen Action of New York.
Many of you know Citizen Action too. Maybe you’ve joined us in our work on equitable funding for our public schools, public financing of elections, or criminal justice reform. Maybe you knocked on doors with us for Bernie two years ago, or educated voters about John Faso’s awful attacks against lifesaving health care and social safety net programs. We work on both issues and elections. This year, we will face one of the most important elections in a long time — the race for our next representative in Congress in NY’s 19th.
Because of the critical importance of that race, Citizen Action took the bold step a few weeks ago of throwing its support behind Antonio Delgado. Antonio is one of seven candidates vying to be the Democratic nominee in New York’s 19th District. After collecting long questionnaires, interviewing nearly all of the candidates, and extensive deliberation, our local endorsements committee and state board of directors endorsed Antonio as the candidate that most shares our values, would fight for our issues, and could come out ahead of John Faso in November.
I’ve gotten to know Antonio. One of the first times I met him was at our big Education Equity Rally at Academy Green Park in Kingston in early 2017. We walked back to our cars together after the event. It was then, with health care always on my mind, I first talked to Antonio about that issue. I knew based on that conversation I was dealing with someone serious. We had an incredibly thoughtful conversation, digging into the policy details of the ACA, Medicare for All, and the politics and possibilities to a path for truly universal health care. I was impressed with his depth of knowledge and willingness to engage, and his commitment to get it right — protecting those whose lives are depending on programs John Faso is tearing apart and moving us toward a health care system in America centered on people not profit.
As many of us have gotten to know Antonio and his story, we’ve found that Antonio has an incredibly strong commitment to equity and opportunity. He grew up in Schenectady, just on the northern edge of the 19th, with parents who worked their way from working to middle-class. He was a talented student and went on to Colgate College on the northwest side of the Catskills. Antonio studied philosophy and political science, which makes total sense when you talk to him. He’s a deep thinker and politically savvy. He went on to Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship and eventually Harvard Law. After a few years in California promoting social justice through music, he practiced law, committing his pro-bono work to juvenile offenders caught in the unjust justice system. But when November 2016 hit, Antonio, his wife Lacey (from Woodstock), and their two young boys knew it was time to move home and to commit their lives to public service.
Our committee found that Antonio embraced the values that we hold dear — values of not just equality but equity, fairness, and opportunity for individuals and communities to thrive. I think it has a ton to do with his family and faith life. Antonio tells the story of his parents having two good jobs and allowing him opportunities they didn’t have. It may sound cliche but it built Antonio’s character and conviction for justice and opportunity for all. He really is in this because he feels like everyone, no matter where you are from or your circumstance, deserves the support and opportunity necessary to live the best life possible. I can identify with that. I find that defines who I am as well.
Antonio quickly engages anyone he’s talking to. Citizen Action focuses a ton of energy on knocking on doors and talking to community members who have lost faith in politics, or never had it at all. We believe Antonio is the candidate who can best engage those voters, and all voters, in the process of our democracy. That matters greatly to us.
Antonio has been unrelenting about the need to fight against vast income inequality, corporate dominance in our elections and economy. He’s been avid in his commitment to fight for the core working families issues Citizen Action cares about, including raising the minimum wage, childcare, health care, public education, clean energy jobs, and investment in infrastructure. But our committee was also impressed with Antonio’s ability to speak to and be clear about another working families issue — ending mass incarceration. His knowledge and understanding of the impact of police bias on Black and Brown communities, pretrial incarceration of innocent people, and how our broken justice system tears apart families in our communities is a critical progressive issue too, and it is often overlooked by many in the progressive community at large.
Citizen Action has received a lot of criticism for our endorsement of Antonio Delgado because of his employment with a law firm, and the donations he’s received. Antonio worked for Akin Gump for 6 of his 41 years. He was one of over 900 lawyers and worked on things like bankruptcy matters and contract disputes. To disparage Antonio for using his education to secure a job in a law firm, even a corporate one, especially after he left to turn to a life of public service after Trump became President, is disheartening to say the least. Akin Gump does not define him. And of course he is using his personal and professional connections to raise money, within the fairly low (certainly compared to New York State) campaign finance limits. The donations from individual, former coworkers make up less than 10% of his total money raised. This does not mean he is bought by some corporate empire. It does not mean he embraces the positions of the firm.
Finally, on top of everything else, Antonio can win this thing! And we really need a Democratic candidate who can go toe-to-toe with Faso, someone who can garner the energy and support necessary to beat an incumbent Republican in one of the top swing districts in the nation. He’s got fire in the belly, can connect with voters, is good on the issues, and has what it takes to beat Faso.
On June 26th, Democratic primary voters will have a critical choice to make. You can vote your values. You can vote for a person who will show up and engage. You can vote for a person who can beat John Faso in November. I hope you’ll join me and vote for Antonio Delgado.
Jessica Wisneski is the Deputy Director of Citizen Action of New York and a resident of Olivebridge, New York.