As officials begin counting the absentee ballots for the June 23 primary, Suraj Patel hopes that the winds will shift further in his direction and allow him to unseat incumbent U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens). If he wins, however, Patel will have to answer some emerging questions regarding troublesome conduct from his campaign toward that of fellow Maloney challenger Lauren Ashcraft.
A former Obama campaign volunteer and NYU assistant adjunct professor of business ethics, Patel has been mired in controversy since he first challenged Maloney in 2018. During his previous campaign, he took fire for a joke he made in a 2012 Facebook comment about Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney, then 16, regarding her physical resemblance to his girlfriend at the time.
When the issue resurfaced in 2020, Ashcraft tweeted about it to promote her campaign. “You don’t have to vote between `a creep’ and an establishment Dem,” she wrote.
Patel communications director Cassie Moreno retweeted it, linking the allegations against Patel to negative stereotypes about South Asian men.
“Get this racist trash off my feed,” wrote Moreno, referring to the tweet. “If you’re gonna march for #BLM and turn around and use racist tropes against a brown man you’re not qualified for any office imo.” Ashcraft interpreted the tweet as a personal attack.
Patel later contacted Ashcraft personally to apologize for Moreno’s tweet, which she accepted. However, the controversy didn’t end there.
“A few weeks later, I started getting a barrage of messages, DM, and texts from people that are like `We see Suraj volunteers or staffers take down your posters and replace them with Suraj posters’,” Ashcraft recalled, and placed one of her posters next to one of Patel’s to demonstrate proper statesmanship.
By Ashcraft’s account, the Patel campaign accused her of inciting violence and a staffer texted her a list of demands, threatening to expel her from progressive circles.
“Obviously I didn’t comply, but the fact that a paid staffer was sending that kind of message to me with a list of demands and if I didn’t do them there would be consequences, I was really blown away by the whole thing,” Ashcraft recalled. “I don’t condone violence. I just didn’t want to have to keep paying for posters to be printed out.”
Ashcraft conceded that her own campaign hasn’t been perfect, and claimed to take ownership of any misconduct committed by her team. It’s only fair, she said, that Patel should do the same for his.
We’ve made mistakes on our campaign, too,” she said. “I take ownership of it. I still see him having ownership over the behavior and tone of his team. And to me his campaign behavior was very toxic, and I still haven’t seen an appropriate response from him directly addressing the comment that turned me off from his campaign in 2018.”
Despite her unnerving experiences, Ashcraft refuses to let Patel continue to intimidate her if he ultimately wins.
“I will always speak up,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons I ran this campaign in the first place. Anything the public doesn’t know, I feel they they should know, and so whoever wins this seat, I will be holding them accountable.”
The Patel campaign declined to comment on Ashcraft’s allegations.