June 16, 2020

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: The Cornell Progressives Endorse

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To the Editor: 

Ahead of the New York Congressional and State Assembly primaries on June 23, Cornell Progressives is proud to endorse the following candidates: Jamaal Bowman, Mel Gagarin, Lauren Ashcraft, and Anna Kelles. Cornell Progressives — formerly Cornell for Bernie — has decided to continue the ongoing mission of the Bernie 2020 campaign by actively supporting candidates who relay a similar vision of economic and social justice. Although we recognize that electoral politics is limited in its ability to fully combat the America’s long standing systemic inequalities, we are still vested in finding leadership that is willing to fight for the people. Our organization has hosted the aforementioned individuals for virtual panels in which our members could engage with each candidate, and, after a unanimous vote, we are happy to publicly support them in the upcoming elections.

Our first endorsement goes to Melquiades “Mel” Gagarin, who is running in the Democratic primary for New York’s 6th Congressional District. As a community organizer who has worked as a congressional aide and advocated alongside criminal justice reformers, Gagarin has been steadfast in his promise to reject corporate donations. His opponent — incumbent Rep. Grace Meng (D) — has made no such commitment. Although some have drawn similarities between them, with both being Asian-American candidates from Elmhurst, there are some key differences. With regard to foreign policy, Gagarin is critical of the U.S.’s military aid to Israel and seeks to establish US responsibility for harms abroad, while Rep. Meng has actively supported billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Israel through her role in the House Appropriations Committee. The two also differ greatly on the issue of HR 1865 FOSTA-SESTA — an act that limits sex workers’ ability to operate online, and therefore poses major challenges to sex workers’ livelihoods and safety. Gagarin supports repealing the act, while Rep. Meng has voted for it. Furthermore, Gagarin plans to introduce the Golden Years Security Act in order to provide necessary services for elders, which includes preventing discrimination against LGBTQ+ elders in nursing facilities, expanding home care services, and providing resources to train caretakers. He is also committed to cornerstone progressive policies such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, and will undoubtedly represent NY-6 with integrity and compassion. For these reasons and more, we are pleased to endorse Gagarin.

Our second endorsement goes to Jamaal Bowman of NY’s 16th Congressional District. National news has deemed Bowman “2020’s AOC,” referring to the parallels between his insurgent campaign against seven-year incumbent Elliot Engel and that of current NY-14 Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. NY-16 is a diverse community with a plethora of cultures and ethnicities, and Jamaal Bowman represents just that. As a former middle-school principal and community leader, Bowman promises to bridge gaps of difference and unite minority communities in the district against attacks from white supremacy. His policy is not only indiscriminate in who he plans to represent and protect — it will also provide future citizens with a vastly improved environment and education system, specifically through plans to increase funding to public schools, make gun-free school zones, provide more accessible opportunities for homeownership, and move to clean and renewable energy by 2030.

Bowman also stands for equality. He backs reproductive rights for women, aims to expand Social Security, seeks to reunite immigrant families who were separated and detained unfairly, and vows to end school-to-prison pipelines. His commitment to equality also extends abroad, as he aims to end U.S. support for the war in Yemen, establish peace between Israel and Palestine and fight corruption and violence in Central America. Also, given that COVID-19 has accentuated deep set disparities in health care coverage, it is essential to support policymakers who will represent their constituents’ best interests on this particular issue. Bowman will fight to establish healthcare as a human right via Medicare for All, and will also fight for policies that will lower prescription drug prices. As a whole, he firmly believes money should not determine one’s quality of life or whether they can continue to live. Bowman does not exclude any group; people of all ages, races, religions, genders, sexualities and economic statuses will receive great benefits should Jamaal win this election. The power to decide whether or not that happens is in your hands. Vote for Bowman.

We also endorse Lauren Ashcraft, a self proclaimed Democratic Socialist running to represent NY’s 12th Congressional District. As a former JPMorgan Project Manager, she saw firsthand how our current political system prioritizes the interests of profitable financial institutions at the expense of a struggling working class. Now, Ashcraft is fighting for progressive policies such as Universal Rent Control, the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, Free College and Student Debt Forgiveness. These are the policies that will bring new change to NY-12, a district that has depended on establishment Democrats to bring change for far too long. Ashcraft also stands for an end to American imperialism by not voting for military intervention unless it is to defend ourselves or our allies from active military attacks, and will work to repeal FOSTA-SESTA in order to protect sex workers. These are issues that even many Democrats lack the integrity nor courage to comment on, andAshcraft’s ability to take a stand on these topics illustrates her commitment to justice and consistency. Overall, Lauren’s ultimate campaign goal is to get big money out of government and out of elections. Her opponent Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D) has accepted over $696,000 in PAC contributions, but Lauren refuses to take any PAC money. Unlike her opponent, she is committed to advocating for the interests of the people of NY-12, and we are proud to support her.

Our final endorsement goes toward Anna Kelles, a candidate for the New York State Assembly in the state’s 125th district (which represents Tompkins County and a portion of Cortland County). Kelles is an educator and epidemiologist who has also served as a Tompkins County legislator. During her time as a legislator, she has played an instrumental role in making Ithaca and Tompkins County a sanctuary area for undocumented immigrants, marking the first creation of a sanctuary county since the 2016 election. She has also fought for local environmental protections, including by fighting against the placement of a trash incinerator on the shore of Cayuga Lake. If elected to the NYS Assembly, Kelles will fight for a universal, single-payer healthcare system within NYS through the NY Health Act, a comprehensive response to climate change through Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, and a substantive solution to statewide food insecurity through the $25 million Nourish New York Initiative. Overall, we are confident that Anna will be a principled advocate for the people of Ithaca, NY-125, and the state as a whole.

Lastly, we’d like to share some key dates and directions on how to vote by mail in New York: Eligible voters should have already received an application for absentee ballots with a postage paid envelope. Mark “temporary illness” as the reason for requesting the ballot in Box 1. The application must be received by the Board of Elections by June 16. Voters must mail the completed ballot, postmarked no later than June 23 and received by the board by June 30. Westchester voters can also obtain an application here.


Leanna Zilles ’21
Angela Bunay ’24
Amy Wang ’24
Sara Raimondi ’24
Andy Kim ’22
George DeFendini ’22