Interview With Congressional Candidate David Carlucci

david carlucci
(Photo credit: Grubiakm)

State Sen. David Carlucci is running in a Democratic primary for New York’s 17th Congressional District, covering all of Rockland and portions of Westchester County.

Carlucci, 39, is one of seven Democrats (and more than ten total candidates) angling for the seat being vacated by Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey, 82, who will retire at the end of this year after serving in Congress for more than three decades.

Carlucci was born, and still lives, in Clarkstown.

He is a graduate of Rockland Community College, and earned a B.S. in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University. He previously was a staffer for U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY). Carlucci served as town clerk of Clarkstown, and is now finishing his fifth term in the state Senate. He is vacating his Senate seat to run for Congress.

Primary Day is June 23, but in-person early voting has already begin at designated locations, until June 21.

After five terms in the State Senate, why are you running for Congress?

I believe we need someone to pick up where Nita Lowey is leaving off.

Last year in the Senate, I was able to put more legislation on the governor’s desk than any other lawmaker in the state of New York. I’ve proven to be effective at delivering results for the people that I serve, and we know in Rockland particularly, and in Westchester, we have major challenges, and we need someone in Congress that’s going to fight for the people of our district. And I think we have in my district, probably the largest families in a congressional district in the United States. We need someone that’s going to take that perspective and be fighting for the issues that really are challenging families in the district, like private-school tuition, affording to feed a family of 10, which is a challenge, and making sure that our IRS tax code reflects that. As well as other issues.

But really, the bottom line is that I’ve been one of the most effective lawmakers in the state of New York. And I want to bring that energy and that experience to Washington to deliver even more for the people that I serve.

You said that you brought the most legislation to the governor’s desk. How many bills was it that you were lead sponsor on?

I got 38 bills signed by the governor last session, in 2019. The governor vetoed about five of them.

There’s a large Orthodox Jewish community in your state Senate district, and in the Congressional district you are running for. What are some of the issues that you worked on specifically with the Orthodox Jewish community?

Most recently dealing with COVID, we’ve had so many different concerns.

One of them is just working on the issue of patient advocacy. I led a letter that I got 25 members of the Senate to sign onto, to urge the Department of Health and the governor to create best practices for patient advocacy and visitation. It affects everyone, but we had a lot of concerns, particularly in the Orthodox community, because of issues like accessing kosher food, being able to understand the culture, language barriers — we have many residents whose first language is Yiddish, and it’s easier to communicate in that way. So, patient advocacy was a big issue.

So we pushed, and the governor did a pilot visitation program at some hospitals. And so that’s where we are right now with that — that’s a newer development, and we’re hopeful that that will lead to a concrete situation where we won’t go through what we went through where patients were denied access to see family members and were denied access to kosher food. We had an even bigger problem during Passover, where the food that was kosher for Passover was just not getting to patients. So we’ve worked together on that issue most recently. [Ed’s Note: 21 hospitals joined the pilot visitation program enacted by the Cuomo Administration at the end of May, following appeals from many elected officials; prior to that program, the Cuomo Administration had banned most visitors from hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic. On June 16, Cuomo announced that visitation would once again be allowed at all hospitals, subject to the hospital’s discretion.]

Another issue that we’re continuing to work on, and something that’s been extremely disturbing to me that I’ve seen firsthand, is the rise of anti-Semitism right here in this community, but we see it proliferating around the country. And that’s where we have to get really proactive with requiring age-appropriate curriculum to teach about symbols of hate, so that we’re proactive in pushing back against anti-Semitism, and the first place that our children see a swastika is not on some hate website, or some graffiti that’s scrawled on a park bench or in a bathroom stall. We really have to get proactive in educating our children appropriately about what the symbols of hate mean, whether it’s a swastika or a noose, to really push back.

Another issue: I worked with the governor on the domestic terrorism bill. Right here in Monsey during Hanukkah, a man barged into Rabbi Rottenberg’s celebration, as I’m sure you’re well aware of. You know the details — horrible. That night I was on the scene. It was late at night that I got the message. It’s not far from where I live, and I went over there just to be there, to be, you know, a calming presence in the community. And people were terrified.

So I worked with the governor — he was on the scene the next day — we pushed the domestic terrorism legislation; I authored that in the Senate. We then got it done in the budget, so it was a budget bill that we have the domestic terrorism law on the books, to take a stand against this type of terror.

The other thing is about hardening some of our targets of terror. We have over 100 yeshivos just in the Monsey area. And we know that that is a soft target for people that want to do harm. And so we put into our budget a fund to allow for those yeshivos, and also other community centers that may be the target of a crime, to be able to get funding to harden the schools.

I want to ask you about an issue that’s of particular concern to Orthodox Jews, all of whom send their children to yeshivah. There is a movement to have the state government regulate the yeshivah curriculum. I understand that there was a press conference about a year ago with the leader of this movement. You were initially to attend that press conference. Orthodox activists asked you not to, and you ended up sending your communications director who gave a statement very much in sympathy with the leader of this movement. So I’d like to ask you if you can comment on that, please.

There was some miscommunication and whatnot on my part with that.

This was dealing I believe with the substantial-equivalency issue. And on its face, it seemed to make sense to me that yeah, sure we have the substantial-equivalency [requirement], that would make sense, we want to make sure all our children are getting the appropriate education. But then when I looked at it further and really had conversations with leaders in the yeshivah system that are educating our young people, and learning about where the real problems lie with that, it’s something that I had no longer supported and moved away from. So as I learned about that and how it was seen as what I came to learn as an attack on the yeshivah education — and all religious education, because even the Catholic schools really started to push back against it – that was my mistake in not knowing the ins and outs of how that policy was seen and how it would be implemented in the private-school community. As I learned more about that, it’s something that I moved away from. And because, look, you know, I want to make sure that every child in the state, whether it’s public or private, is getting the best education possible. And when I first heard about the substantial equivalency, initially it made sense. But as I learned more about it and how restrictive it would be, and how it would kind of put a major disruption to the private-school community, I learned that that was not the right course of action and not the right path to take.

So as we sit here today on June 15, 2020, do you believe that the proposed guidelines by the Board of Regents dictating the curriculum and hours of study of secular studies in private schools is appropriate or not?

No, I don’t think it is, after learning the ins and outs.

Like in just a snapshot, yeah, we want to make sure that everyone has a standard education. But as those regulations dictate, it goes above and beyond, and would be disruptive to that private-school education. So that is not something that I support.

Another issue of importance to parents — and you mentioned this earlier in discussing your run for Congress — is tuition relief. That seems to be something more for a state legislator. How would it be possible as a member of Congress to get tuition relief?

I think it speaks to the whole issue as we talk about student debt — we have to take into consideration all student debt, and I think it relates directly to the IRS tax code. Yes, the state can do a multitude of things. However, ultimately, I think the IRS tax code has to be responsive to middle-class families, and particularly large families, and I have come to understand the real struggles that families have.

I have two children, and I know how difficult that can be. And I’m always in awe when I talk to my friends that have eight children, 10 children, maybe even more. I’m in complete awe and admiration of how they not only take care of their children and allow them to thrive, but have successful careers and community involvement as well. It’s remarkable. But, you know, there are a lot of people that are have real struggles, and particularly in this time with COVID and so many people losing their jobs — it’s something that my office has worked with so many people on, helping them get unemployment insurance and dealing with that mess, but I think this is where we need to change the paradigm in this country. We need to change the thought that we give relief to the biggest companies, the wealthiest individuals, being able to write off expenses and whatnot — what about our middle-class families? Let’s make sure that they’re getting the relief that they need, and that relies directly [on] the IRS tax code, and making sure that they can write off many of these expenses. It makes a lot of sense.

So as a member of Congress, you would push for a bill that tuition costs for all education, including private-school education, should be tax deductible?

Yes.

What would be the most important issues for you as a Member of Congress?

Number one it is the affordability issue. We have to repeal the SALT (State And Local Tax) deduction cap that President Trump pushed. That’s just disastrous to families in my district. Property taxes in Rockland and Westchester County are the highest in the nation. And now, not being able to write off the full amount of your property tax and your state income tax means that we’re paying taxes twice. That’s a recipe for disaster, and it has to change.

But isn’t that the fault of the New York state and local governments who made such high taxes in the first place? Maybe the fight should not be in Washington to restore the SALT deduction, but in Albany and local governments to lower taxes in the first place?

You have a point, and I think, yes, we all have to be responsive in this fight for affordability. So yes, we need to find ways to be efficient. You’re exactly right.

However, on top of that, a blunt instrument that is hurting our local residents right now is that SALT deduction cap. So I get it, I hear what you’re saying, and I believe, yes we need to be looking at efficiencies, but at the same time let’s not penalize local property-tax payers, because of high budgets, whether it’s at the state level or the local level. And I just don’t see that drastically changing anytime soon.

But I also think there has to be a commitment from the federal government in terms of our children’s education. And as you know, there are certain programs that are mandated that go to nonpublic schools. One of them that’s extremely important is to cover children with special needs. And we have a federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which was passed over 40 years ago, but has never been funded to the level that it was supposed to be. And that means that property-tax payers, whether you send your kids to public or private school, are picking up the burden in terms of funding those expenses that need to be funded. And we need to make sure that every child has access to the technology, to the teachers that will make a difference in their life.

And so what I’m saying is, I think one of my priorities is going to be to make sure that we increase funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and for Title 1 funding, which is education funding that goes to help districts where you have high needs – children in poverty.

And that’s one of the major conflicts and problems that we’ve had locally, and unfortunately what’s happened is it’s like you pit the schoolchildren against property-tax payers. That’s a recipe for disaster and it has to change – it can’t be property-tax payers solely responsible for children’s education. And that’s why I believe the federal government has to pick up their end of the deal, in terms of funding these programs and funding our education system to give some relief to property-tax payers, and make sure that every child has a quality education, and a quality future.

I’d like to ask you about the direction of your party. There’s a small but growing wing known as the democratic socialists. What do you think of that wing’s ascendancy, and what does it mean for the Democratic Party?

They don’t speak for all Democrats. And unfortunately, the media has granted them this microphone to be, you know, the leaders of the Democratic Party. That’s not true. I believe that they’ve kind of taken that over and it’s put us in the wrong direction. I’ve been criticized by those leaders in the Democratic Party for doing things like actually working with Republicans to get things done — nothing against what Democrats stand for, what I stand for; I’m a Democrat through and through, and I believe that we have the best ideas, but that doesn’t mean we have a monopoly on good ideas, and we should, and we need to as elected leaders, be willing to work with and talk with and negotiate with people that have different ideologies and different backgrounds, different beliefs and represent different parts of the country.

In the state Senate, I have been criticized because I worked in the Independent Democratic Conference — we weren’t conferencing with Democrats, we weren’t conferencing with Republicans, we were independent, so that we could find the votes we needed to deliver results. And people want to criticize me for that, when [in fact] it was the way we needed to move forward to break gridlock, to get things done, to get Democrats and Republicans to vote on bills to move forward.

And I don’t think that that jeopardized my principles at all. It showed that I was willing to work to get things done. I was able to work under Republican leadership. And like I said, I’ve been able to work under Democratic leadership in passing more legislation than any other lawmaker in the state in the last legislative session.

So, yes, I think that that is a problem when it’s a few people that are just very loud that the media pays attention to.

One of my biggest concerns is their stance on Israel, how they’re unwilling to support Israel and want to meddle in their local politics. And I think that’s a real problem for the future.

As for myself, I believe we have to give aid to Israel without conditions. We have to support [Israel]. I don’t agree with President Trump on the majority of things; I’m upfront about that. However, on Israel, moving the embassy to Jerusalem is something I support; the Iran deal, I believe that we should be negotiating, but we have to have parameters — the goals should be we have to have military inspections, we have to make sure that Iran does not have access to the ability to make nuclear weapons or other types of weapons of mass destruction. We have to have those parameters in place, as we continue to negotiate. And my fear is that we have candidates in this race that do not support that, and start to erode the deep bond that we have with one of our greatest allies in Israel. And that’s a concern for me.

Any final comments?

I think when you compare me to the other candidates in this race, I’m the candidate that will be able to deliver for the residents of Rockland and Westchester counties; I have the proven results of working with members of the community to deliver results. And that’s what I’m going to do in Washington.