Local New York Democrats ‘Disgusted’ by National Party Meddling in House Race

DCCC chairman Rep. Ben Ray Luján / Getty Images

An upcoming New York House primary is the stage for a fight between local Democratic leaders and the national party over what the former views as the latter's unwanted meddling.

The 24th District of New York is one of numerous "battleground" districts that will help decide whether Republicans retain control of the House or cede it to the Democrats for the first time since the 2008 election.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the political arm of House Democrats, recruited Juanita Perez Williams, a Latina U.S. Navy veteran with solid name recognition from her runner-up run for Syracuse mayor in 2017. In addition to persuading her to run and helping get enough signatures to put her on the primary ballot, the New York Times reports, the DCCC placed her on its "red-to-blue" list of candidates who receive top organizational and fundraising assistance.

However, the New York Times reports four Democratic county committees in the central New York district already wanted Dana Balter to be their nominee in a bid to knock off Republican Rep. John Katko (N.Y.):

The June 26 primary between Ms. Balter and Ms. Perez Williams illustrates the national Democrats’ sense of urgency in devoting attention and resources to races they deem winnable. But in the case of the 24th District, the party’s priorities do not always jibe with the interests of those closer to the scene.

Indeed, the leaders of the local Democratic committees issued a joint statement that accused the D.C.C.C. of failing to take "into account the work happening at the grass roots this year," adding that they stood behind Ms. Balter and against the Washington "meddling that has hampered far too many races thus far."

At a town hall in Auburn, New York, hosted by Balter, one of her supporters said she was "disgusted" by the DCCC's involvement, calling Balter "knowledgeable, committed, passionate and articulate."

Local Democrats are infuriated because they have to fight Williams in a primary now rather than focus on coalescing around Balter. Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in the district in 2016, and there are more registered Democrats (159,000) there than Republicans (148,000), along with a sizable number of independents (116,000).

DCCC chair Ben Ray Luján didn't sound contrite about the situation in a statement to the Times.

"As a veteran and prosecutor, Latina and mom—with deep roots in the Syracuse region—Juanita has spent her life fighting for working people," he said. "Juanita will run a competitive campaign based on creating jobs, investing in infrastructure and providing access to affordable health care."

It marks another example of the national Democratic Party getting controversially involved in a New York race. Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez endorsed New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his primary fight with left-wing actress Cynthia Nixon after saying in March the DNC had learned to stop "trying to put the thumb on the scale in a spirited primary."

Balter said of the DCCC it was "not a great move, but we will make the most of the opportunities it presents."

Utica College Center of Public Affairs and Election Research director Luke Perry said the DCCC's conduct was a "slap in the face" to local party volunteers.

"I understand why the DCCC did what they did," he said. "But if you are going to intervene in a primary, do so early, particularly before the county committees act. Sweeping in at the last minute is a slap in the face to the local Democratic volunteers."

Katko could be difficult to beat in the purple district, even in what Democrats hope is a "wave" year for them. He is ranked one of the most bipartisan members of the House and has distanced himself from the Trump White House, including voting against the Affordable Care Act repeal last year.