Attorney Jeffrey Kurzon, 36, announced his candidacy for New York's 7th Congressional district early Thursday morning, setting himself up as an early challenger to incumbent Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez in the Democratic primary of 2014. Valazquez represents parts of the Lower East Side and the East Village.
Velazquez faced a contentious battle against Councilman and fellow Democrat Erik Dilan during her 2012 race, then cruised to victory in the general election. Unlike Dilan in 2012, Kurzon poses a challenge from outside the New York City Democratic Party machine. Kurzon holds no public office, and first became a player in the New York political world as a fundraiser and big bundler for then?Senator Barack Obama in 2008. At that time, he raised over $150,000 for the candidate throughout the primary and general election season by tapping into a network of young urban professionals living within the five boroughs.
"I'm a little frightened to stick my neck out," said Kurzon, in reference to his candidacy. "But I'm encouraged by the support of my friends, and I'm motivated by my anger."
Candor at the expense of tact seems typical for Kurzon, who speaks as if he's got no one to impress, even as he embarks on a journey to unseat Velazquez, who will be a 22-year incumbent by the time the election rolls around, and is the first Puerto Rican Congresswoman in U.S. history. When asked why he's running, Kurzon glibly replied, "It'd be a good job. Good pay, good benefits. $180,000, that'd be a raise for me. And I could use the benefits."
Despite saying out loud what would undoubtedly be the inner monologue of yet-another-cynical-empty-suit, Kurzon has made his career out of blind, idealistic bravery standing up to the powers that be. In 2011, he represented social activist Jonathan Tasini and 9,000 other bloggers in a civil suit against AOL. After AOL purchased the Huffington Post for $315 million, the bloggers got no more than "a thank you email from Arianna Huffington." Kurzon fought, unsuccessfully, to bring some of that money to the writers of the website's content.
"Asking people to volunteer for a for-profit company is offensive," said Kurzon, adding that "all work is valuable."
Kurzon LLP (his firm) also sued the Thomas M. Cooley Law School and the New York Law School, (two separates suits, filed on the same day), for providing what he claims is misleading information to prospective students regarding their job placement rates.
"They say that there's 80 to 90 percent job placement within nine months of graduating their schools, but what they don't say is a lot of those students are working at their admissions offices, at Starbucks, or at JCPenney," he said.
According to Kurzon, the answer is better regulation from the ABA (American Bar Association) and a warning label on bank loans for law school.
"They put a warning label on cigarettes. Why not on loans?"
In general, Kurzon speaks most passionately when discussing the exploitation of labor and the unchecked growth of the financial sector, which is also one of his main gripes with Velazquez. "She's getting contributions at $10,000 a pop from big banks. She's been compromised by corporate PAC [political action committee] money."
Kurzon, meanwhile, refuses to accept PAC money for his campaign, and hopes to raise at least $500,000 by tapping that same grassroots, small donor movement he called on in 2008 for Obama. (By comparison, Velazquez spent $1.2 million last election cycle and currently has over $200,000 cash-on-hand, according to OpenSecrets.org).
"The party won't like my candidacy," Kurzon admitted. "But leadership is more valuable than seniority."
He likens his candidacy to the anti-establishment ethos of recent grassroots protests.
"Occupy Wall Street was a warning. Bloomberg swept them out of the park, but they had good ideas," he said. "Our country is one community. We have to look out for each other."