The former hip-hop career of the Democratic candidate in New York’s 19th congressional district is being targeted by Republicans. An attack ad focuses on Antonio Delgado’s lyrics, and The New York Times published an editorial accusing Congressman John Faso of race-baiting.
Democrat Antonino Delgado, fresh off his seven-way primary win at the end of June to face freshman incumbent Republican John Faso, was the subject of an ad released July 13 from the Congressional Leadership Fund, a SuperPAC endorsed by House Republican leadership. The ad assails Delgado’s short-lived hip-hop career and lyrics from a 2007 album under the name “AD the Voice.”
A July 17 “New York Times” article focused on whether Delgado’s former career as a rapper would matter in the congressional race, one of the most closely contested tossups in the country.
The article quotes Dr. Gerald Benjamin, political scientist and director of The Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz. Benjamin, a WAMC board member who supports Faso, is quoted as saying, in part, “Is a guy who makes a rap album the kind of guy who lives here in rural New York and reflects our lifestyle and values?” adding, “People like us, people in rural New York, we are not people who respond to this part of American culture.”
The SUNY New Paltz president and chief diversity officer issued a same-day response, saying the quotes raise the specter of racism and marginalize members of the community. The following morning, Benjamin issued an apology, saying he had no racist intent and regrets his remarks, especially his casual use of the phrase “people like us.” SUNY New Paltz declined further comment and Benjamin referred WAMC to his written response.
Dr. Christopher Mann is assistant professor of Political Science at Skidmore College.
“At some level, this line of attack is more about rural versus urban or who’s more representative of the district, who’s more typical of the district. But it definitely has some serious race overtones to it and has been interpreted that way,” Mann says. “And I think we’re going to hear a lot more about race in this contest than we might have if it hadn’t been brought so explicitly forward by this kind of attack.”
In the two previous races in the district, Republicans attacked their opponents as carpetbaggers, which was expected in this race, too. Delgado, though brought up in Schenectady in the neighboring 20th district, moved to Rhinebeck with his family in 2017. Mann believes the Republican attack on Delgado’s rap lyrics is a heightened form of the carpetbagging argument. Mann calls it a high risk-high reward strategy that will be polarizing.
“But I think it’s important to think about the fact that this move, this very aggressive attack on Delgado indicates that Faso doesn’t feel at all comfortable in this race. He’s trying to bring Delgado down,” says Mann. “And anytime you go strongly on the attack there’s the risk of it backfiring, and this strategy has probably got more risk of backfire than other kinds of negative attacks.”
In a statement, Faso says, in part,“Mr. Delgado’s words are offensive, troubling and inconsistent with the views of the people of the 19th District and America.” Faso goes on to criticize Delgado’s lyrics more explicitly and says, “It’s his responsibility as a candidate to answer for the controversial views he expressed in his words and whether he continues to hold these views today.”
On July 18, “The New York Times” published an editorial entitled “John Faso is Race-Baiting His Opponent.” Woodstock resident Dave Clegg ran in the Democratic primary against Delgado. He says Faso and the Republicans have now injected race into the campaign.
“Faso is trying to propagate the culture wars which the Republicans rely on to divide the vote and divide our community,” Clegg says.
Clegg is an ordained deacon and chair of the Ulster County Human Rights Commission. He says Delgado, an attorney, was speaking about injustice and what he could do to lift up underrepresented communities, which continues today.
“I did join in the letter,” says Clegg. “There was a letter from our interfaith community in Ulster County to John Faso, written by Rabbi Yael, that 18 of us signed onto, and, stating that he should be ashamed of using this as an issue.”
And while many lyrics are not fit for our airwaves, some lyrics are. In “Draped in Flags,” Delgado raps about the toll of the Iraq war and questions the government’s decision.
Delgado in a statement, says, in part, “It's disappointing that John Faso and others have decided to focus on distractions by spreading fear, hatred, and division.” He adds that he is staying focused on the issues that people in the district care about, such as providing universal healthcare to strengthening public schools to creating good-paying jobs and investing in infrastructure.
Earlier in July, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released the results of a poll showing Delgado with a 7-point lead. Skidmore’s Mann says the insider poll should be taken with a grain of salt, adding the attack ad and surrounding attention raise Delgado’s profile nationally in a race already in the national spotlight.
“The idea that Delgado now stands out from the crowd and the national progressive community will rally around him with money is something that I think shouldn’t be overlooked,” Mann says. “And when we look at campaign finance reports in the future, it’s something to look at as to whether Delgado starts getting more money from outside of the district because this attack raises his profile and sets him apart from the crowd of Democratic challengers around the country.”
The 19th Congressional District stretches across 11 counties.