BUSHWICK — Jeff Kurzon spent Tuesday morning standing in front of a handwritten sign reading, “Meet Your Future Congressman,” and asking people walking by the entrance to the Flushing Avenue J/M stop if they were registered Democrats.
Kurzon, a 37-year-old lawyer, is running for Congress in New York’s 7th district. With the primary election coming up in June, he is trying to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot. His selling point is simple: Kurzon is the only federal candidate in the country refusing to take money from political action groups or lobbies.
Kurzon is challenging Nydia Velazquez, who has represented the area for 22 years, and has significantly more funding and political experience than Kurzon. However, he is steadfast in his commitment to campaign finance reform.
"Right now the way our elections are done in New York City is fairly fair, where each candidate can raise money and get matching funds. But at the federal level that doesn’t exist, so politicians finance their campaigns thorugh PACs and lobbyists, and those PACs and lobbyists are working for big banks and big corporations," Kurzon said.
"If the only way to stay in power is to get money from PACs and lobbyists, then the system really needs to change because Congress is not working for the people."
Tuesday was Day 13 of a 30-day push Kurzon has initiated to meet people throughout the district and collect signatures. Each day he spends morning and evening rush hours standing outside different subway entrances.
When his sign fell down Tuesday morning, Kurzon took a roll of tape out of his backpack to reinforce it, only to smile as it fell again several minutes later. Those who gave him their signatures received a sticker and Kurzon’s cellphone number.
New York’s congressional primary vote is scheduled for June 24, but the candidates’ deadline to file is April 10. The names appearing on the ballot will not be confirmed until that day.
Kurzon has no political experience, save for campaigning on behalf of President Barack Obama in 2007. Although he is confident he will have enough signatures to get on the ballot, he knows his lack of experience and inability to match Velazquez’s fundraising mean his chances of winning are slim.
“Statistically they’re 5 percent,” he said. “But if you ask a young married couple what their chances are, you’d say statistically it's 50 percent, but everyone thinks it's higher, so I believe I’m going to win.”
The 7th District is the only one that includes neighborhoods in three boroughs. It runs across North Brooklyn, encompassing Bushwick, Williamsburg and Cypress Hills, and along the Brooklyn waterfront, covering Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Gowanus, and Sunset Park. It also includes Little Italy, NoLita, the Lower East Side and Chinatown in Manhattan, and Ridgewood in Queens.
Kurzon lived in Little Italy for several years, and has resided in Bushwick since 2012.
“It’s where I consider home,” he said of the district, adding that he also believes it is one of the areas in need of the most help. According to Kurzon, nearly 30 percent of the district lives at or below the poverty line, and the unemployment rate is a few points higher than the national average.
“The median income is about $40,000, which is 20 percent lower than the national average,” he said.
After spending Tuesday on Flushing Avenue, Kurzon will move on to the Broadway G stop on Wednesday, spend Thursday at the Marcy J, and then move into Manhattan Friday, starting with the Delancey-Essex stop. When he talks to potential voters, he focuses on his convictions about campaign finance, rather than his biography.
“I don’t know that I’m more or less interesting than anyone else in the district,” he said. “Maybe I’m a little more crazy than everyone to be a candidate.”