Sen. Kamala Harris made one of her first endorsements today since leaving the presidential race in December. She endorsed Jackie Gordon, a combat veteran and longtime town councilmember who is running to represent New York's swiftly changing 2nd Congressional District on Long Island, Refinery29 exclusively reports.
"We need Jackie’s voice in Congress," Harris told Refinery29. "As a combat veteran, immigrant, educator, and public servant, Jackie understands the complexities of the issues facing working and middle class families today. Just as she has already served her country and her community, I know that Jackie will be a powerful advocate for Long Island in Congress, and I am proud to endorse her."
Gordon is running to replace outspoken Trump supporter and anti-immigrant Congressman Peter King, who is currently serving his 14th term and who announced in November that he is planning to retire rather than face her in the election.
"The fact that King is retiring rather than try to win that seat for one more term tells you everything you need to know about the changing demographics of the district," Democratic political consultant Rebecca Katz told the Associated Press.
Gordon was born in Jamaica and grew up in New York City, served in the Armed Forces for 29 years, and is a retired high school guidance counselor. Other national politicians who have endorsed her include Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York. Nine Democrats who took Republican seats in swing districts in 2018, all of whom have military and intelligence backgrounds — including Rep. Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, and Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia — endorsed her as well. She also has the backing of national groups including EMILY's List, the Higher Heights PAC, the Congressional Black Caucus PAC, and VoteVets.
Ahead, we spoke with Gordon about Harris' endorsement, campaigning during coronavirus, and more.
What was your motivation behind running for Congress?
"After my deployment to Iraq, I came home and got involved in local politics. In 2007, I became the first African-American to sit on the Town Council in Babylon, and I've been on the council for 13 years. I decided to run for Congress for the same reason I joined the Army. I joined the Army because of this commercial that said, 'We do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day.' That was it for me. That's what drives me — going the extra mile, making sure things get done, and serving others. I didn't feel like that's what was happening in government, so I jumped in the race."
"Oh my gosh. Personally, her endorsement means a lot to me because I've had three lives — as an educator, as a military member, and as someone who works in government. And in all those, I've often been the only female, and the only Black female. It's hard to aspire to something when you really don't have any examples. For her to endorse me, it's like a dream come true."
How is campaigning different during the coronavirus pandemic?
"This pandemic happened right when we were going to start going out in the community and meeting with people. And so, we had to shift to a virtual platform. In the military, we say 'adapt and overcome.' So I sat with my team and said that to them. We were able to seamlessly transition from a physical space to virtual platforms. We're connecting with groups and having fundraisers virtually. We're doing 'wellness checks.' We've partnered with churches to provide meals and PPE."
What are the primary issues you're focusing on?
"My top issue is healthcare; now more than ever we need to make sure that every American has the right to affordable and accessible healthcare. Here on Long Island we have the greatest concentration of veterans, and it's important to take care of them. It's important that teachers and students get the resources they need as well."
After you launched your campaign and started gaining support, Peter King announced he was going to retire rather than face you. What does his decision say about how the district is changing?
"I think it's a clear indicator of the changing demographics. Congressman King has been in office for almost 28 years, and this would probably have been his first contentious race. But his base may be beginning not to be as strong, and so he made a choice, and that was to retire rather than face a real challenge."
What do you think the chances are of turning your district blue?
"There's a strong local base of grassroots support. People are excited! When I go through the community and talk to folks, they're excited that not only have I been on the Babylon Town Council for 13 years, but I'm going to represent them in Congress. I had a virtual meet-and-greet last week, and people were so excited they were meeting me; they said they had never met with King the entire time he was in office. As a councilwoman I'm always in the district, I'm always available and constituents have my phone number. You can't find out what the pulse of your district is if you don't meet with people. So I'm seeing young people, older people excited, different minority communities. The energy is really heightened."