ITHACA, N.Y. — Nate Shinagawa of Ithaca won the Democratic primary for New York’s 23rd Congressional District on Tuesday and is now preparing for the general election.
With all 596 precincts reporting, Shinagawa had 5,697 votes (55 percent), followed by Ithaca attorney Leslie Danks Burke with 3,841 (37 percent) and Owego attorney Melissa Dobson with 727 (7 percent). Shinagawa did even better in Tompkins County (60 percent) and Chautauqua County (65 percent).
Shinagawa, 28, a Tompkins County legislator, will face the Republican incumbent, Rep. Tom Reed of Corning, in November. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee says this is one of the seats that the party must win to regain control of the House of Representatives.
If elected, Shinagawa will be the youngest member of the House and the first Asian American elected to Congress from a northeastern state. All of the Japanese Americans currently in Congress are from California or Hawaii.
A native of Sonoma County in Northern California, Shinagawa graduated from Cornell University and has lived in the area with his family for more than a decade. He has served in the Tompkins County Legislature for six years and has served as an administrator for a nonprofit hospital system for three years.
The newly redrawn 23rd Congressional district now includes all of Tompkins County and stretches south and west to cover the counties that make up New York’s Southern Tier, including Seneca, Yates, Schuyler, Chemung, most of Tioga, as well as Steuben, Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties and the eastern half of Ontario.
In his victory speech, Shinagawa said: “We started this campaign right here in Ithaca with a handful of grassroots supporters, an office we rented for $200 a month, and an idea that we could bring a new attitude of progress and cooperation back to Congress. Three months, 11 counties, and five forums, six red ties later, here we are!
“There were plenty of people who thought this day would never come. Conventional wisdom told them that I was too young. That I was too strong a Democrat. That my last name sounded a little too funny. Too different. That my background in healthcare didn’t matter, and that it wasn’t popular to talk about health insurance for every American.
“Well, folks, the cynics were wrong. They didn’t count on the appeal of our message, the strength of our organization and the passion of our volunteers. They didn’t count on people finding excitement and optimism again in a local election. The Democrats of the Southern Tier and the Fingerlakes have spoken …
“We won today because we took our campaign to every county in this district. We built relationships and found friends in every corner from Chautauqua to Tioga, Tompkins to Ontario. We spoke from the heart about the issues. We listened. We learned. We offered solutions and we accepted new ideas from residents of this district. We spent time in backyards, front porches and in living rooms …
“We did this together. Tonight’s victory is possible because of you … Our volunteers made a crucial difference in this campaign. With ages from 16 to 95, they made thousands of phone calls to voters across this district …
“Just two days ago, I met a young teacher in Jamestown who told me that he’s on the list for a potential layoff due to another year of budget cuts. He told me how at graduation, he watched his students come up to the stage and one after another, they thanked him and other teachers for changing their lives. He feared that he wouldn’t be able to hear those speeches again. He’s working hard on this campaign because he wants to see us invest, once again, in quality education to uplift working and middle class families.
“While going door-to-door in Chautauqua County, I met a 70-year-old woman named Constance. She told me that she can barely survive on her Social Security checks after her husband passed away. She said she always saw herself as a middle-class person, but now she feels like she’s living in poverty after working her entire life. She cried as I sat in her living room. She then said she’d give me her support as long as I promised to protect Medicare and Social Security.
“Stories like this remind me that this campaign isn’t about talking points and grand speeches. It’s about people right here in this district. Folks who work hard, play by the rules, and do everything they can to make it in this economy.
“My Republican opponent … and the Tea Party leadership in Congress think that the job creators in this country are billionaires and large, multinational corporations. They give them more tax cuts and more subsidies while the rest of the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes struggles.
“I believe that the job creators in this country are everyday Americans. They are our teachers, nurses, firefighters, construction workers who work hard every day … our small businesses and our entrepreneurs … our farmers, our students and our senior citizens.
“This campaign is about getting Congress to prioritize, once again, making the American dream reality for people.”
Shinagawa thanked his Democratic opponents for running “inspiring campaigns” and told his supporters that “we have a lot of work to do” to win the general election.
The nominee’s father, Larry Shinagawa, a professor of Asian American studies at University of Maryland, commented, “His victory is our shared victory. Together, we will win in November and make sure we have an America where we can end the gridlock, make progress, and make this great country go forward for all Americans.”