On her campaign website, Nomiki Konst, a high-profile podcaster vying to represent a State Senate district that stretches from Astoria to Williamsburg, says her “ties to the community run deep.”
The host of a self-titled podcast and former Bernie Sanders surrogate with a six-figure Twitter following, Konst announced her run in June on The Majority Report, a national talk show that uses the hashtag “#LeftIsBest,” just after a special master redrew the lines in New York’s State Senate and Congressional districts.
“I was approached by many people in the community, who I’ve organized with and gone through many challenges and fights against big interests like real estate and the MTA and Amazon,” she said.
But in the five weeks since then, Konst’s campaign has struggled to attract contributions from New Yorkers, much less people in her district.
Between June 1 and July 11, state campaign finance records show, 74% of the $47,935 she raised from monetary campaign contributions came from out of state. In that period, Konst raised nearly as much from donors from California as she did from those in New York.
By contrast, Kristen Gonzalez, a candidate who’d already been backed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Democratic Socialists of America before Konst jumped into the race, had raised 75% of her $148,764 haul from New Yorkers as of July 11.
Likewise, this year Elizabeth Crowley, a centrist Democrat and a cousin of Joe Crowley, the former congressman who lost a primary to Ocasio-Cortez in 2018, secured 95% of her $501,365 war chest from New Yorkers and New York institutions, including many wealthy business leaders and unions.
Of the three candidates, Gonzalez had the smallest average donation size at $47, as opposed to Konst’s average of $157 and Crowley’s average of $553.
In a lengthy statement and subsequent phone call, Patrick Jordan, Konst’s campaign manager, argued that his candidate has built up impressive momentum since her launch. Jordan pointed out that a small number of donors had powered Gonzalez’s fundraising and claimed that she “raised more money per month than Gonzalez, and at this rate is running a far more competitive campaign.”
Campaign finance records, however, show that between June 1st and July 11th when Konst raised $47,935, Gonzalez brought in $61,117 and Crowley amassed $194,512 Crowley.
Konst’s campaign also claimed that in one month it had “a higher percentage of in district money than Gonzalez.”
But campaign finance records show that just 6.2% of Konst’s campaign donation total came from the in-district zip codes it provided to THE CITY, less than half the percentage of the Gonzalez campaign.
Who’s Spoiling Who
Gonzalez supporters fear that Konst could play a potential spoiler role and help Crowley win, while the Konst camp has made much the same charge against Gonzalez.
The two leftwing candidates have similar platforms which could split the progresive vote. Both support “Good Cause,” a bill championed by housing activists to make evictions in market-rate units harder, and the New York Health Act, legislation which would ensure universal healthcare coverage across the state.
And in recent weeks, the two camps’ bickering has attracted unflattering tabloid coverage.
Konst has accused Gonzalez’s supporters of physical threats and harassment.
Last week, an agitated man shouted insults in the middle of a Konst campaign event in Queens– a disturbance which Konst supporters tried to link to Gonzalez’s campaign on Twitter. Gonzalez’s team told the New York Post that the troublemaker was a man from the neighborhood known for having mental health issues, and had no ties to their campaign.
The week before, Gonzalez, a Latina born and raised in Queens, slammed Konst for allegedly twice telling her “welcome to the neighborhood,” a phrase she characterized as a racist “dog-whistle.”
The Konst campaign, for its part, told THE CITY that Gonzalez was “the machine candidate” and charged her with “spreading negative, toxic statements that are false, as well as smear tactics that are hypocritical to the movement she claims to be a part of now.”
In a phone call, Gonzalez, the 26-year-old daughter of a single mother from Elmhurst, argued the donation patterns showed that her campaign was far more rooted in a grassroots social movement than those of Konst and Crowley.
“My opponents who have big political families, who have wealthy friends, who have maybe a national platform, are pulling on those networks… to help buy their way into office,” said Gonzalez, who now lives in Long Island City and reportedly worked at American Express after graduating from Columbia University.
“But what I do have, again, is a larger community behind me,” she added.
Jordan, Konst’s campaign manager, countered that “Many have argued that Kristen is in fact the spoiler, because not only has Nomiki’s name already been on the ballot, but people actually know Nomiki personally and from her profile of work on local and national issues” while Gonzalez only recently moved into the district.
A Clear Lane for Crowley?
As Gonzalez and Konst accuse each other of playing spoiler, Crowley, a former City Council member and union painter, has raised more than both of them combined, while picking up numerous endorsements from labor unions.
Her top donors include several labor funds and high net-worth individuals. Bradley Tusk, a venture capitalist and former campaign manager for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, gave Crowley $7,500. Maurice Regan, a construction magnate, and his wife also coughed up $7,500.
Having two candidates to her left competing for votes could open up a path to victory in the primary for Elizabeth Crowley four years after Ocasio-Cortez shocked the political world by beating her cousin Joe Crowley, noted Hank Sheinkopf, a centrist Democratic political strategist.
“The ultimate irony would be that progressives would, in fact, help a Crowley get elected when the last time they had an opportunity, progressives knocked a Crowley,” he said.
This State Senate bid is Konst’s second attempt to win public office in New York. In 2018, she launched an unsuccessful primary bid to be New York City’s public advocate.
The following year, one of her former aides filed a complaint with the New York City Campaign Finance Board alleging fraud by Konst’s campaign, which had received public matching funds for the race.
Konst subsequently downplayed the former aide’s claims and accused him of being a “sexual predator,” which he denied.
Matthew Sollars, a spokesperson for the New York City Campaign Finance Board, said that the agency does not comment on complaints that are still being reviewed.
“The CFB’s post-election audits protect taxpayer’s investment in fair elections by ensuring that campaigns spend public matching funds on campaigning for office,” he said. “The CFB’s audit work on the 2019 special election continues. We do not comment on specific campaigns until the audit is complete.”