HURLEY — A lawyer of a different stripe is challenging for the 19th Congressional District seat in November.
Actress Diane Neal, who played Assistant District Attorney Casey Novak in the popular television series “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” plans to run against U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-19, this year.
Neal said Friday she is running without a party affiliation to change the environment in politics by providing an option outside the two-party system.
The enthusiastic Neal officially filed her candidacy as an independent, much to the dismay of the Democratic Party, which sees the 19th District as a high priority in this year’s election. Neal, who has to gather petitions to get on the ballot in November, said she chose to run unaffiliated.
“The environment in Washington is toxic. We need to change the underlying environment in politics to change Washington,” Neal said. “Most people stand in the middle, some a little more to the right and others a little more to the left. It just has to end. We can’t move forward with this back-and-forth.”
Neal is a political outsider who talks about the American Dream and progression, saying she espouses the values of the characters she played on television, according to her campaign website.
“If you think about District 19, no one wants to participate,” Neal said.
New York saw a 57.3 percent eligible voter turnout rate for the 2016 elections, ranking 38th in turnout among all other states. New York tied with Nevada and South Carolina, and rates for some states were unavailable, according to data collected by the U.S. Election Project.
“We want opportunities,” Neal said. “We have different ideas of how to get those opportunities, but if we stop yelling at each other, we can possibly get there.”
If the Democrats have difficulty winning the seats in the House of Representatives because of her race for the 19th District then the party has bigger problems than her, Neal said.
But the 19th District is already a pivotal, high-profile target in this year’s elections, especially because of its schizophrenic political leaning. Both the Democratic and Republican congressional campaign committees acknowledge that the 19th is a toss-up district that has sent people from both parties to seek election.
The stakes are also high for both parties with Republicans recognizing that Democrats need only two districts in New York to take back the majority in the House, while Democrats are desperate to grab power in a federal government controlled by Republicans.
Democrats have a saturated pool of candidates to choose from including Brian Flynn, of Hunter; Gareth Rhodes, of Kerhonkson; Patrick Ryan, of Gardiner; Jeff Beals, of Woodstock; David Clegg, of Woodstock; and Antonio Delgado, of Rhinebeck.
Other target districts in New York include District 22, held by freshman Congresswoman Claudia Tenney - a former state Assemblywoman - and District 24, which has been represented by Congressman John Katko since 2015.
“We are concentrated on getting the nomination and beating Faso,” Flynn said. “We think we are going to win people over. It doesn’t matter if there are three, six or seven candidates, it is not going to affect our strategy.”
Neal said she has been considering public office for more than a year,, calling it a unique opportunity to make a difference in her community.
“I thought instead of sitting around talking about politics I should put my money where my mouth is,” Neal said.
Neal, who was surprised at how quickly news spread after giving one interview, has no campaign events planned at this time.
“I am excited to have more opportunities to discuss issues,” Neal said. “We were thinking about going to all the public libraries in the district because they are great public spaces where people can meet and have interesting conversations on the issues. I will answer any question in any town.”