HUDSON — Could the Democrats take back the 19th Congressional District in 2018? Jeff Beals, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer and decorated U.S. diplomat thinks so, and he is hoping to be the candidate to do it.
The 41-year-old from Woodstock is one of six potential Democratic candidates in the race for the congressional seat, which is currently held by Republican John Faso, of Kinderhook.
Beals held a meet-and-greet event at the TK Home and Garden, at 441 Warren St., Hudson, on Monday. It was one of many planned events he hopes to hold within the district, which includes parts of 11 counties and 7,900 square-miles.
“Here is what I am seeing across this district,” Beals told the crowd of about 20 people. “I am seeing different characters, but the same story in different contexts.”
Beals’ four grandparents, who are all Holocaust survivors, came to the U.S. as refugees looking for a new beginning. Beals’ father and uncle started a farm together in Putnam County, which is where Beals worked until he was an adult.
A child of the Clinton era, Beals grew up believing the best way to serve his country was through foreign service because the economy at home was thriving, he said.
Beals began his career as an intelligence officer with the CIA. He was commissioned as a foreign service officer for the U.S. State Department and was sent to the Gaza Strip and West Bank, where he worked alongside close friend Christopher Stevens who later died in the attack of the U.S. embassy in Benghazi in 2012.
A year after the Iraq War began, Beals, who speaks fluent Arabic, was called to serve to help establish a government and constitution for the country as a U.S. diplomat.
“I found the insurgents that we were fighting and brought together them, our generals and our ambassadors,” he told Monday night’s crowd.
Beals was decorated by the U.S. Army and State Department for his work. The congressional hopeful is working as a high school history teacher at Woodstock Day School, where his wife, Suhayr, also teaches.
“I came home to raise my family, but I also came home then — and I believe even more strongly now — that the place we have to fight for democracy is here at home and not overseas,” he said.
Beals decided to run for Congress after teaching a civics lesson to his students.
“I grew up believing in this country and I had a lot of despairing moments in my life where I saw my ideals shattered and I finally now see my own sons’ futures and my own students’ futures in question,” he said. “My students are pessimistic about the future they are going to have, the jobs they are going to have, the debt they are going to accrue.”
Among items on his agenda, Beals said he wants to raise social security benefits, lower the cost of prescription drugs and bring Medicare to all.
“People in our district are all suffering from a lack of health care, medical debts, from a system that doesn’t serve them,” Beals said. “Many people who are covered still might as well not be because they can’t afford their deductibles, or they can’t afford their prescription drugs, so they more than likely will not go to get themselves checked out because they are afraid to face the bill.”
Beals also wants to level the playing field for blue-collar workers, he said.
“If you work a job, you should be able to afford a place to live, health insurance, money for retirement, your mortgage, your car and still have money for you leftover, and if you don’t, the economy is rigged against you,” Beals said.
In some ways, the 19th District is a microcosm of the entire country, Beals said.
In 2012, the district voted for President Barack Obama and in 2016, it voted for President Donald Trump. It is an area made up of cities including Hudson and Kingston, colleges and rural communities.
“While many districts are gerrymandered solidly red or solidly blue, the Congressional 19th is one of the true swing districts in the country,” he said. “The eyes of the country are on us right now to see if we can make a difference.”
One of the greatest hurdles facing Beals’ campaign is trying to convince people on the other side of the aisle to listen to his platform in a country that has become “tribal” in its political affiliations.
“I think something the Democrats sometimes forget is that you hear a stump speech from someone like me and you think, ‘I agree 100 percent, but how am I going to get someone else to agree 100 percent?’” he said. “You don’t have to. They can agree with a few points, but let them be the key points.”
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