The race for the 19th Congressional District took a strange turn Friday as incumbent U.S. Rep. John Faso and Democratic challenger Antonio Delgado, of Rhinebeck, ignited a public battle over Delgado’s past as a hip-hop artist.
Delgado, a former attorney for Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which is both a law firm and a lobbying firm in New York City, won the Democratic primary June 26 with 7,690 votes.
Delgado grew up in Schenectady, but eventual moved to Los Angeles where he started his own independent music company and in 2007 dropped a hip-hop album called “Maxi-Single,” calling himself AD the Voice. Delgado moved back to New York City and then to Rhinebeck where he lives with his wife and two children.
Delgado is a Rhodes Scholar and a graduate of Harvard Law School.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, the conservative political group closely aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., recently began broadcasting an advertisement on local radio stations that features a portion of Delgado’s verses, accompanied with ominous background music and narration that describes the lyrics as a “sonic blast of hateful rhetoric and anti-American views.”
The Congressional Leadership Fund does not donate to individual candidates, but contributed $1.2 million to the American Future Fund Political Action, which runs advertisements supporting conservative causes and candidates.
“It’s disappointing that John Faso and others have decided to focus on distractions by spreading fear, hatred and division,” Delgado said in response to recent attacks from the Faso campaign regarding the lyrics in his songs. “I am staying focused on the issues — from providing universal affordable health care to strengthening our public schools to creating good-paying jobs and investing in our infrastructure. That’s what the people of this region care about and, moving forward, that’s what I plan to engage on.”
The New York Times published an editorial Wednesday addressing the advertisements attacking Delgado’s songs as well as interpreting Faso’s statement about the songs — “Mr. Delgado’s words are offensive, troubling and inconsistent with the views of the people of the 19th District and America” — as race-baiting.
In a letter to the editor to the New York Times, Faso argues his questions are not about Delgado’s short career as a rapper, but that he believes Delgado, as a candidate, is obligated to explain what he meant by the songs he authored.
“It’s his responsibility as a candidate to answer for the controversial views he expressed in his words and whether he continues to hold these views today,” Faso said.
The songs Delgado recorded include frequent use of a racial epithet and a few references to sexual acts. Delgado said his words were appropriate considering the context of his art at the time.
He also cited contemporary rap artists such as Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole and Lauryn Hill as inspirations for his political outreach, since much of their music focuses on giving voice to those who are typically unheard. Lamar recently won a Pulitzer Prize in music, the first hip-hop artist to be so honored.
“As for the music, the values and issues that drove me to do the music years ago are the same ones motivating me to serve today and at the core of that is the fact that the people have felt shut out of our democracy for far too long,” Delgado said.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released its own ammunition July 11, with a self-commissioned poll that found Delgado leading Faso by 7 points — 49 percent to 42 percent — among likely general election voters in the district.
The 19th Congressional District is considered a toss-up district with a history of putting both Democrats and Republicans in office, and this year especially because the race is considered particularly competitive.
A Quinnipiac University Poll published July 2 found that, if the election for the U.S. House of Representatives were held today, 50 percent of American voters say they would vote for the Democratic candidate, while 41 percent say they would vote for the Republican candidate. Independent voters back the Democratic candidate 49 percent to 35 percent.
Demographics show even greater divides with men, saying they will vote Republican 50 to 42 percent while women say they will vote for the Democratic candidates 58 to 33 percent. White voters are divided 46 to 46 percent, while black voters overwhelmingly back Democratic candidates 80 to 13 percent and Hispanic voters back Democrats 60 to 35 percent.
The New York Times News Service contributed to this story.