Jim Russell, a 50-year-old computer consultant from Hawthorne, has filed petitions for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey in November, saying he would use the seat in Congress to right the wrongs he said he has suffered from affirmative action, job outsourcing and housing laws that allow “the group home industry” to open homes in communities with little review.
Russell said he collected 1,701 signatures on petitions he turned in this month, enough to force party designee Richard Hoffman to defend his nomination in a primary in September. Republicans in Westchester and Rockland nominated Hoffman at a convention last month.
Russell said he lost his $60,000-a-year job as a computer programmer and network administrator for AT&T after 21 years when the company outsourced his work overseas. While at the company, he said he saw supervisors unfairly promote minority workers to obtain the bonuses they received as a result. He said he also participated in a successful effort to keep a group home for children from opening a half mile from his home, but said the effort was hampered by state and federal housing laws that limit neighborhood challenges to group homes.
“I worked on an artificial intelligence project and at one point was asked to explain it to a black female employee,” Russell said about the experiences at AT&T that helped bring him to the contest to represent the 18th Congressional District. “She then made a presentation to upper management and soon thereafter received a promotion and very graciously didn’t thank me for using me to explain how the project worked. Later I confronted upper management at a meeting, asking, ‘Do you receive incentives for promoting minorities?’ They said, ‘Yes, upper management receives salary incentives or bonuses for affirmative-action promotions.’ I don’t think that was fair.”
Tracey Belko, a spokeswoman for AT&T, would not discuss the details of Russell’s complaint. She said only, “AT&T is an equal opportunity employer. The company hires and promotes on the basis of merit.”
Russell said he will need up to $30,000 for his primary challenge, and said the effort has been “self-financed.” Hoffman raised $31,865 by June 30, including $17,700 in loans or contributions he made to his campaign. Lowey, a Harrison resident who is completing her eighth term in the House, has raised about $1.6 million and spent about $1 million.
Hoffman, a 33-year-old Yonkers resident who left a $70,000-a-year job as a portfolio manager at Credit Suisse to make the run for Congress, said he and Russell “agree on a lot,” but said Russell’s campaign is “not serious.”
“We plan to challenge Nita Lowey on her record and win,” Hoffman said. “I’m not sure Russell has the team or the infrastructure in place to do that.” He said he has 100 volunteers and a staff and will open a campaign headquarters in Eastchester soon.
Russell said he has the resources to win.
“I have 15 to 20 volunteers, very dedicated people who helped me get the petitions signed,” Russell said. “It’s not really a measure of seriousness to say you’re opening up a headquarters or that you’re going to pay people. My seriousness is based on my experience and my commitment to the community.”
The 18th Congressional District includes most of Westchester from the Bronx border north to Ossining, and parts of the towns of Haverstraw and Clarkstown in Rockland County.