By Patrick Donachie

Jonathan Clarke, one of five candidates in the Democratic primary to succeed U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Melville) in the district covering northeast Queens, said his background was decidedly unconventional in comparison to other candidates.

“I’ve always been interested in politics,” he said during an interview at the TimesLedger office, “but from the outside.”

After leaving high school to care for his father, a disabled veteran, he completed college by attending classes at night and became a market analyst. In 2008, he enrolled in law school, pursuing a lifelong passion for ethics, and he is currently an attorney.

In 2013, he made an unsuccessful bid for county legislator in Leavittown, L.I., He said that the “pay-to-play” politics he witnessed during the race inspired him to run for Congress.

“To me, the biggest issue is the link between money and politics, as long as that link is so strong. It’s not so much ethics as it is a corrupting force on politics,” he said. “Nobody in this race is really talking about that.”

Clarke said the next president could have the opportunity to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn the court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case, which allowed unlimited contributions to political campaigns. He also supports a constitutional amendment limiting money in politics. He views campaign finance reform as a bipartisan issue and said that when it comes to the economy and other issues, he is a progressive but not a partisan.

“I see issues like the economy not as Democrat or Republican or left vs. right. To me, they’re numbers. Two plus two equals four. It’s not a Democratic four or a Republican four,” he said. “I don’t have a partisan approach to economic issues.”

Clarke is also the lead attorney in a federal lawsuit filed about the presidential primaries held in the state April 19. He is representing voters who allege they were unfairly disenfranchised and not allowed to participate in the process. Clarke said the suit would likely take years to complete.

Clarke also pointed to contrasts between the other candidates and himself on the recent nuclear deal struck with Iran, which he strongly backs. He said he believed it stemmed from a misunderstanding of the country.

“To me, Iran has a potential to be a moderating force,” Clarke said. He noted that the Middle Eastern country had significant problems, but its young demographics pointed to the possibility for change. He said the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia was cause for concern, as he believed that country was the home of an oppressive regime that funded terrorism.

“Forwarding the nuclear deal is something that will benefit Israel and the world in general in terms of combatting extremism,” he said. He also pointed out that he was a Bernie Sanders supporter, in contrast to other candidates on the ballot for the primary.

Clarke cited airplane noise and the lack of robust transportation as issues he had regularly encountered from voters in the Queens area of the 3rd CD, which includes parts of Bay Terrace, Little Neck, Glen Oaks, Floral Park and Whitestone, in addition to wide swaths of Nassau and Suffolk counties in Long Island.

He also spoke about the importance of getting more progressives into places of power on the committees in the Democratic Party, in order to have influence over decisions regarding party platforms and whether primaries should be open or closed to voters not enrolled as Democrats.

The primary will be held June 28.

Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdonachie@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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