He’s a political newcomer, but Mike Scala, a law school graduate and hip-hop artist, believes he has what it takes to win the newly formed 5th Congressional District seat. It consists largely of Rep. Gregory Meeks’ (D-Jamaica) old 6th Congressional District, which the lawmaker has represented since 1998. In addition to Meeks, Scala is facing small business owner Joseph Marthone and former City Councilman Allan Jennings in the Democratic primary.
“I’m just somebody from the community who is frustrated with what’s been happening in Washington,” Scala said in an interview with the Queens Chronicle on Monday. “I feel like the needs of everyday people are going unserved while the focus remains on the wealthiest Americans.”
He recently founded the Solid Ground movement, which demands that government focus on the needs of middle- and lower-class people. Its 10-tenet philosophy, which promotes transparent government, increased access to healthcare and support for unions, has garnered nationwide backing, Scala said.
If he were elected, Scala, 29, would be the youngest sitting member of Congress. Asked if he is worried about taking on such an established incumbent, Scala replied, “He maybe well-known, but he’s not well-liked. He has very unpopular views on many issues.”
For example, he said, Meeks was the only New York City lawmaker to vote for the Budget Control Act of 2011, the debt ceiling bill, which passed 269-161 and, among other things, eliminated subsidized loans for post-graduate education.
Scala grew up in Rosedale and now resides in Queens Village. He graduated from Brooklyn Law School on June 1, and holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the Polytechnic Institute of New York University.
While he was completing his law degree, Scala worked for the legal department of New York State United Teachers, where, he said, he helped defend educators against discrimination.
Although Scala is anxious to tackle many issues, he said job creation and the economy would be his top priorities because they require aggressive action in order to bring about change.
“Workers can be hired to fix roads, build schools, improve our networks, and make us more compliant with the 21st century,” Scala said. “With a stronger infrastructure, companies will have greater incentives to invest and hire domestically.”
Scala is opposed to renewing the Bush-era tax cuts, which he said cost an estimated $2.5 trillion through 2010, and another $42 billion in 2011. Scala believes the top tax bracket should return to 39.6 percent for millionaires and billionaires, while those making under $250,000 should see their taxes lowered or remain the same.
The Queens native is also against cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and unemployment benefits because, he says, they are essential to the middle class and poor and because many economists have said those programs create more jobs than tax spending on the wealthy.
“I’m not trying to build a political career,” Scala said. “By and large I am satisfied with government at the local level — the City Council and the state Assembly — but Congress has dropped the ball.”
Another big issue affecting the district is crime. Scala said he opposes the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy and believes that it should be eliminated. He said since nine out of every 10 New Yorkers detained by police are innocent, it is likely that officers did not have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to stop them.
“It’s unconstitutional altogether,” Scala said. It’s also psychologically damaging because it makes innocent people feel guilty and unwelcome in their own neighborhoods.”
Scala opposes the death penalty, believes in treatment rather than prison for first-time non-violent drug offenders, and believes the most effective way to keep guns off the streets is by providing better education and opportunities for youth.
The Democratic primary will be held on Tuesday, June 26. The 5th Congressional District includes most of Southeastern Queens, including the neighborhoods of Cambria Heights, Edgemere, Far Rockaway, Hollis, Jamaica, Laurelton, Richmond Hill, Queens Village, Rosedale, Saint Albans, Springfield Gardens, South Ozone Park, the Rockaways and John F. Kennedy International Airport as well as parts of Nassau County.