She is the fifth Democrat to launch a bid to represent the safely Democratic 17th District, located in the affluent northern suburbs of New York City.
But Farkas said her experience helps her stand out. “There isn’t another candidate who has my experience and qualifications,” she said in an exclusive interview Sunday.
Farkas served as a deputy assistant secretary of defense in charge of policy toward Russia, Ukraine and neighboring countries under President Barack Obama. She was an early critic of Trump’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Although she left the Obama administration in 2015, Farkas urged congressional staff and former administration colleagues in late 2016 to preserve intelligence about Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election.
“I was urging my former colleagues and, frankly speaking, the people on the Hill — it was more actually aimed at telling the Hill people — ‘get as much information as you can, get as much intelligence as you can before President Obama leaves the administration,’ ” Farkas said in a 2017 interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “Because I had a fear that somehow that information would disappear with the senior people who left.”
Those comments were quickly picked up and mischaracterized by Fox News host Sean Hannity and others as evidence that the Obama administration had spied on the Trump campaign. Then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Farkas had revealed “troubling” politicization of classified information.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Farkas said the episode emboldened her to continue calling attention to what she described as Trump’s ongoing pattern of deference to Russia. And she said it was partly the president’s actions toward Ukraine that galvanized her to run for office.
“I looked at myself and just thought, ‘How can I contribute now, standing up against Trump’s corruption and for the rule of law?’ ” she said.
Farkas’s campaign biography focuses on her childhood as the daughter of Hungarian immigrants who fled communism. “My mother left her parents and two of her five siblings with nothing but a sandwich in her pocket, and my father, an only child, with a photograph of his mother and a lamb shank,” Farkas wrote on her website.
Lowey, 82, announced last month that she will retire from Congress next year, ending a groundbreaking three-decade career. She was the first woman to chair the powerful House Appropriations Committee and has been a main obstacle to Trump’s border wall.
At least four Democrats have already entered the race, with more expected ahead of the June primary.
Among them are state Sen. David Carlucci, who represents part of the district in Albany and is opposed by liberal activists who accuse him of accommodating Republicans in the state legislature; state Rep. David Buchwald of White Plains and Allison Fine, the former chair of the board of NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation.
Mondaire Jones, a former Justice Department aide under the Obama administration, is also running. He had previously mounted a primary challenge to Lowey from the left.
But Farkas enters with name recognition from her frequent appearances on MSNBC, said local Democratic official David Imamura. “That puts her immediately into the race,” he said.
Imamura, like many local officials, is holding off on any endorsements.
It is not clear whether Republicans will mount a significant effort to challenge the seat, so the Democratic primary is likely to be the tougher fight.