This is Part 2 of a daily series from The Ithaca Voice introducing voters to their potential next U.S. House of Representative member. Josh Riley is the second in the series of eight total. Others will be published each day through the week.
TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Josh Riley, a now-Ithacan running for Congress in NY-22 (formerly NY-24) as a Democrat, is a lifelong Central New York resident whose work in public service and law has taken him across the country.
With family roots in Endicott and decades of work in the factories there, Riley says he grew up motivated by the importance of working hard. Getting his start in public service on Democratic Congressman Maurice Hinchey’s campaign, Riley found himself admiring Hinchey’s championing of working families and willingness to always “fight against the establishment.”
Riley’s time as Hinchey’s office clerk helped shape the core values he now brings into his own campaign.
“The thing that stood out to me about it, especially now when our politics are so toxic, is that everyone who came into that office was treated with dignity and respect,” he said, adding that the question was never whether constituents were Democrats or Republicans.
Riley then moved on to focus on unemployment insurance at the United States Department of Labor before going to law school. During a fellowship on the U.S. Senate Labor and Pensions Committee, he worked on legislation to raise the minimum wage, though that campaign was ultimately unsuccessful.
Spending a year studying the Constitution (which he described with a laugh as a dream job), Riley described witnessing “the worst of Washington dysfunction” during his time serving as counsel to former Sen. Al Franken (D) on the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
Riley said he believes the most important thing a Congressional representative can do is listen to their constituents. “The best ideas don’t come from the top down, they come from the grassroots,” he said, giving an example of legislative work he did to protect survivors of domestic violence from homelessness.
Being able to relate to the individuals affected by legislation is the only proper way to be successful in politics, he said.
“So many women were afraid to call the police to get the protection they needed because their landlord would cite it as a disturbance and try to evict them,” he said. “We listened to advocacy organizations and heard those concerns and were able to sit down and try to do something to address it.”
According to a report released by the Federal Elections Commission, Riley is ahead of the other candidates in cash on hand, total receipts and total spent, and currently has no loans or debt. Two-thirds of the campaign’s contributions in Q1 were for $50 or less, and the campaign has received more than half of its total contributions in the two months following New York State’s newly approved legislative district lines.
Riley believes that relieving high prescription drug costs could greatly benefit the population, specifically those with fixed incomes who may end up deciding between their necessary medication and other bills to pay.
Work protecting the Family Medical Leave Act and partnering with the American Academy of Pediatrics in Florida where he litigated civil rights cases for children who were eligible for Medicaid are all part of the background that led Riley to his goal of making health care a civil right for all Americans.
Rebuilding from COVID-19
One of Riley’s priorities for post-pandemic restoration includes controlling inflation and the cost of living for working families and ensuring housing security. “So many families are living paycheck to paycheck at best and struggling to get by.” He went on to say that reinstating the Child Tax Credit is one of the simplest and most effective ways to directly help working families — “That money goes directly to helping them put food on the table and clothes on their kids’ backs.”
Riley also said he’s optimistic about bringing labor back stateside. “We’re now seeing the consequences of being dependent on foreign supply chains, and it’s increasing our costs. Bringing those jobs back home and bringing manufacturing jobs back to Upstate New York can allow us control over our own supply chains.”
Riley said that he was particularly shaken by the events that occurred Jan. 6, 2021, when the U.S. Capitol building was attacked. “I think it was that moment where I realized we can’t take our democracy for granted,” he said, continuing to say that he desperately wants his son to grow up in a democracy. “It made me question whether that would happen when we could not even have a peaceful transition of power in this country.”
Throughout March, Riley received endorsements from the Working Families Party, the Cortland County Democratic Committee, Congressional Democrat nominee for New York’s 24th District Dana Balter, Defend the Vote, the Tompkins County Progressives, and most recently, the North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters