While Mike Itkis identifies as a liberal, he doesn’t march in lockstep with the Democratic Party establishment. Instead, he will be listed as an Independent on the ballot for New York’s 12th Congressional District on November 8.
Itkis seeks to give the voters of the 12th District a genuine alternative to career politicians like his main opponent, Jerry Nadler, who won the Democratic Party’s primary election on August 23. “I’m a liberal with drastically different views,” Itkis said by phone from the city that never sleeps.
A straight-talker, Itkis isn’t afraid to weigh in on today’s biggest controversies, championing positions that matter to New Yorkers. As such, he advocates for increased cybersecurity, ending the war in Ukraine, and protecting the privacy and sexual rights.
1. Taking a Stand to Protect America
As a cybersecurity expert for the US military with more than 20 years of experience, Itkis knows Americans’ vulnerabilities online all too well. Now, he wants to the government to do something more about them.
“Congress should establish a Federal Cyber Security Agency to help protect Americans online,” Itkis said. “Foreign actors, even domestic criminals, are working ceaselessly to identify and exploit our weaknesses. Without this kind of agency, Americans are at a greater continual risk of being hacked, phished, or targeted for extortion, as well as having their accounts or identities stolen. Americans’ digital footprints could also be used as launchpads for espionage or crippling malware attacks against their employers, organizations, and even our whole country.”
According to Itkis, a Federal Cyber Security Agency would create a “secure civilian network” for Americans. Such an agency will be in a good position to educate US citizens on best practices for online behavior and their responsibilities towards others, provide users with a government-issued digital identity and provide a framework for digital privacy rights. These capabilities will significantly mitigate risks in our national computing environment.
Mindful of recent concerns about Big Data, Itkis specified that the Federal Cyber Security Agency would not be a law enforcement agency, nor would it be operated by any intelligence or military organization. The laws required to establish the agency would establish the principles on how security and privacy are to be balanced. This way, the security measures would not shield criminals nor would they allow law enforcement to directly access users’ information.
2. Protecting Liberties Abroad
As casualties mount in Ukraine, and Russia’s invasion hardens into a protracted battle, experts debate whether Ukraine should continue to spill its lifeblood to regain every last inch.
Itkis’s background provides him with the credibility to weigh in on this controversy. Born in Soviet-era Ukraine, he immigrated to the US as a young boy. In 2009, he joined the US Army, and after Russia invaded Crimea and Donbas, he was a member of a US Army Civil Affairs team sent to train Ukraine’s Reserve Officers at the National Defense University in Kiev.
Itkis calls for the US government to clarify its objectives in Ukraine. While Congress passed H.R. 7691 to send $40.1 billion in the military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, it did not provide objectives for US foreign policy there.
“What’s the endgame for us?” Itkis asked. “It’s important for people to understand that the US’s goals aren’t necessarily the same as Ukraine’s. Congress has a responsibility to clearly define our strategy in Ukraine because it is responsible for appropriating funds in the best interests of US citizens.”
Our current National Security Strategy emphasizes democracy, equality, and human rights. At this point, it’s not clear that it is feasible — or even desirable — to restore Ukraine’s borders to where they were in 2013. It is clear, however, that Putin will be politically defeated if Ukraine manages to have free and fair elections, treats all citizens equally regardless of their “ethnicity” or first language, and provides freedom of speech even to those who hold unpopular views. Itkis thinks that this would be a much better objective than territorial integrity for the United States.
3. Change policy to reflect today’s America
Itkis also advocates for change in US domestic policy. “The policies we have now are geared towards traditional family structures, but America is and has been moving away from what’s considered traditional,” Itkis said.
As of 2021, nuclear families — which are defined as married couples with children — only comprised 18% of American households. Single people account for nearly 50% of the adult population in America, and the rate of unmarried couples and single individuals has been increasing since this data began being collected in 1976.
“I’m a single adult in New York City,” Itkis pointed out. “It’s time to end discrimination against unmarried people.”
To do so, Itkis wants to protect the right to privacy, which appears newly threatened following the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe V. Wade. He also advocates ditching archaic laws that criminalize sexual relations between consenting adults.
“An ultra-conservative approach to sexuality seems to drive a lot of policies, both in the military and civilian life,” Itkis said. “As a result, these policies tend to favor married couples over single individuals.”
In short, Itkis wants to boot the government out of the bedroom.
4. A New Kind of Candidate
His recent work in the military and cyber security required him to keep a low profile. So, why is Itkis now willing to step out of his comfort zone and enter the political fray?
“Looking at the political landscape, I couldn’t find a politician who represented me,” he answered. “I think a lot of New Yorkers feel the same way. It’s my goal to give them someone to vote for.”
Itkis may have a point. New York’s 2022 primary voter turnout rate paints a picture of low enthusiasm, both for Democrats and Republicans. For Democrat’s, this August, voter turnout stood at just 13%, nearly a 50% decrease from the 2018 gubernatorial primary. Add in this year’s complicated redistricting, and it seems New Yorkers may just be fed up.
The recently-redrawn 12th Congressional District of New York covers Midtown, Upper East Side, and Upper West Side neighborhoods of Manhattan.