When Antonio Delgado secured the Democratic Party nomination to take on incumbent Republican John Faso for his 19th Congressional District seat, some political insiders expressed concern. The Harvard educated lawyer was a charismatic candidate who had displayed his political chops in a tumultuous seven-way primary. But he was a Schenectady native, born outside the district. He’d moved to Rhinebeck from Montclair New Jersey shortly before launching his campaign after spending the previous decade and a half pursuing a career as a rapper in Los Angles and a corporate litigator. The “Carpetbagger” label had helped sink previous Democratic efforts to take the 19th district seat and some feared it would stick this time too. But for Lacey Schwartz Delgado, the candidate’s wife and frequent companion on the campaign trail, the “outsider” label rang hollow and the couple’s move to the Hudson Valley felt less like an opportunity and more like homecoming.
“For us, it was always about coming back home and about [the Hudson Valley] being both of our homes,” says Lacey Delgado sipping a latte on a lunch break in Rhinebeck’s Bread Alone bakery. “That’s not a political narrative, it’s actually our narrative. That’s the reality of our story and the reality of our lives.”
Lacey Delgado’s narrative runs squarely through Ulster County and along fault lines of race and community that have informed her work as a filmmaker and her interest in using the arts to make an impact on issues she cares about. Delgado tells her story in her 2014 film Little White Lie which aired on the PBS documentary film series “Independent Lens.”
Born Lacey Schwartz in 1977 she grew up the child of CPA father and a business-owner mother who had migrated first to Accord in Ulster County, then to Woodstock from Brooklyn in the early 70’s. The film details her upbringing in a close knit Jewish family and the questions about her identity that began to gnaw at her as a youth. Growing up, Delgado said, people frequently assumed that she was black or questioned her racial identity with the query “What are you?” Delgado would explain that she was white, Jewish and owed her bronze complexion and curly hair to a Sicilian grandfather. When she went to college at Georgetown University she was invited — based on a picture — to join the Black Students’ Association and began identifying as a black woman. But it was not until midway through her freshman year that she confronted her mother and learned the truth, that she was conceived through a long-running affair between her mother and an African American man that she’d met while working at a New York City Park just before her marriage. In Little White Lie Delgado uses home movies, footage from therapy sessions she recorded in college and interviews to tell the story of her upbringing, including the dissolution of her parent’s marriage when she was a teen and the painful emergence of a family secret that had been hiding in plain sight her entire life.
“For my own health I needed to go through that process,” said Delgado of her decision to tell such a deeply intimate story on film. “My take on difficult conversations is that they’re never as difficult in reality as they are in your head.”
While the story of her parentage would have an impact on her life later, Lacey recalls her childhood as solidly middle class and Jewish. She attended Bennett Elementary and Miller Junior High and spent holidays at the Woodstock Jewish Congregation. She was, she said, a bookish kid who grew up near the Woodstock Golf Club and absorbed the artsy-rural atmosphere of the town.
“I didn’t realize until I went away to college how much Woodstock had had an impact on me and how much a different world it was from a lot of people who had grown up in a more conventional space,” recalls Delgado of her Woodstock upbringing. “It’s just a different way of thinking about a lot of things.”
At Kingston High School Delgado began to focus on a career in the law after she became a “die hard” member of the mock trial team headed by legendary KHS teacher, the late Emil “Butch” Zullo. Zullo’s Mock trial teams won a string of state championships, won praise from legal experts and inspired generations of KHS students to pursue careers in law. For Delgado, the experience coalesced into an ambition to become a civil rights impact litigator following the footsteps the men and women who fought complex and high stakes legal battles to secure equal rights for all Americans.
“That combination of logic with organizing, with passion with inspiration just hits me hard,” said Delgado of her civil rights heroes.
Armed with a recommendation letter from longtime Hudson valley Congressman, the late Maurice Hinchey — for whom she interned — Delgado was accepted at Georgetown University. There, she studied government and minored in studio art with an emphasis on photography. Then came Harvard Law School where she realized that her path lay in a film editing room, not the courtroom. She was able to convince administrators to allow her to take film classes to learn the craft, then put those skills to use submitting films instead of papers for her law school projects. She earned her Juris Doctorate in 2003 and passed the bar “as a backup” in case her career as a filmmaker didn’t pan out. It was also at Harvard Law where she met the man who would become her husband. At the time, she said, they bonded over their shared status as law students with ambitions in the arts and a desire to make an impact on the world.
“We both dealt with law school in similar ways,” recalls Delgado. “We were using the arts to find our way through the issues that we cared about.”
After graduation, the couple parted ways for eight years. Antonio Delgado moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a rapper and hip-hop executive. Lacey took up residence in New York City where she worked on film and TV projects and as a D.J. In 2011, they reconnected and married in a ceremony at the Katterskill Inn and Farm in Catskill. The couple lived in New York City and Montclair while Antonio took up legal practice at the corporate law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and Lacey continued to run her film production company “Truth Aid.” In 2013, the couple had twin sons, Maxwell and Coltrane.
During the campaign, as insiders predicted, Delgado was hit hard with the “Carpetbagger” label. Attack ads funded by outside political action committees took an even harsher track depicting Delgado as an “LA Rapper” who trafficked in anti-American rhetoric, misogynist language and who didn’t share the values of his would-be constituents. To their critics, the ads were a transparent dog-whistle to racist sentiment in a largely white district where even supporters worried that a black candidate might struggle to win support. But Lacey Delgado said that she saw the attacks and the campaign as a whole as an opportunity, one that played into her interest in tough conversations and finding common ground among diverse communities.
“It wasn’t an easy process for us personally, but it was incredible to see the community go through that process and come out the other side” said Delgado. “We all need to do the work, but this community is poised to do that work.”
Now, Antonio Delgado commutes between Washington D.C., and the district while Lacey remains in Rhinebeck with the twins. The schedule is hectic, but she’s thankful — other members of congress make the commute to California. Meanwhile, Delgado said she’s working on both scripted and documentary film projects while making her own efforts on behalf of the region’s creative economy. She recently appeared on a women’s panel at the Woodstock Film Festival and has taken an interest in actor Mary Stuart Masterson’s Stockade Works, a Kingston based film production company that trains area residents for careers in film and TV. Earlier this year, her youthful inspiration by the civil rights movement came full circle when she and her husband accompanied movement icon and Georgia Congressman John Lewis on his annual pilgrimage to significant sites in the struggle.
“I still want to tell stories about the issues I care about,” said Delgado. “I see that as my way of having an impact on those issues.”