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New York's Activist Left and Organized Labor Begin Choosing Their Next City Council Class


City Council chambers City Hall

The City Council chambers (photo: William Alatriste)


With 31 members facing term-limits and with special elections slated to fill five recent vacancies, it is set to be a transformative year for the New York City Council. City politics have undergone a dynamic shift since the last class of Council members was seated after the 2017 municipal election, and activists and organized labor are hoping to take advantage of that fact in announcing their support for a new crop of Council contenders.

Almost every “open” City Council seat where no incumbent is running is home to a crowded and competitive Democratic primary. But in a number of cases, prominent groups have coalesced around the same candidate, likely giving them some edge.

The political arms of several progressive advocacy organizations have been announcing endorsements for the last few months, as they hope to influence legislation in the 51-member body, the next class of which will largely be determined by June’s Democratic primaries in an overwhelmingly Democratic city and where until recent departures there were 48 Democrats and 3 Republicans. Those groups include New York Immigration Coalition Action, the Working Families Party (WFP), and the New York City Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

Some of the most prominent labor groups have linked arms as well with the same intention. The hospital workers union, 1199 SEIU, is teaming up with immigrant-advocacy group Make the Road Action and grassroots group Community Voices Heard Power under the banner of Road to Justice NYC to endorse their favored candidates. “We’re excited about deepening the ranks of progressive Black, Brown, and immigrant leadership across this city,” said Javier H. Valdés, co-executive director of Make the Road Action, when the first endorsements were released. “Our members and Road to Justice NYC partners are committed to endorsing the candidates who will fight to divest from policing, invest in communities, build truly affordable housing, and ensure high-quality education for every New Yorker.”

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union has been making its own endorsements. And the United Federation of Teachers has endorsed 23 candidates for City Council already, including several sitting Council members. Another coalition, LaborStrong2021, includes 32BJ SEIU, the Communications Workers of America, DC37, Hotel Trades Council and the New York State Nurses Association, representing more than 360,000 workers. The coalition has vowed, according to a Politico New York report, to spend more than seven figures on the 2021 elections to elect candidates that support pro-worker policies. On January 27, the coalition released a list of 31 endorsements of City Council candidates and current Council members running for reelection. Earlier, on Monday, January 25, the New York City Central Labor Council, which represents 300 unions and about 1.3 million members, also made 13 endorsements in City Council races.

The entities bring with them significant grassroots support, organizing power as well as financial resources certain to be advantageous to candidates. And though they aren’t aligned or coordinating their efforts, some seem to have converged on certain candidates that share their values, signaling how some of the most tuned in groups and activists are in a sense coalescing and working to shape the next City Council class, and how some candidates are forming a clear advantage heading toward June. Still, there will be many more groups, including the city's many political clubs, that have and will endorse candidates ahead of the primaries, and endorsements, even many of them, don't assure victory.

Some candidates have broad appeal across the many labor and activist groups. 

Tiffany Cabán, the queer Latina public defender who came within an inch of becoming Queens district attorney last year, has been endorsed by LaborStrong2021, NYIC Action, DSA, WFP, RWDSU, and Road to Justice NYC in her bid for City Council District 22 in Queens. The seat is currently held by Council Member Costa Constantinides, who is term limited.

Similarly, Amanda Farías, who is running to replace retiring Council Member Ruben Diaz Sr. in District 18 in the Bronx, has been endorsed by LaborStrong2021, NYIC Action, WFP, RWDSU, Road to Justice NYC, and the NYC Central Labor Council.

DSA and WFP find themselves aligned on other candidates as well. DSA has only made six Council endorsements thus far, and plans to devote significant resources to electing those candidates through its vaunted ground game. “The six members of the NYC-DSA City Council slate are the leaders this city needs as we continue to face the devastating fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Chi Anunwa, NYC-DSA Co-Chair, in a statement when the endorsements were announced. “They all have deep ties to their communities and an absolute commitment to fighting alongside working New Yorkers for a democratic socialist agenda, including defunding the NYPD and funding the social infrastructure we actually need — education, healthcare and housing.” 

The WFP has endorsed 16 Council candidates and counting, and offers a wide variety of support to its endorsees. “2021 is right around the corner — which means New Yorkers are just six months away from heading to the ballot box to elect the leadership that will steer us out of this moment of crisis," said Sochie Nnaemeka, WFP party director, in part in a statement accompanying the latest wave of endorsements. "Our city suffers from deep, structural inequity and injustice, and we need bold, progressive leaders to tackle it head on. That’s why the WFP is throwing down in City Council races in every corner of every borough."

Both groups have endorsed Adolfo Abreu, who is running for District 14 in the Bronx, currently held by term-limited Council Member Fernando Cabrera. They have also backed Jaslin Kaur, who is seeking the District 23 seat in Queens held by Council Member Barry Grodenchik, who is not seeking reelection.

NYIC Action and the WFP have backed community activist Moumita Ahmed in the nonpartisan special election for Council District 24 in Queens, triggered by the departure of Council Member Rory Lancman, who took a position in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration. Election day is February 2 and early voting is already underway (January 23-31).

Another nonpartisan special election is scheduled on March 23 (early voting March 13-21) for District 11 in the Bronx. The seat was vacated by Council Member Andrew Cohen when he became a state Supreme Court judge. Among the four candidates running is Mino Lora, activist and founder of the People’s Theatre Project. Lora has been endorsed by both NYIC Action and the WFP.

As term-limited Council Member Carlos Menchaca runs for mayor, education activist Alexa Avilés is hoping to take his place in District 38 in Brooklyn. And she seems to be the favorite for progressives, having earned the endorsement of LaborStrong2021, NYIC Action, DSA, and the WFP.

In Brooklyn’s District 34, Council Member Antonio Reynoso is term-limited and is running for borough president. Jennifer Gutierrez, his chief of staff, is hoping to replace him and has the endorsement of LaborStrong2021, NYIC Action, Road to Justice NYC, WFP, and the NYC Central Labor Council.

Road to Justice NYC, NYIC Action, UFT and the NYC Central Labor Council have all endorsed Crystal Hudson, the former chief of operations to term-limited Council Member Laurie Cumbo and attempting to replace her in District 35.

NYIC Action and the WFP have both backed Marjorie Velázquez, a community organizer who is running for the District 13 seat in the Bronx against Council Member Mark Gjonaj. The sitting Council member narrowly defeated Velázquez in 2017.

Jenny Low is runniing for District 1 in Manhattan to replace term-limited Council Member Margaret Chin, in a crowded Democratic primary. Low has been endorsed by NYC Central Labor Council, UFT and LaborStrong2021. 

The District 3 seat in Manhattan is currently held by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who is term-limited. Erik Bottcher, Johnson's chief of staff, is hoping to succeed him and his campaign has been also endorsed by NYC Central Labor Council, UFT and LaborStrong2021.

Assemblymember Carmen De La Rosa's campaign for Council District 10 in Manhattan, represented by term-limited Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, has received the endorsement of RWDSU, NYC Central Labor Council and LaborStrong2021.

In District 33 in Brooklyn, Lincoln Restler, a former staffer in the de Blasio administration, is running to replace term-limited Council Member Stephen Levin. Restler has been endorsed by the WFP, UFT and LaborStrong2021. 

UFT member Briget Rein is running for the District 39 seat in Brooklyn, held by term-limited Council Member Brad Lander. She has naturally received backing from the UFT but has also been endorsed by RWDSU and the NYC Central Labor Council.

The full lists of endorsements as of late January from the aforementioned activist groups, labor unions, and coalition:

Working Families Party
Moumita Ahmed (District 24, Queens)
Alexa Aviles (District 38, Brooklyn)
Jaslin Kaur (District 23, Queens) 
Harold Miller (District 27, Queens)
Adolfo Abreu (District 14, the Bronx)
Juan Ardila (District 30, Queens)
Tiffany Cabán (District 22, Queens)
Amanda Farías (District 18, the Bronx)
Aleda Gagarin (District 29, Queens)
Jennifer Gutiérrez (District 34, Brooklyn)
Mino Lora (District 11, the Bronx)
Sandy Nurse (District 37, Brooklyn)
Lincoln Restler (District 33, Brooklyn)
Felicia Singh (District 32, Queens)
Althea Stevens (District 16, the Bronx)
Marjorie Velázquez (District 13, the Bronx)

DSA
Adolfo Abreu (District 14, Bronx)
Tiffany Cabán (District 22, Queens)
Jaslin Kaur (District 23, Queens)
Michael Hollingsworth (District 35, Brooklyn)
Alexa Avilés (District 38, Brooklyn)
Brandon West (District 39, Brooklyn)

NYIC Action
Jennifer Gutierrez (District 34, Brooklyn)
Crystal Hudson (District 35, Brooklyn)
Alexa Aviles (District 38, Brooklyn)
Shahana Hanif District 39 Brooklyn)
Mino Lora (District 11, the Bronx)
Marjorie Velázquez (District 13, the Bronx)
Amanda Farias (District 18, the Bronx)
Tiffany Caban (District 22, Queens
Linda Lee (District 23, Queens)
Moumita Ahmed (District 24, Queens)

Road to Justice NYC
Amanda Farías (District 18, the Bronx)
Althea Stevens (District 16, the Bronx)
Tiffany Cabán (District 22, Queens)
Juan Ardila (District 30, Queens)
Jennifer Gutierrez (District 34, Brooklyn)
Crystal Hudson (District 35, Brooklyn)
Amoy Barnes (District 49, Staten Island)

RWDSU
Carmen De La Rosa (District 10, Manhattan)
Pierina Sanchez (District 14, the Bronx)
Amanda Farias (District 18, the Bronx)
Tiffany Cabán (District 22, Queens)
Bridget Rein (District 39, Brooklyn)

NYC Central Labor Council
Jenny Low (District 1, Manhattan)
Erik Bottcher (District 3, Manhattan)
Julie Menin (District 5, Manhattan)
Carmen De La Rosa (District 10, Manhattan) 
Eric Dinowitz (District 11, the Bronx)
Pierina Sanchez (District 14, the Bronx) 
Ischia Bravo (District 15, the Bronx)
Amanda Farias (District 18, the Bronx)
Austin Shafran (District 19, Queens)
Lynn Schulman (District 29, Queens)
Jennifer Gutierrez (District 34, Brooklyn)
Crystal Hudson (District 35, Brooklyn)
Bridget Rein (District 39, Brooklyn)

UFT
Jenny Low (District 1, Manhattan)
Council Member Carlina Rivera (District 2, Manhattan)
Erik Bottcher (District 3, Manhattan)
Council Member Keith Powers (District 4, Manhattan)
Julie Menin (District 5, Manhattan)
Gale Brewer (District 6, Manhattan)
Council Member Diana Ayala (District 8, Manhattan)
Eric Dinowitz (District 11, the Bronx)
Ischia Bravo (District 15, the Bronx)
Sandra Ung (District 20, Queens)
Council Member Francisco Moya (District 21, Queens)
Shekar Krishnan (District 25, Queens)
Council Member Adrienne Adams (District 28, Queens)
Council Member Robert Holden (District 30, Queens)
Lincoln Restler (District 33, Brooklyn)
Crystal Hudson (District 35, Brooklyn)
Darma Diaz (District 37, Brooklyn)
Briget Rein (District 39, Brooklyn)
Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel (District 41, Brooklyn)
Council Member Justin Brannan (District 43, Brooklyn)
Council Member Kalman Yeger (District 44, Brooklyn)
Council Member Farah Louis (District 45, Brooklyn)
Ari Kagan (District 47, Brooklyn)

LaborStrong2021
Jenny Low (District 1, Manhattan)
Council Member Carlina Rivera (District 2, Manhattan)
Erik Bottcher (District 3, Manhattan)
Council Member Keith Powers (District 4, Manhattan)
Julie Menin (District 5, Manhattan)
Gale Brewer (District 6, Manhattan)
Shaun Abreu (District 7, Manhattan)
Carmen De La Rosa (District 10, Manhattan)
Council Member Diana Ayala (District 8, the Bronx)
Council Member Kevin Riley (District 12, the Bronx)
Althea Stevens (District 16, the Bronx)
Amanda Farias (District 18, the Bronx)
Austin Shafran (District 19, Queens)
Sandra Ung (District 20, Queens)
Council Member Francisco Moya (District 21, Queens)
Tiffany Cabán (District 22, Queens)
Shekar Krishnan (District 25, Queens)
Council Member Adrienne Adams (District 28, Queens)
Lynn Schulman (District 29, Queens)
Selvena Brooks-Powers (District 31, Queens)
Felicia Singh (District 32, Queens)
Lincoln Restler (District 33, Brooklyn)
Jennifer Gutiérrez (District 34, Brooklyn)
Henry Butler (District 36, Brooklyn)
Sandy Nurse (District 37, Brooklyn)
Alexa Aviles (District 38, Brooklyn)
Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel (District 41, Brooklyn)
Council Member Justin Brannan (District 43, Brooklyn)
Council Member Farah Louis (District 45, Brooklyn)
Ari Kagan (District 47, Brooklyn)
Boris Noble (District 48, Brooklyn)

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note- this article has been updated with additional endorsements from the UFT. 

Note- this article has been updated to note that Crystal Hudson is the former chief of operations for Council Member Cumbo, not former chief of staff. 

Note - this article has been updated with a list of endorsements from the LaborStrong2021 coalition.



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