Gotham Gazette Thu, 01 Oct 2020 14:11:56 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) NYC Board of Elections Misses Deadline for Cuomo-Ordered Needs Assessment Gotham Gazette:

 NYC BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

The New York City Board of Elections has not submitted a state-mandated report on its staffing needs for this fall, blowing past a September 20 deadline set by Governor Andrew Cuomo and raising concerns about the city's preparedness for the consequential general election. It is the only jurisdiction in the state to miss the deadline, according to officials at the State Board of Elections, to which the reports are due.

The mandate and deadline, set in a late-August executive order, was intended to ensure election administrators were ready for a record number of votes, and ready to count them quickly, including a quantity of mailed-in ballots expected to dwarf what they faced in the chaotic June primaries. The report's delay comes when officials, including Cuomo, are questioning the competence of the city's election system, operating amid a pandemic, after a vendor mishap led to nearly 100,000 absentee ballots being mailed to the wrong voters in Brooklyn and Queens.

The order required local boards to submit to the State Board of Elections staffing plans and needs for early voting and Election Day, and for the counting of ballots after polls close. The deadline was intended "to provide adequate time for the state Board of Elections to assist as feasible," according to the order.

With President Trump repeatedly raising the spectre of voter fraud and questioning the validity of future election results, at times pointing to issues in New York as justification, a growing concern is the time it will take administrators to count ballots and certify a winner. As in the June primaries, the city BOE is expecting that process to take up to six weeks because of the large proportion of mailed-in ballots that must be counted by hand and cross-checked against votes cast throughout the state.

"I'm issuing today's executive order because we want boards of elections to count votes efficiently and we want them to get it right, but we want it done in a timely manner," Cuomo said in a statement on August 24.

"We don't want to hear after-the-fact excuses for why you couldn't do it," he told reporters the same day. "Tell us how you're going to do it before-the-fact, and your staffing plan from the board of elections that will actually do that."

"This election is going to be one of the most critical in modern history. It will be controversial," he added.

The New York City Board of Elections, which encompasses all five boroughs, is the only board in the state not to submit a report. "They still have failed to provide the required plan after numerous follow up requests," wrote State Board of Elections Co-Chair Douglas Kellner in an email to Gotham Gazette Tuesday.

The New York City Board of Elections did not provide a comment for this article. Cuomo's office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Good government group Reinvent Albany criticized the failure.

"Once again, the City BOE has failed to take the necessary steps to ensure New York is prepared for the next election," wrote Tom Speaker, the group's elections analyst, in an email. "No one will be surprised if November produces the same turmoil that New Yorkers saw in the June primary. We call on the City Council and State legislature to start taking steps to abolish the NYC BOE and replace it with a professional, nonpartisan agency."

The State Board has reviewed personnel surveys from the 57 county boards outside New York City and is closely monitoring 11 boards in particular, according to a spokesperson. The boards have benefited from a national poll worker recruitment effort on September 1, that grew the pool of election workers, clerks, and custodians available to administrators. Many boards reported scheduling additional inspector training sessions to manage the influx, the spokesperson said.

The city BOE has also missed another report deadline, this one on its implementation of a separate executive order requiring it to establish dropboxes for absentee ballots at BOE offices and poll sites. The Board has announced that it will have a dropbox at every early voting and Election Day poll site, and at each of its borough offices, fulfilling the requirement of the order.

"While it is very clear from Ms. Sandow's and Mr. Ryan's testimony that they do have the dropbox program licked, and I am pleased with their efforts on that, they have not provided the report, which is required by the governor," Kellner said Friday at an oversight hearing conducted by the City Council's governmental operations committee, referring to the city BOE's executive director and his deputy.

"It just raises another concern about the lack of attention to detail," he said.

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

NYC Board of Elections Misses Deadline for Cuomo-Ordered Needs Assessment Wed, 30 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Efforts Launched to Encourage Early Voting and Avoid Absentee Ballot Headaches 3 early voting influx

Early voting at a poll site can be a breeze (photo: @BOENYC)

As election administrators across the state prepare themselves for a second, larger wave of mass absentee voting this fall, officials and voting advocates are encouraging as many voters as possible to take advantage of the state's in-person early voting option as an alternative to crowded Election Day poll sites and the uncertainty of casting a ballot by mail.

Early voting, first launched statewide in 2019, will be offered this fall from October 24 through November 1 and gives all voters the chance to vote in person at designated poll sites over nine days leading up to Election Day, which is November 3. This year, with all voters eligible to vote by absentee ballot, the New York City Board of Elections is expecting as many as 1 million mail-in ballots, which take longer to count and are prone to being rejected on minor grounds.

Roughly a fifth of all absentee ballots are thrown out each election due to technicalities like missing a signature on the outer envelope, or being partially unsealed. That was no trivial proportion in the June primaries. About 80,000 mailed ballots, out of the 400,000 cast citywide, were rejected on technicalities and the high volume meant officials couldn't deliver election results until six weeks after polls closed on June 23.

Only about 52,000 people across the five boroughs took advantage of the early voting period in June.

While state lawmakers have made some adjustments to election law to help reduce the risk that ballots are thrown out, a number of proposed fixes were never passed, errors in the fall process are already showing up, and timeliness remains a major concern. With another slew of absentee ballots expected this fall, Michael Ryan, the NYC BOE's executive director, recently said election results may not be available until the first or second week of December.

Absentee voting was expanded by executive order this spring and later by state law to ensure voters had an option that didn't require them to risk transmitting or contracting COVID-19 at a poll site. Early voting, which spreads the number of open poll site hours across more than a week, including some evenings and weekends, offers similar protection from often packed Election Day polling places but allows votes to be tallied the same day using ballot scanning machines. The option is looking increasingly attractive to voting advocates, given the stresses of the primaries and anxiety about how the results of the presidential election will be handled, particularly by President Trump.

"The key to protecting voting rights in this climate is ensuring voters are aware of their new options so they can make an informed voting plan, help loved ones do the same, and take early action well ahead of unforgiving deadlines," wrote Jarret Berg, an election lawyer and co-founder of the advocacy group Vote Early NY, by email.

“While voting remotely may be safer and more convenient for some New Yorkers, early voters will scan their marked ballots immediately, just like on Election Day, avoiding potential pitfalls that can jeopardize rights," Berg said, adding that ballots cast during early voting are tabulated in the unofficial results reported on election night.

Elections administrators are also emphasizing the early voting option, as are other public officials like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who recently tweeted that she would be voting early and in person, and encouraging others to plan to do the same.

"Early voting will be a critical part of managing the election, given the anticipated record turnout," wrote NYC BOE Commissioner Tiffany Townsend, in an email to Gotham Gazette. "There will be thousands of new absentee voters, but many more who will prefer to cast their votes in person."

"The additional nine days [of voting] - combined with our dropbox option - will help mitigate potential wait times both outside and inside poll sites. That’s a huge plus," Townsend wrote.

City and state agencies are rolling out a series of public awareness campaigns to educate voters on their options, leveraging partnerships with grassroots organizations and media companies.

All of the funding allocated to promote early voting comes from New York City government or private grants.

The New York City Board of Elections is spending a total of $1.5 million on advertising about the three voting options, according to Valerie Vazquez-Diaz, the board's director of communications and public affairs. That money will go toward advertising in citywide and hyper local newspapers, including non-English publications, as well as subway and bus ads, Vazquez-Diaz told Gotham Gazette. The funding, which comes from city government, includes $500,000 for subway and bus advertising, $600,000 for digital advertising, and $400,000 for print media. NYC & Company, the organization that operates the LinkNYC digital kiosks that populate some city sidewalks, is also donating ad space to the BOE, according to Vazquez-Diaz.

On top of paid advertising, the NYC BOE will be posting key information on its Twitter and Facebook accounts and has been working with local elected officials, organizations, and community boards to promote the BOE's messaging, using educational toolkits developed by the Board.

Perhaps the most direct messaging will be in the BOE's mailer, which it is sending to each registered voter. The mailer is part of a directive from Governor Andrew Cuomo to local election boards to inform New Yorkers of the three voting options (absentee voting, early voting, Election Day voting). Local boards must include information on how to request an absentee ballot online and the location of each voter’s early voting and Election Day polling places.

The BOE's notice, which it began mailing last week, includes the hours of early voting as well as a magnetic fob that allows for faster, contactless check-in for in-person voting.

Separate from the BOE's efforts, the de Blasio administration is spending roughly half a million dollars to promote early voting through the mayor's DemocracyNYC initiative and the city's Campaign Finance Board, which has a voting awareness initiative called NYC Votes.

DemocracyNYC, which the mayor launched in 2018 to bolster participation in elections, worked with the city's new Civic Engagement Commission to develop a PSA "to encourage as many New Yorkers as possible to vote early if they would rather vote in-person," according to mayoral spokesperson Jose Bayona. The city is promoting the announcement on streaming services and radio, and is also taking out ads in the LinkNYC kiosks and local media, "placing a greater emphasis on the voting early option to cast a ballot," he wrote in an email.

"DNYC is spending $100,000 on streaming and radio advertising, and $37,000 allocated towards spending for a vote by mail PSA in more than 10 languages," Bayona wrote.

With the city facing a massive tax revenue shortfall, DemocracyNYC is working with an informal coalition of voting rights advocates, good government groups, and government agencies dubbed the Elections Consortium, which came together shortly after the coronavirus state of emergency was declared to ensure participation in the 2020 elections, to get unpaid messaging out to key constituencies.

The consortium, which is co-led by DemocracyNYC and the Campaign Finance Board, has produced literature and graphics to address frequently asked questions and is partnering with the nonprofit “F.Y. Eye” PSA network to help disseminate the messaging for free, which Bayona says will help provide timely information to voters in multiple languages.

The Campaign Finance Board (CFB) is putting another $400,000 directly toward an early voting advertising campaign that will launch on October 8, according to spokesperson Matthew Sollars.

Streaming ads will target youth and first-time voters, as well as certain geographic areas, and language and professional demographics, he said. The CFB is also launching a digital campaign emphasizing the convenience of early voting with an eye toward multiple groups of New Yorkers who may require flexibility in voting for different reasons, like parents with child-care responsibilities or food service workers who have long hours and multiple jobs.

The CFB's advertising will appear in over 40 community publications in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Bengali. Television ads will target viewers in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, and mobile advertising and websites and cellphone apps will place geo-specific messaging to people within a half-mile radius of an early voting site, letting them know they can vote nearby.

Posters in English and Spanish are being delivered to over 300 local businesses in the CFB's target neighborhoods, identified because they have large numbers of naturalized citizens and historically low voter turnout, particularly in parts of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, and in many cases the areas hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.

Outside of New York City, the State Board of Elections, the regulatory agency with oversight over the state's 62 county boards of elections, is promoting early voting this fall through social media and news releases, and is exploring the possibility of paid advertising through a $1.5 million grant from the Center for Election Innovation and Research, which it received last week, according to a spokesperson.

"That is the budget we working with to advertise the three voting options afforded to NYers (by absentee, early voting and election day) as well as promoting the safety precautions taken at poll sites during the pandemic (wear a mask, use sanitizer and expect to socially distance)." wrote Cheryl Couser, deputy director of public information at the State Board.

"We urge voters to make a plan to go vote!," she wrote in an email.

Spokespeople for Governor Cuomo and the state Division of the Budget did not comment on whether any state funds had been allocated to promote early voting. State agencies will be advertising the voting options on their social media platforms, according to a spokesperson for Cuomo.

"New York has to get this right," wrote Betsy Gotbaum, executive director of government reform group Citizens Union and former New York City Public Advocate, in an email. "We know that President Trump will not hesitate to highlight any confusion or delays to undermine the legitimacy of the election. The best way for New Yorkers to vote safely, avoid Election Day crowds, and ensure their vote is counted in a timely manner is to take advantage of Early Voting."

"We are pleased to see DemocracyNYC, the CFB and the NYCBOE in outreach to encourage early voting, and are glad they are targeting resources to young people and our city's diverse ethnic communities," Gotbaum wrote, adding: "It is unfortunate that the state has not allocated similar resources to this effort."

[See the early voting days and hours here; Find your early voting and Election Day poll sites here]

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Efforts Launched to Encourage Early Voting and Avoid Absentee Ballot Headaches Mon, 28 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
As General Election Approaches, Mixed Results for Efforts to Ensure More Votes Get Counted Myrie Gianaris State Senate voting

State Senators & election officials (photo: Senator Gianaris' office)

After the June primaries, when tens of thousands of absentee ballots were rejected on technical grounds or never cast because they were mailed to voters late or not at all, state lawmakers passed a series of measures aimed at correcting some of those mishaps. But several other bills introduced by legislators and pushed by voting rights advocates that could prevent thousands of ballots from being thrown out are still on the table as the clock ticks toward the general election.

Leading up to the June primary, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a series of executive orders to change the rules around absentee voting in an effort to avoid crowded poll sites during a pandemic. The measures extended absentee voting eligibility to all registered voters, required absentee ballot applications be mailed to voters, and guaranteed postage for mail-in ballots.

The unprecedented leap in absentee voting led to a number of new problems for voters and elections administrators that ultimately disenfranchised voters, often without their knowledge. In New York City, 84,000 mail-in ballots were thrown out, frequently on technicalities like having a missing signature or a partially unsealed envelope. In response, state lawmakers introduced a series of bills to ensure more votes are counted, including several related to notifying voters when their ballots might be thrown out.

Some were passed and signed into law in August, but many others remain unmoved as the state's elections administrators brace themselves for a four-fold increase in voters this fall. The early voting period will run October 24 through November 1; Election Day is November 3. The New York State Board of Elections is anticipating 8 million voters including as many as 5 million mail-in ballots, in a state with 12.9 million registered voters.

Two of the signed bills codify key elements of Cuomo's primary executive order and guarantee another election with a significant portion of the electorate voting by mail. The first expands eligibility to vote absentee to the entire electorate during an epidemic or disease outbreak. The second allows voters to apply for an absentee ballot online through the New York State Board of Elections website. (There has been no legislation or executive order that would require local boards of elections to mail absentee ballot applications to all registered voters, as Cuomo mandated in the primaries.)

Others signed into law aim directly at problems that arose from the deluge of mailed ballots during the primaries.

Thousands of the absentee ballots were rejected in June because they arrived at boards of elections offices without a postmark, a problem that was completely outside voters' hands. A new law now requires election boards to count the ballots if they are time-stamped by the board by the day after Election Day, even if they are missing a postmark from the United State Postal Service (USPS).

Another bill seeks to work around the post office by requiring local boards to establish secure absentee ballot drop boxes. That bill is still in committee, but an executive order signed September 8, requires local boards to have drop boxes at early voting sites, Election Day poll sites, and their offices (in New York City, each borough office will have a drop box).

On the same day, Cuomo announced a campaign to raise awareness about the ways New Yorkers can vote, including early voting, an option watchdogs are saying should be more heavily encouraged to avoid the administrative stresses of absentee voting and long lines on Election Day.

As primary day approached in June, many voters still had not received the absentee ballot they had requested from the New York City Board of Elections (BOE). When he testified before state lawmakers in August, Michael Ryan, the executive director of the city BOE, said the absentee ballot application calendar did not grant enough flexibility in normal years and this year posed "an impossibility." A law signed later that month now allows voters to apply for absentee ballots prior to 30 days before an election, which is already giving local boards more time to process and fulfill requests.

A few days after he signed the August package, Cuomo signed an executive order that, among other things, requires local election boards to submit staffing plans and any staffing needs to the state by September 20, a measure to help ensure administrators can process the higher turnout.

Many of the ballots rejected this summer were tossed out because voters failed to sign their ballot envelopes.

One law signed in August would give absentee voters the opportunity to "cure" certain deficiencies on their ballots that would otherwise have them rejected -- namely lacking a signature, having a signature that doesn't match the one on the registration, or having an unsealed ballot envelope. Under the law, local boards of elections must notify voters within a day of detecting a defect and give them an opportunity to contest the rejection or correct the ballot. It extends the same type of due process right to absentee voters that in-person voters have when they sign an affidavit ballot at a poll site. A federal judge in Texas recently ruled a similar practice of rejecting ballots due to mismatched signatures there was unconstitutional.

Cuomo's August order requires the State Board of Elections to design a single "clarified envelope" for all local boards to use, which includes a large red 'X' where a signature is required.

Senator Zellnor Myrie, a Brooklyn Democrat, is chair of the Senate's elections committee and sponsor of several of the bills that passed, including the curing bill.

"Taking away someone's vote for a missing signature or an unsealed envelope really is the embodiment of disenfranchisement," Myrie said by phone Thursday.

"It's not the sexiest legislative highlight and victory but it really was, I believe, one of the most important election law bills we've passed both this year and last year, because of the implications of people knowing and having the opportunity to have their votes count," he said.

"Given the newness of the [mass absentee voting] experience, legislation that allows voters the opportunity to fix unintended, minor and often technical mistakes, is the right way to go," wrote Blair Horner, executive director of New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG), the good government organization, in an email. "Far too many ballots were tossed in the June primary over ridiculously technical challenges."

But several other common mistakes are addressed in legislation that has yet to pass, but could lead to thousands more ballots being counted, their sponsors say.

One bill would extend the same notice and opportunity to cure ballots when they are received partially opened, or closed with glue, tape, or another re-sealing agent. In these cases, the legislation would give recourse to voters to attest that they sent their ballot in the condition it was received in. The bill is still in committee.

A second bill would require absentee ballots to be counted as long as the voter's intent is "unambiguous," even if there are other markings on the ballot.

"It is so easy with a marker to make a mark. What if it's food? I mean, everybody is doing absentee ballots at home, right?" said Assemblymember Amy Paulin, a Westchester Democrat who sponsors the two bills along with Myrie, in a phone interview.

"You don't want any stray marks of any sort when the intent of the voter is clear to eliminate the vote from being counted. And right now it can be challenged," she said.

Myrie and Paulin are not sure whether their bills will pass in time to impact the general election and it is unclear whether the two chambers of the State Legislature will meet in session to pass any legislation before voters go to the polls (or the mailbox).

"We have no idea whether we're going back to session prior to the election," Paulin told Gotham Gazette. "Certainly if we are I'm going to be pushing [the bills] and if we're not then they're still worth doing."

Lawmakers will have to act especially quickly if they are going to pass another proposal that would make it easier to register to vote in time to enfranchise more eligible New Yorkers by this fall’s vote, which includes the presidential election, among many others for Congress, the State Legislature, and more. The bill, which would create online voter registration in New York City through the city's Campaign Finance Board, has passed in the Senate but not the Assembly.

The online registration bill has passed in the Senate but not the Assembly, while automatic voter registration has passed both houses but has not been sent to the governor (or been requested by him) for signing.

"I can't say with certainty when we'll meet again but I do know that if it's the case that we have to move swiftly -- and this is to help safeguard our democracy, particularly in light of the rhetoric that is coming out of the federal administration -- I think that the [Senate] majority has shown that we're ready to take those steps and I expect that we will do the same in this instance," Myrie said.

There isn't much time before the October 9 deadline to register to vote in the general election.

Voting advocates and some lawmakers also want to see the state pay for postage on absentee ballots, as it did during the primaries, but the proposal appears unlikely to move without another round of federal stimulus funding. Between federal and state allocations, New York's elections administrators had an additional $24 million to run elections this year, which has largely dried up, according to State Board of Elections officials. About 40 percent of the 1.8 million voters in the primaries across the state cast an absentee ballot. With 8 million voters expected in the general election, the proposal would likely require the state to pay postage on millions of envelopes.

In response to inquiries about whether the governor planned to issue more executive orders to provide for postage, curing certain ballot errors, and other measures proposed by legislators and advocates, Freeman Klopott, a spokesperson for the state Division of the Budget, wrote, "The State is providing unprecedented access to the ballot box and just last week the Governor announced a public service campaign to raise awareness that voters now have three options to cast their ballot: early voting, voting absentee, or voting in person on Election Day." He added that the executive order establishing absentee drop boxes has the effect of "negating the need to mail a ballot at all."

"The boards of elections have millions of dollars available to them from previously provided funding from the State and Federal governments and they should make use of those resources as the State is contending with a $62 billion revenue drop over four years," he added.

"In the absence of Federal funding to offset this revenue loss, the State, which funds schools, hospitals, and public safety, will have to make spending reductions, and anywhere we don’t reduce spending will mean deeper reductions elsewhere," he wrote. "This is another reason the Federal government must step up and provide States with necessary resources."

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

As General Election Approaches, Mixed Results for Efforts to Ensure More Votes Get Counted Thu, 17 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
‘The Electorate Has a Bias for Youth and Energy’: Younger Candidates Take New York Politics by Storm 2 youth wave

Queens Assembly candidate Khaleel Anderson (photo: @KhaleelAnderson)

A younger generation of Democratic political candidates — which has grown up amid the Great Recession, growing inequality, rising costs of higher education and massive student loan debt, the ticking time-bomb that is climate change, and other crises including, now, the coronavirus pandemic and its fallout — has been offering ambitious policy goals and great urgency around achieving them, resonating with voters and finding success in their runs for office.

In recent election cycles, New York has seen many younger candidates win their bids for state legislative and congressional seats, one facet of the Democratic Party’s internal reckoning that shows an ascendant left wing in part led by a new generation of activists and candidates.

Some, but not all, of these candidates are democratic socialists, a far left brand of politics with a young base, as shown by support for U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, the septuagenarian figurehead of the progressive movement in America, who won 65% of New York voters aged 18-29 in his 2016 Democratic primary contest against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who won every other age group, according to CNN exit polling data. And although the movement has not found victory through either of Sanders’ two presidential bids, down-ballot races have told a different story.

And that story is of a generational shift underway in New York politics, with major potential implications for public policy coming out of the state capital in Albany, not to mention other power centers like New York City Hall and borough-based Democratic Party organizations. It is also already manifesting itself in the state’s and city’s representation in Congress and impact on the national stage.

The recent trend of New York electing both younger and further left candidates kicked off with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s June 2018 primary victory over then-Rep. Joe Crowley, with the then-28-year-old democratic socialist shocking the world and immediately becoming a national standard-bearer for those of her generation and politics.

Then came September 2018 victories of now-State Senators Alessandra Biaggi, Jessica Ramos, Zellnor Myrie, and Julia Salazar, all in their twenties or thirties when elected as progressive insurgents against more moderate, older incumbent Democrats. All went on to easily win their general elections, as is the norm in almost every New York City electoral district given Democrats’ heavy voter enrollment advantage. In a Brooklyn swing district, Democrat Andrew Gounardes, then-33, beat Republican Martin Golden, then-68, helping the Democrats win back a State Senate majority and advance a long list of priorities.

Then came 2020, and a combined state and congressional (and presidential) June primary day amid a pandemic and massive resultant socio-economic crisis.

Younger, left-leaning candidates, often supported by many progressive groups and individuals, won a long list of Democratic primary victories. They ran on policies that, in sum, included single-payer health care, more urgent efforts to combat climate change and foster a “just transition” to a green economy, free public college, greater tenant protections, higher taxes on the wealthy, homes and jobs guarantees, more education funding, marijuana legalization, decriminalization of sex work, and, during the pandemic, rent cancellation.

The winning candidates included Khaleel Anderson, 24 years old; Zohran Mamdani, 28; Phara Souffrant Forrest, 31; Emily Gallagher, 36; and Jenifer Rajkumar, 38, all of whom won primaries for the State Assembly, along with Jabari Brisport, 33, who won a State Senate primary; and Ritchie Torres, 32, and Mondaire Jones, 33, who won Congressional races. Jamaal Bowman, 44, also won offering generational change and far-left ideology in his challenge to 73-year-old incumbent Rep. Eliot Engel, and other Assembly candidates in their forties, Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas and Marcela Mitaynes, beat incumbent Democrats while offering a far-left message.

Souffrant Forrest, Mamdani, and Brisport were all endorsed by New York City’s branch of the Democratic Socialists of America, an organization that also backed Salazar and Ocasio-Cortez in 2018 and 2020, and had six of its seven endorsed candidates win this election cycle (DSA-backed Samelys Lopez lost to Torres in the 15th Congressional District primary).

Growing dissatisfaction with government and social conditions is something Torres, one of the youngest people elected to the City Council in modern times and likely to soon be one of the youngest elected to Congress, says has contributed to the success of younger elected officials, who are often those challenging incumbents.

“We’re living in an anti-establishment moment. When the electorate has a bias for youth and energy. I think if you have a young insurgent running against an established politician who’s been entrenched in office for decades, the young insurgent has a greater advantage now more than ever,” Torres said. “At a time of peak suffering, the argument for insurgents might be helped because if you have been entrenched in office for decades, and your district is in the same position that it was when you first entered public office, does your tons of experience really matter?”

Brisport, who is further to the left of Torres, nonetheless voiced a similar sentiment and said the reason for more young people challenging incumbents is their want for bigger changes.

“It is predominantly younger people that are unseating incumbents, are making up this new guard and I think that speaks to a hunger and a thirst for much bolder progressive policies throughout New York,” said Brisport, currently a middle-school teacher and of central Brooklyn, in an interview. “My generation, millennials and below us, Gen-Z, we are seeing firsthand capitalism really unfurling on itself, runaway income inequality, a world where we don’t see ourselves as eventual homeowners in the way our parents did, our American dream is no longer to get a house and 2.5 kids the dream is just to survive this nightmare, this hellscape of capitalism that we live in where rents are spiraling out of control, health care — you’re lucky if you have it and if you don’t you’re confined to a lifetime of medical debt — and if you’re Black, indigenous, person of color, you might just get shot by police for the crime of existing. It’s a confluence of factors that is extremely terrifying for people in my generation and revolutionary politics is much more alluring in a scenario like that.”

Some of those more progressive policies have seen more support from young people: a 2019 Quinnipiac University poll found that New York State residents aged 18-34 were the biggest supporters of congestion pricing (at 62% in favor), stricter gun laws (70%), legalizing marijuana (84%), and protecting abortion rights (80%).

And, although only 36% approved of single-payer health-care generally, if it were to decrease health care costs (even at the cost of raising taxes), they were the biggest supporters of single-payer health-care, too, at 57%. Younger people are more open than older generations to raising taxes if it means reducing individual health-care costs. Nationally, a poll conducted last year by the Institute of Politics (IOP) at Harvard Kennedy School found that 51% of those aged 18-29 support free public college for those from families making $125,000 a year or less and free community college for all — even if it costs $47 billion a year.

“I’ve seen multiple recessions, I’ve seen, in many ways, the failures of capitalism again and again and again kind of replayed ad nauseum,” said Mamdani, currently a housing counselor and of western Queens, in an interview. “There is a real fear with regards to health-care and with regards to debt, specifically student loan debt. We have seen, in many ways, much of capitalism’s promises, we have seen the terms and conditions of those promises in our lifetime. And generations older than us, there have been more of the promises delivered to them, while for us that promise has been extinguished and now it’s all of the fine print.”

Attaining higher education and employment are two interwoven issues for young people: higher education costs are rising (by over 25% in the last decade, according to a CNBC analysis of The College Board data), while a college degree is becoming more and more essential to find employment (as a 2014 report from Burning Glass, a labor market analytics company, shows). And most recently, during the coronavirus pandemic, young New Yorkers were most affected when it comes to losing employment — unemployment of those aged 16-24 skyrocketed from 6.6% to 35.2% from February to May, according to a report by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer. For the city writ large, it had gone from 3.5% to 19.9%.

Anderson, currently a supplemental instructor at his alma mater, Queens College, and likely to be the youngest member of the state Legislature next year, noted that many struggles young people face — from affording higher education to getting a job to paying for rent — contribute to one another.

“Young people, we’ve got to focus on ensuring that we can have a future,” Anderson, of southeast Queens, said in an interview. “Whether it was succumbing to gun violence, whether it was succumbing to student debt, whether it was not being able to afford health-care, whether it’s living in the Rockaways in the Rosedale section of the district and facing constant flooding, these are the things that young people are genuinely concerned about and that’s how my politics will be guided.”

Anderson, who got started in politics as an organizer with the Rockaway Youth Task Force, went on to explain that he believes young people are at the center of many different issues, from being the most common perpetrators and victims of gun violence, to being those disserved by failing school systems, to being unable to afford housing, sometimes due to student debt.

“We’re at the epicenter of everything and until someone comes in like myself and other young leaders who will come behind me, comes in and understands the youth perspective and how we need to continue to invest in youth so that all of that trickles down and translates to everyone else, you will continue to see these problems perpetuate,” Anderson said.

Tenants’ rights, specifically, have been a cause many younger people are rallying around, according to Cea Weaver, a longtime housing activist who helped push stronger rent regulations through the Legislature last year and is the campaign coordinator of the Housing Justice for All coalition.

“New York’s a majority-renter city and it always has been,” said Weaver, who is 31. “So, I think, when you’re talking about New York City, I think it’s been a little bit surprising just how few elected officials have really centered renters’ rights. But I think as people become more active and as the housing market is more and more out of control, I think we’re just seeing a whole generation of younger electeds who are responding to a younger tenants movement.”

Many of the younger state candidates elected in 2018 — particularly Myrie, Biaggi, Ramos, and Salazar — ran on platforms centering tenants’ rights and in opposition to big real estate interests, including promises not to accept donations from developers. Housing was a key issue they had to distinguish themselves from their incumbent opponents, who were generously supported by the real estate industry.

Since then, many more candidates — incumbents and insurgents alike — have taken pledges not to accept real estate donations, and in 2019 historic legislation was passed by the State Legislature and signed by Governor Cuomo to increase protections for millions of rent-regulated tenants.

And it’s an issue that was at the center of many of the recent primaries, such as in Gallagher’s race against incumbent Joe Lentol, where her support of canceling rent contrasted with Lentol’s work in passing a more moderate rent voucher bill, and in Mamdani’s, where he highlighted his opponent breaking her pledge not to accept real estate donations.

Canceling rent is one policy challengers like Gallagher, who sometimes shared similar platforms with their also-progressive opponents, distinguished themselves. While many current Assembly members, like Lentol, dismissed the policy as unrealistic and having the potential to hurt small landlords, Gallagher argued it was essential to help those facing extreme financial insecurity due to the pandemic and who could not pay their rent (the bill in the Legislature would not cancel rent for those who could afford to pay and would provide relief for smaller landlords).

“A lot of these voters, they identify with someone who has student debt, or hasn’t lived in the community as long or hasn’t been paying rent themselves as long in the community and therefore are paying a higher part of their income to live on,” said Jerry Skurnik, a long-time political consultant at Prime New York and former aide to Mayor Ed Koch, in an interview. “I can’t prove it but I’m assuming Joe Lentol, because he lived in his community for 70 years, probably was paying less rent per square foot than Emily Gallagher did, not that he did anything unfair by doing that.”

Like other challengers discussing their own challenges with bills and burdens, Gallagher used her experiences struggling to afford rent to connect to voters during her campaign, and had previously said that, were she not in a rent-stabilized apartment, she likely would not have been able to live in the northern Brooklyn district, which has been home to massive development and accelerated gentrification over the past decade-plus.

“For something of this magnitude, for the times we’re living in,” said Brisport, an extreme measure like canceling rent “is fine, and it should be expected to think completely outside of the box. What’s the alternative, you’re just going to evict a million people? How is that not worse? From a moral standpoint, yes. From a public health standpoint, for the economy, everything, it would actually be more disruptive to have hundreds of thousands, over a million evictions happen in New York than to cancel rent and then have a small fund for landlords.”

Gallagher and Briport, among other younger progressive candidates, held out their personal experiences as renters in New York City in connecting with voters and activists who are passionate about tenants’ rights, according to Weaver.

“A lot of the people who are the young folks in elected office right now are also rent-stabilized tenants,” Weaver said. “Every single candidate is taking the housing crisis much more seriously than their predecessors…We have younger folks who are willing to think creatively about what a solution would look like in this movement and who don’t have decades of housing policy telling them that the most important thing is to bail out the real estate industry.”

But some see defeating older, experienced Assembly members, like Joe Lentol, as a huge loss to the community. Bob Liff, Senior Vice President of George Arzt Communications, said although he has nothing against newcomers like Gallagher, Lentol and others provide a lot of value due to their experience and the connections they build over time.

“What you’re losing is an awful lot of institutional memory,” Liff said in an interview. “And when you’re at a certain age and you think that you are inherently soiled by your experience, well that’s all well and good, until you realize you don’t know where the bodies are buried. These people do because they buried them.”

Liff — who through his firm is a spokesperson for the Brooklyn Democratic Party but was speaking only for himself, he stressed — criticized some younger candidates, especially those in the Democratic Socialists of America, for being seemingly unwilling to acknowledge valid points against them or their policies, such as the fact that the organization does tend to perform best in gentrified areas, and that some of their candidates come from wealthy backgrounds while offering their working-class messaging.

“I’m hopeful, I just think that as you mature hopefully you understand that you need more allies, and that the way that you get more allies is not to trim your sails but to respect the idea that other people might have different views and you might have to work with them. I mean, God forbid, settle for half a loaf,” Liff said, referencing his belief in the necessity to find compromise to achieve meaningful legislation. “It’s an argument for the idea that this country changes in an evolutionary rather than in a revolutionary way. But you can’t tell me that we’re not better off than we were in the 1950s.”

Liff mentioned Ocasio-Cortez as someone he believes has done a great job fighting for her policy goals while also working with her colleagues in Congress.

Brooke Smith, 39, is student body president at CUNY’s Medgar Evers College and a supporter of Anderson. When living in the Rockaways years ago, she saw Anderson volunteering in front of the supermarket, getting signatures for the state senator at the time. Two years later they met again on a bus for a CUNY advocacy trip, and by the end of the day he had shared with her his plan to run for office, and moved her and her husband to donate to him. That donation allowed Anderson to reach the minimum required for him to open his campaign account.

As someone who is not technically a millennial but has worked with many young people pushing for a tuition freeze and free CUNY education, among other things, as a student representative, Smith has a unique perspective on the younger generation, and said she sees a sense of entitlement Liff described as a negative in a more positive light.

“What I’ve noticed is that the younger generation, they’re a lot more radical than the two generations above them,” said Smith, who has also been an advocate for families who have stillbirths after losing her daughter in 2014. After the more radical civil rights era, subsequent generations were more hesitant to seek significant change and reform, she said, until now. “They’re kind of experiencing all the privilege that they should. Not really feeling different. They feel entitled to certain things because they do feel worthy, that they belong here, that they deserve the same treatment, things of that nature. So now, as they start to actually see some of the things that some of these other generations were talking about, they have become more radical because they feel more empowered because of the entitlement that was given to them from several generations down. So, I actually think it’s a beautiful thing because it’s causing a whole different level of change.”

Smith also feels the lack of government experience candidates like Anderson have can also be a plus, as it means they are not as invested in the status quo, echoing a similar sentiment Weaver made regarding old guard politicians’ approach to housing policy.

“That sense of entitlement is going to push them to not really fall into the culture that much,” Smith said. “They’re so radical that I feel like there’s a fearlessness, so I expect to see [Anderson] be able to stand up and bring up to the table that most people are afraid to mention because of their colleagues, because of the things that they have to go back-and-forth with each other, because he’s not coming from that culture.”

Torres similarly said that insurgents' lack of political experience and work on the outside of government is becoming more and more of an advantage, and less of a disadvantage, in these races. A liberal who does not identify as a democratic socialist and has in fact been very critical of the DSA while agreeing on several issues, Torres’ primary win in the Bronx resulted in the DSA’s only local loss of this election cycle. He sees the recent success of younger candidates generally as a sign that people want change, and as many of them are activists, that they want someone used to challenging those in government.

“Young elected officials tend to function as advocates rather than as insiders,” Torres said in an interview. “I think the greatest change is that politics is going to become as much about the outside game as it is about the inside game.”

He said he is part of a generation that “has been failed by the government,” and referenced the rising costs of housing, healthcare, and higher education. Growing up in public housing himself, he said he felt abandoned by the federal government — one of the reasons he recently ran for Congress, which historically has played a greater role in the funding of public housing. After beating the Bronx Democrtic Party’s chosen candidate in his 2013 primary win, Torres has had an independent streak during his Council tenure, and been one of the most vocal critics of Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat.

Torres noted that the only wholly consistent characteristic of the successful insurgents mentioned is their younger ages, suggesting that voters are looking at more than just the policies candidates support.

“Voters are not so much voting for a particular ideology, they’re largely voting for change,” Torres said. “For a new generation of leadership. Because even among the elected officials there are considerable ideological differences.”

Liff and Skurnik both mentioned that, similarly, discontent during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and 1970s led to a movement of young insurgents running against the establishment and for change. Skurnik said Democratic Congressional Rep. Eliot Engel, who recently lost his seat after being outflanked from the left and outworked by Bowman, the democratic socialist former middle school principal, got his start in politics during this time as an anti-war politician. Engel was first elected to the State Assembly in 1977, when he was 30 years old. Lentol also entered office at the age of 30, in 1973, and was often seen as one of the major progressive leaders in the state, especially when it came to criminal justice reform.

“That would be unfair to the incumbents who do grow and do embrace these issues,” Liff said, mentioning how although Lentol was originally for the death penalty, he ended up playing a pivotal role in ending it in New York State. “And the reason there’s been progress on these issues is because they have, in fact, understood the political forces, the fairness, the justice, the inequality issues.”

Similar to those who were motivated to join politics during the Vietnam War, or after Watergate, Skurnik said the election of President Donald Trump in 2016 had a similar effect.

“I would say more Trump than anything else. Trump energized people, generally progressive people, to get more involved and pay more attention,” Skurnik said.

One policy area Trump has motivated movement on is climate change, as he has denied it is happening, called it a “hoax,” took America out of the Paris Climate Agreement, and appointed officials to top posts who have rolled back environmental regulations.

The New York City Sunrise Movement, a youth-led advocacy group focused on electing politicians who recognize the dangers of climate change and support legislation such as The Green New Deal, has had significant success in New York, including by putting major resources to help elect Bowman.

“Trump is a caricature of what was already wrong with American politics, and so I think that he has kind of exaggerated everything that was already going wrong and made it painfully obvious to everyone so that you could no longer possible ignore it,” said Grace Cuddihy, a 16-year-old member of the group.

The NYC Sunrise Movement itself was founded in 2018 and has made substantial efforts to support politicians that oppose Trump’s policies. In New York, they have helped to get many of their endorsed candidates into office, including Mamdani, Brisport, Souffrant Forrest, and other insurgents who won in 2020, as well as some in 2018, including Ocasio-Cortez, Biaggi, and Myrie. Fourteen of their 16 endorsed candidates won this year, many of them younger progressives.

Cuddihy said the organization made 60,000 calls for its endorsed candidates, and its national branch — which she is also a part of — made hundreds of thousands of calls just for Bowman.

“It really is my future and my life and because I am so young — they say we have nine years left, I’m going to be 25,” Cuddihy said, referencing some of the most disastrous projected impending consequences of climate change. “As someone who can’t vote…watching democracy deteriorate before my eyes and not being able to go to the voting booth and do something about it has motivated me to be more active in terms of phone-banking and volunteering for candidates and organizing for political leaders.”

And although the Green New Deal championed by Ocasio-Cortez and many other but not all New York representatives has not gained as much traction in Congress as activists would like, New York has passed significant climate change and green economy legislation that included investments in renewable energy and enacted goals to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and 100% clean power by 2040.

But candidates such as Brisport and Mamdani want more ambitious climate policies, such as making energy a public utility and having New York divest pension funds from fossil fuels (something being pursued to an extent at the city level but not at the state level).

“The threat is right here, it’s already here, it’s happening and the urgency is so right there for my generation that the notion of strong redistributive policies, shifting billions of dollars from the wealthiest people into fighting climate change isn’t some laughable idea, it’s a necessary thing to do,” said Brisport.

While younger and more progressive voters recently helped elect candidates with ambitious left-wing agendas, such as Brisport, it is yet to be seen what the impact will be on the legislative bodies they are entering. When a wave of progressives like Myrie, Biaggi, Ramos, Salazar, and Gounardes helped Democrats to win back the State Senate in 2018, it resulted in sweeping legislation at the state level — although some of the most ambitious far left policy goals were left on the back burner, forming the platforms of some of this year’s insurgent left-wing candidates.

Skurnik thinks a similar thing will happen in 2021, as incoming members will push the state farther left, but not all the way, with policies such as those focused on tenants’ rights.

“They will move more incumbents, the establishment people, to a more progressive position. Maybe not as far as they say they want to go,” Skurnik said. “I don’t think they’re gonna cancel rent, but I think they will do other things for tenants that, three or four years ago, weren’t even on the horizon.”

by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been corrected to note that NYC Sunrise did endorse Ocasio-Cortez in the 2018 Democratic primary.

‘The Electorate Has a Bias for Youth and Energy’: Younger Candidates Take New York Politics by Storm Tue, 15 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
'We're in a State of Transition': Bronx Democrats Wrestle with Changing of the Guard Bronx Democrats Heastie Diaz Jr Crespo

Bronx political leaders Heastie, Diaz Jr., Crespo (photo: Bronx Borough President's Office)

To say the Bronx political landscape is changing is simultaneously both a trite observation and a vast understatement. The once-vaunted Democratic machine in the borough is currently leaderless and has lost many of its longtime fixtures in recent years, with more on their way off the political stage. This comes at a time when progressive and anti-establishment forces are gaining momentum across the city, though in some ways less so in the Bronx than other boroughs. But, there have been signs that such shifts are underway in the Bronx, and it’s unclear how much power what’s left of the older guard can hang onto.

What’s at stake is power, representation, and reform, as well as the public policy outcomes that can come from all three. Many of those challenging longtime power brokers are offering more inclusive democracy, more attention to people of color in districts that have been represented by white elected officials, a louder voice for younger Bronxites, and a fight for more progressive policies. 

Several electoral newcomers embodying major change in New York City politics shot to victory in June’s primaries, some by defeating longtime, party-backed incumbents or the political establishment’s chosen candidate. From Khaleel Anderson and Zohran Mamdani in Queens to Jabari Brisport, Phara Souffrant Forrest, Emily Gallagher, and Marcela Mitaynes in Brooklyn, there were a series of Democratic primaries for state legislative seats that made for a youthful, leftist wave.

It also extended to the Bronx, where Jamaal Bowman defeated longtime incumbent Rep. Eliot Engel in their congressional primary (the district also includes part of Westchester), and Amanda Septimo is set to replace 26-year incumbent Assemblymember Carmen Arroyo, who lost her primary ballot spot due to campaign errors. Septimo will join other young progressives, such as Assemblymember Karines Reyes and State Senators Alessandra Biaggi and Gustavo Rivera, in the Bronx’s state legislative delegation.

Along with Engel and Arroyo, many other longtime pillars of Bronx politics have bowed out, or been kicked out by challengers and voters, in recent years -- and others won’t be around soon given announced plans to leave politics. Meanwhile, still others are in the sights of progressives who see blood in the water and an electorate interested in change, with voters apparently more open to giving pink slips to incumbents and welcoming to candidates who both better represent them demographically and champion policies meant to meet their acute needs, which include challenges due to poverty, poor health, crumbling public housing, and more.

Between 2018 and this year, Joe Crowley (whose former district covered parts of the Bronx, in addition to Queens), Jeff Klein, and Engel were all felled by young primary challengers from their left. Jose Serrano, who’s been in Congress for three decades, is retiring. Their replacements -- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Biaggi, Bowman, and Ritchie Torres, respectively -- represent generational, racial, ethnic, gender, ideological, and LGBTQ-status shifts.

Controversial City Council Member Ruben Diaz Sr. announced that he would be retiring from politics after coming in third in the race to replace Serrano, which was won by his current Council colleague, Torres, and is also pushing out of elected office Assemblymember Michael Blake, who forewent a reelection bid to pursue the seat in Congress and came in second.

Ruben Diaz Jr., who’s been the Borough President for over a decade, surprisingly dropped out of the 2021 mayoral race earlier this year (term limits prevent him from running again for his current post) and said he is leaving politics altogether. A few months later, Marcos Crespo, a longtime ally of both Diaz Jr. and Sr., resigned as both an Assembly member and as chair of the county party.

Chantel Jackson will replace Blake in the Assembly. Amanda Farias, who lost in the 2017 primary as Diaz Sr. moved from the State Senate to the City Council, had already announced her intention to run again in 2021 before Diaz Sr. said he wouldn’t seek another term. Another young progressive who ran in 2017, Michael Beltzer, is also considering running for the seat again. Marjorie Velázquez, also a young progressive, has announced her intention to challenge Council Member Mark Gjonaj, whom she narrowly lost to in 2017 as Gjonaj moved from the Assembly to the Council.

The field to replace Diaz Jr. as Borough President is still developing, with City Council Members Vanessa Gibson and Fernando Carbera and Assemblymember Nathalia Fernandez in the race already.

The Bronx political machine, which has perhaps been the strongest Democratic county party in the five boroughs in recent years, still has power. Before being elected Assembly Speaker, Carl Heastie reigned as Bronx county party leader for over seven years, then passed the baton to Crespo, an ally, and still wields tremendous influence over the party, as well as the entire city and state given his perch in Albany.

Many current elected officials in the borough have ties to the party apparatus, as do candidates for City Council running in the 2021 elections that will see all of city government on the ballot. The party was influential in selecting and electing Darcel Clarke to become Bronx District Attorney as her predecessor left the post for a judgeship in a move orchestrated by county leaders, who continue to have strong influence over judicial appointments and patronage jobs at various government offices, like the Board of Elections.

But given recent losses, departures, and planned departures, the future of the county party’s power is very much unknown. A lot depends on Heastie, as well as the next county party chair, and the machinations and outcomes of the 2021 election cycle, which will then be followed by a state and federal election year in 2022.

Other examples of change in Bronx politics -- dominated by Democrats who enjoy an overwhelming voter registration advantage in the borough, which currently has not one Republican elected official (other than President Trump, whom Bronx voters opposed but for 9.5% of the 2016 vote) -- are developing.

State Senator Biaggi recently left the Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club (BFRDC), a local powerbroker, to form her own political club in the area. She told the Riverdale Press that “My values are not aligned with what the club's leadership is representing.” 

Longtime Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, a member of the BFRDC, received only 63.5% of the vote in his 81st Assembly District (Riverdale, Kingsbridge) primary against what one person familiar with Bronx politics described as “token opposition.” Dinowitz’s district partially overlaps with Biaggi’s 34th Senate District. He could face difficult reelection prospects in 2022 if a well-resourced candidate emerges. The Assemblymember’s son, Eric Dinowitz, is currently running in City Council District 11, which will likely have a special election early next year after incumbent Council Member Andrew Cohen was nominated for a Supreme Court judgeship at last month’s judicial convention, a process heavily controlled by county party leadership.

“I am elated about what’s happening in the Bronx right now and I’m looking forward to working with whoever the City Council brings us next year, because it will be a better batch than before,” said State Senator Rivera, who won his seat in 2010 as an independent reformer without county party support.

“We’re in a state of transition and it gives new people the opportunity to be tried out and step into the void,” said Bronx Assemblymember Victor Pichardo, who told Gotham Gazette he is considering a run for county party chair.

Although Heastie wields tremendous political power as Assembly Speaker, the county party’s ability to run candidates for open seats (with no incumbent) and win or to protect incumbents appears significantly diminished. Given the city is on the eve of the 2021 municipal elections, those many races are likely to be more wide open and competitive than in past cycles.

“The county organization’s purpose for the last decade has really been, how do we best organize ourselves so we provide the best base so that Ruben [Diaz Jr.] can run for mayor,” said Rivera. “As you saw, as soon as Diaz Jr. dropped out, then all of a sudden the county chair [Marcos Crespo] said ‘alright, then I’m out, deuces.’ He didn’t even wait until the year was done!”

With Diaz Jr. out of the mayoral race, the Bronx county party’s support is up for grabs among the remaining candidates, as will potentially be the backing of the Bronx’s new delegation of Council members in the race to succeed Corey Johnson as speaker, which will unfold in late 2021 and January 2022. But as shifts in borough politics indicate, it’s unclear how much weight a county party endorsement for mayor will carry, and whether there will be a cohesive block of county votes for the next Council speaker.

“Overall, there’s a sentiment where people have felt like they’ve been excluded politically and now they want a voice,” said Assemblymember Reyes, noting that this is a phenomena citywide, not just in the Bronx. Combined with many incumbent officeholders leaving public life, “it’s made the Bronx a hotbed for progressive change. People just want change and history has shown us that happens all the time. We’re in the middle of that right now.”

“The problem I have [with the county party],” Rivera said, using a Game of Thrones reference, “is that I don’t ‘bend the knee.’ Ultimately, for me, there are so many people that are more about the intrigue than the policy.” Rivera and others Gotham Gazette spoke with for this article believe that the county party has been slow to adapt to the contemporary reality in the Bronx and slow to include newer demographic groups and progressives in its processes.

These changes come at a time of acute pressure for the Bronx, on top of longstanding systemic problems. The Bronx is home to the highest poverty rates in the city and the country, is where a disproportionate share of the city’s “essential workers” live, and is the borough hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, both in terms of fatalities and economic consequences.

Since Ruben Diaz Jr. assumed the borough presidency, the borough’s unemployment rate fell from 14.1% in January 2010 to 4.6% in February 2020, an all-time low for the Bronx. But amid the coronavirus fallout, the unemployment rate in the Bronx jumped to 19.8% as of July. At the same time, the Bronx has languished as the unhealthiest county in the state, while also placing last in several other quality-of-life metrics.

“We’re the unhealthiest borough, we’re the poorest borough, and there’s a lot of scrutiny now,” John Doyle, a former City Council candidate and Bronx political reformer, told Gotham Gazette. “The Bronx machine was caught resting on its laurels, because until Trump got elected, people were never really opening the hood and kicking the tires on their Democratic incumbents.”

Several elected officials and others interviewed by Gotham Gazette pointed to the 2016 presidential election as the spark for many Bronxites to get involved in local politics for the first time. Groups like Bronx Progressives and the Bronx/Upper Manhattan Democratic Socialists of America branch were created in the wake of Trump’s election. That helped encourage several insurgent candidates like Farias, Beltzer, Velázquez, and Doyle to run in 2017, and led to two of the most consequential and stunning upsets in modern New York political history in Ocasio-Cortez’s and Biaggi’s 2018 wins. Now, Bowman followed suit in 2020. 

County Party Chair Race
While there is little overt campaigning going on for Bronx Democratic Party chair, there are several candidates maneuvering largely behind the scenes to replace Crespo in the top job in the borough’s political apparatus. The party convention, where the next party chair will be elected, will likely take place in September, although this is not definite due to the pandemic.

The county chair is elected by a simple majority of the district leaders. The executive committee (which includes Assemblymembers Latoya Joyner, Jeffrey Dinowitz, and Michael Bendetto, among others) can exercise a role in the process, but act like “super-delegates” and traditionally within the Bronx county committee, the executive committee would not overturn the decision of the district leaders.

As Gothamist reported last month, nine of the 24 district leaders in the Bronx were elected without county party support. However, according to Beltzer, a cofounder of the group Local Democrats, the nine aren’t necessarily anti-establishment progressives. “It’s a good sign, but I’m not sure if it’s necessarily a progressive sign. I don’t know that the nine people who ran would call themselves progressive. They could just be community- and politically-minded folks who just work outside the machine.”

Assemblymembers Victor Pichardo, Latoya Joyner, and Karines Reyes, among others, have all been touted as potential next county party bosses. Pichardo and Reyes would both be the first Dominican to hold the position; Joyner and Reyes would be the first woman in the position.

“I see myself as a bridge-builder,” said Pichardo, who has made public his intention to run for county party chair, in an interview with Gotham Gazette, highlighting a desire to focus on “solutions that benefit the people we serve” over “political wrangling and bickering.”

As county party chair, Pichardo says he would “bring all the stakeholders together and try to hash out the differences among members and community leaders. People really need to understand what the Bronx Democratic Party is about and we need to define it for ourselves. The new Democratic Party is a big tent party. We can harness all that energy for the greater good.”

Pichardo sees the recent success of progressive organizations and candidates in the Bronx as “nothing new. The left-wing movement has existed in the Bronx since at least the 1960s,” with the growth of the Puerto Rican community in the borough at the time. “It’s a cyclical thing that happens and now there’s a new wave with change that’s hopefully for the better.”

“For me, it’s about bringing everybody together because the more that we fight internally and politically, the less focus we have on the real issues here in the borough,” Pichardo said.

While Reyes told Gotham Gazette she’s “not actively campaigning” for the post, she does have ideas on what the next county party chair should do once elected and said she’d consider vying for the position if the support is there.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty within the body of the party to determine how this will go,” Reyes said in an interview. “The person who is going to take this seat is not just going to have to campaign in the old sense of getting people in line, but whoever’s vying for this seat needs to talk to these new district leaders about how to make the party different and more inclusive.”

Reyes wants to make the county party’s endorsement process more transparent, saying “the purpose of the party is to inform and educate the electorate and that requires a lot of organizing and getting people involved, which hasn’t been the case. The party has been good at engaging those folks who’ve always been engaged, but they haven’t been good at the new base of the Democratic electorate.”

“The next chair of the party is in for a big headache,” Reyes continued.“I anticipate that elected officials in the Bronx will always have primaries going forward.” Reyes said this is a positive change.

Generational & Demographic Shifts
“We’re seeing a generational shift,” said Eli Valentin, a political analyst, professor, and Democratic consultant. “The electorate is tending to be more in line with the progressive values of the younger generation, because we’re also seeing a generational shift with the voting population.”

The Bronx has the youngest median age of any of the city’s boroughs at 34, compared to the citywide median of 36.6.

In 2016, the average age of the four members of the House of Representatives representing at least part of the Bronx was 70.5 years, but come next year the average age of the Bronx’s four House representatives will be 43.3, a shift catalyzed by the ascension of City Council Member Torres to replace retiring Rep. Serrano, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez defeating Crowley, and Bowman defeating Engel. Rep. Adriano Espaillat also represents parts of the borough, taking the post after Charles Rangel’s retirement.

Additionally, out of those four, two -- Ocasio-Cortez and Bowman -- are members of the Democratic Socialists of America.

The Bronx’s 15-person state legislative delegation had an average age of 54.4 in 2016, but the average age will be 42.8 in the new year, with younger legislators like Septimo, Reyes, Biaggi, and Jamaal Bailey replacing older predecessors in recent years.

“The Bronx is changing in a way I haven’t seen in my lifetime,” said J.C. Polanco, a Republican consultant from the Bronx and former Board of Elections commissioner. “Politicians used to get elected with only a couple thousand votes, so a well-oiled insurgent campaign can end up winning.” Polanco said he doesn’t always think that’s a good thing.

The borough also has more women as a share of the population than any other borough (89.2 men for every 100 women, compared to 91.2 for every 100 citywide). In 2014, three of the 15 members of the Bronx’s state legislative delegation were women, but that number will increase to five of 15 in the new year.

In the City Council, only two of the nine districts that cover at least part of the Bronx are represented by women (Diana Ayala and Vanessa Gibson). As the 2021 city election cycle heats up, there is currently at least one woman running in all nine districts. Meanwhile, Gibson and Fernandez are seeking the borough presidency.

“We’re no longer waiting for permission to run,” Reyes said, when asked about the recent surge in women candidates seeking office in the borough.

The Bronx has long been the least-white borough in New York City, but the white population has declined by more than a third in recent decades, making up 14.5% of residents in 2000 but only 9% as of 2019. There are only two white state Assemblymembers left from the Bronx (longtime Assemblymembers Jeffrey Dinowitz and Michael Benedetto), while there were three earlier this decade.

The decline in the borough’s white population, which has traditionally been predominant in northern Bronx neighborhoods such as Riverdale, can be attributed to older white residents moving or dying, and an increase in the number of immigrants and Bronxites of color throughout the borough. So far at least, a recent influx of new white residents in the South Bronx, enticed by relatively cheaper rent than nearby Manhattan, has not offset this change. Additionally, many Dominican New Yorkers have been priced out of Upper Manhattan and many have moved to the Bronx.

“I don’t think gentrification will be as pronounced [in the South Bronx] as it is in other parts of the city,” Valentin said. He attributes this to one key difference between the South Bronx and areas of the city that are currently experiencing gentrification, such as western Queens and northwest Brooklyn, which is that there is a higher concentration of public housing developments in the South Bronx than those places, which will make gentrification of the South Bronx a slower process than what has taken place elsewhere.

While Bronx politics has been dominated for decades by the Puerto Rican community (including Serrano, Diaz Jr., Diaz Sr., Crespo, Torres, and others now and in the past), several newer elected officials, such as Reyes and Pichardo, hail from the growing Dominican community in the borough (Espaillat is also Dominican). While the two communities share some similarities and common issues (such as language access), immigration is a key concern for Dominican Americans in a way that it is not for Puerto Rican Americans, who are American citizens from birth.

“We as a Dominican community, as an immigrant community, can no longer be ignored,” said Reyes. “People want representation that looks like them, understands their culture, and speaks to them, because there are nuances.”

This is just one nuance that differentiates this ascendant community from the entrenched political powers in the borough. Furthermore, the Dominican diaspora is often politically divided internally along party lines in the Dominican Republic. Last month, the Dominican Republic held its presidential election and, in the period leading up to it, Bronxites in some neighborhoods were more likely to see posters for Dominican presidential candidates than New York primary candidates.

“In the primaries, when I was out campaigning, there were folks campaigning for an election in another country. It seems like they were even more active for those campaigns than the campaigns here. There’s a bit of apathy for American politics,” Reyes told Gotham Gazette.

Dominican Americans “are very much entrenched in Dominican politics and that divides them even here in the Bronx. That makes it very hard to organize them as a Dominican community, because they’re fragmented within themselves,” said Reyes.

Rise of Progressive Groups in the Bronx
“The Bronx is definitely changing for the better, politically. We have more people engaged, more people holding electeds accountable, and electing people that represent their values,” said Amanda Farias, who is running again in City Council District 18 in 2021 after competing against Diaz Sr. in 2017. “I can only see it getting more progressive and democracy moving more left in the Bronx.”

“Progressive organizations are getting better and better at identifying and working with young, progressive people of color in those districts who relate to their communities” said Camille Rivera, a consultant at New Deal Strategies. “It’s not the same-old, same-old lefty, DSA brand. They’ve created a space where energetic community organizers can run and make a difference.”

“The Bronx Democratic Party feels less invincible than it did a year ago, but we still have hints of their power,” said Jazz Hooks, of the Bronx/Uptown Manhattan branch of the New York City branch of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). “We have a lot of potential. Our message can reach far beyond who the conventional wisdom says it can reach.”

“The racial dynamics [within the DSA] are something that we need to address and we are seeing progress,” said Hooks, who co-founded the NYC-DSA’s Afro-Socialist Caucus, noting the better-than-expected performance of Samelys López in the Democratic Primary for the 15th Congressional District, in the South Bronx, shows that the DSA’s message appeals to communities of color.

While not a citywide group, the Bronx Progressives are a new group with similar objectives (López is a co-founder). According to Beltzer, the Bronx Progressives “came out of the Bernie Sanders movement in 2016 and we wanted to make sure that we continued to organize the community. We wanted to make sure that people had a political home that might not exist in the county organization.”

Beltzer says “a lot of progressives in the Bronx are still in their own silos, but it’s definitely something that’s building.”

by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

Note - this article has been updated.

'We're in a State of Transition': Bronx Democrats Wrestle with Changing of the Guard Sun, 23 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Donovan Richards on Development, Jobs & His Vision for Queens donovan richards 600

City Council Member Donovan Richards (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

August 19, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Donovan Richards on Police Reform, Jobs & His Vision for Queens

City Council Member Donovan Richards, very likely the next Queens Borough President, joined the show to discuss how he plans to operate as borough president and what's next as he chairs the Council's public safety committee.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or

Max & Murphy · Episode 243: Donovan Richards On Police Reform, Jobs & His Vision For Queens

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: Donovan Richards on Development, Jobs & His Vision for Queens Wed, 19 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Fact-Checking Malliotakis and Rose Campaign Ads in NY-11 max rose budget

An image from a Malliotakis attack ad

It’s been clear for quite some time that the race between Democratic Congressional Rep. Max Rose and his Republican challenger, Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, would be highly competitive and full of mud-slinging. The campaign in New York’s 11th Congressional District, spanning all of Staten Island and a slice of Southern Brooklyn, is among the most-watched nationally, and the attack ads have been flying for months.

Now with under three months until Election Day, the Rose and Malliotakis campaigns both recently released negative ads that stretch the truth — though the challenger’s is significantly more misleading than the incumbent’s.

Rose, an Army veteran who is still part of the National Guard, was able to flip the seat in 2018, winning 50% of the vote against incumbent Dan Donovan’s 46%. The Democratic win was among several red-to-blue flips in New York, which contributed to the party’s seizure of the House majority. It also ensured that New York City had an all-Democratic congressional delegation.

Malliotakis, who represents a significantly overlapping district in the State Legislature and was the Republican nominee for  mayor in 2017, now hopes to flip the seat back. Rose’s successful 2018 approach was based on a moderate brand of Democratic politics, focusing on less partisan issues like infrastructure, criticizing de Blasio, and mostly avoiding the often polarizing topic of President Donald Trump, who carried the district and won Staten Island overwhelmingly in 2016, though Rose did eventually vote for Trump’s impeachment.

But you wouldn’t know that Rose has staked out a moderate, law enforcement-friendly path after seeing Malliotakis’ recent ad titled, “Thin Blue Line,” which groups Rose in with de Blasio — who the Congressmember has recently called “not only the worst mayor in the history of New York City, he’s the worst mayor in the history of this great country” — and, despite evidence to the contrary, says Rose’s positions on the New York Police Department “aren’t just radically liberal…they’re radically dangerous.”

Rose’s own ad, “When the Virus Hit,” goes after Malliotakis for her actions related to the coronavirus pandemic, although points of criticism it raises are on policies or votes shared with her Democratic colleagues in the Assembly.

“Thin Blue Line”

In her ad, Malliotakis says that Rose “joined de Blasio and the defund the police crowd” in “calling to dismantle the NYPD,” referencing the “defund the NYPD” protest movement spurred by the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, which calls for resources to be redistributed from the NYPD to youth and social services.

But Rose has made multiple public comments stating that he does not support the “defund the NYPD” movement. In early June, Rose tweeted “I don’t support defunding or abolishing the NYPD,” while criticizing Republicans for their role in not funding police. A month later, Rose wrote an op-ed in the Staten Island Advance titled, “Defunding the police is shortsighted and wrong,” in which he said, “I oppose #DefundThePolice and spoke out against efforts to cut funding to our District Attorney’s office because doing so will undermine the most critical goal of the moment: to build a city and country where relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve are based on trust and mutual respect.”

Rose serves on the Committee on Homeland Security and Committee on Veteran’s Affairs in Congress, and has worked to increase Homeland Security funding for New York and co-sponsored a bill to increase mental health programs for law enforcement.

When asked why Malliotakis’ ad suggested Rose supports defunding the NYPD, a spokesperson for Malliotakis’ campaign pointed to his attendance of a peaceful Black Lives Matter march where some protestors held “defund NYPD” and other signs as evidence of his support for the movement.

“On issue after issue Max Rose tries to play both sides,” Malliotakis’ spokesperson, Rob Ryan, said. “He takes part in an anti-NYPD demonstration where his fellow marchers chant ‘defund the police’ and carry signs saying ‘Blue Lives Murder” and then he claims he supports the NYPD; he can’t have it both ways.”

Rose previously responded to Malliotakis in a tweet by alleging she was insincere in her remarks for criticizing his attendance of the march despite having expressed support of recent peaceful demonstrations in Bay Ridge and Staten Island in her own tweet two days prior. Meanwhile, Malliotakis attended a pro-NYPD rally at which demonstrators used sexist, misogynistic language against Black Lives Matter supporters, something Rose condemned in a statement the next day.

In her ad, Malliotakis also said Rose had joined calls to “end cash bail.” Rose voiced support for bail reform generally in a 2018 Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn candidate questionnaire, which cited a proposal by Governor Andrew Cuomo that included legislation to “Eliminate monetary bail for people facing misdemeanor and non-violent felony charges.”

However, when New York State’s initial bail reform laws passed in 2019, Rose joined Republicans and some Democrats, including de Blasio, in criticizing them and said the reforms “went too far, too fast.” He also called for changes to prevent major drug dealers from being released along with Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan and Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon.

"Unlike Nicole Malliotakis, I know what it means to risk everything to keep this country and those I love safe,” Rose said in a statement to the Gotham Gazette. “That's why I opposed defunding the police, secured millions of dollars for the NYPD to keep NYC safe from terrorists, and have taken on my party no matter the consequences. Nicole lies as if her very life depends on it and flip flopped on everything from support to President Trump, to sanctuary cities, and even the Black Lives Matter protests. After this election, hopefully she'll finally understand you can't lie to the people you're trying to lead."

Rose was referring to how Malliotakis previously said she “was never really a supporter of his” in reference to Trump and had tried to distance herself from him while running for mayor in 2017, as well as how she voiced support in 2017 for a type of sanctuary city policy put in place by former Mayor Ed Koch but in January 2019 wrote an op-ed saying New York should no longer be a sanctuary city.

“When the Virus Hit”

Rose’s ad focuses on the pandemic and Malliotakis’ response as a member of the State Assembly, where she is in the minority. The ad mentions three main points: that Malliotakis photoshopped herself into a picture to make it appear as if she were providing covid-related relief to New Yorkers, that she voted to cut hospitals funding by $400 million; and that she voted for a law that “protects shady nursing homes that put seniors at risk,” as the ad says.

Although it is true that Malliotakis was photoshopped into a picture in early April as part of an Instagram post that said she was delivering PPE and other supplies to nursing homes, sanitation workers, and first responders, the photoshopping was done by the Brooklyn Conservative Party, which posted the image. Her campaign noted that although the particular photo was not genuine, Malliotakis had done a significant amount of work to distribute PPE and help her constituents in other ways during the pandemic.

The two other allegations made in the ad are also broadly correct — Malliotakis did vote to cut hospital funding and pass a law that protects nursing homes from litigation, but those votes were part of the State budget that passed in late March. For it to pass, many Assembly members — mostly Democrats — voted in favor of the same motions, even though many later said they were unhappy with the end result, rammed through by Governor Cuomo while legislators argued the budget needed to be passed to prevent a government shutdown or delay in services or aid to New Yorkers.

“The real fraud in this race is Max Rose; he cynically attacks Assemblywoman Malliotakis on issues that were part of the state budget process, all the time knowing that the vast majority of legislators voted the same way including his Democrat colleagues,” Ryan said in a statement. “It’s another example of how he twists the truth.”

by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Fact-Checking Malliotakis and Rose Campaign Ads in NY-11 Mon, 17 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000
2020 Primary Results Certified by Board of Elections; Show 23% Turnout Among New York City Democrats voting New York City booths

Voters cast many absentee ballots (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Over a month after the June primary, the New York State Board of Elections has certified the results, which show a relatively large voter turnout aided in part by the pandemic-induced expansion of absentee balloting. Almost all of the primaries in New York City were among Democrats, including a number of hotly-contested races for the House of Representatives, both houses of the State Legislature, Queens Borough President, and more.

The elections saw several Democratic incumbents toppled by progressive insurgents while the ascendent New York “left,” led by activists and groups including the Working Families Party and New York City branch of the Democratic Socialists of America, also did well in “open” races where there was no incumbent. But several incumbents also held onto their seats amid challenges.

In the only citywide race, the Democratic presidential primary, there were 844,448 votes cast, including 528,976 in-person votes and 315,472 absentee/military ballots; therefore, absentee ballots represented 37.4% of all ballots counted in New York City in that primary, with in-person voting accounting for 62.6%.

Those more than 315,000 absentee ballots were the ones accepted and counted by the Board of Elections, while roughly another 84,000 (84,108 according to The New York Post) were returned by voters but disqualified for a variety of reasons. After Governor Cuomo ordered boards of election to send all eligible voters an absentee ballot application due to the pandemic, about 778,100 New York City voters requested and were sent an absentee ballot, though many thousands were sent late, and voters returned just over 400,000, more than three-quarters of which were counted. 

With 3,617,982 registered Democrats in the city as of this February -- including 1,172,317 in Brooklyn; 837,162 in Queens; 832,312 in Manhattan; 636,791 in the Bronx; and 139,400 on Staten Island -- the 844,448 presidential primary votes represents a turnout rate of 23.3% among New York City Democrats.

By comparison, in the April 2016 New York Democratic presidential primary, 1,007,161 voters in New York City cast ballots, for a turnout rate of 32.8%. That Bernie Sanders-Hillary Clinton primary was still competitive at the time, unlike this year’s primary, which was postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak and, by the time the vote occurred, saw Joe Biden clear the field. On the other hand, this year’s primary included both universal absentee ballot access and a combined primary day for all federal and state races.

By borough this year, for the Democratic presidential primary, absentee ballots accounted for 106,591 (49.4%) of Manhattan’s 215,557 votes’ 35,901 (26.2%) of the Bronx’s 136,890 votes; 95,126 (34.8%) of Brooklyn’s 273,310 votes; 66,982 (34.6%) of Queens’ 193,537 votes; and 10,872 (43.2%) of Staten Island’s 25,154 votes.

Some of the above and below numbers may change, however, because after plaintiffs won a lawsuit against the State Board of Elections in which a judge ordered the counting of thousands of dismissed absentee ballots, the BOE is appealing the decision. Those ballots, disqualified because they were not postmarked by the post office, have not yet been counted.

Here are the certified results in many of the more competitive New York primaries for the House, State Senate, State Assembly, and Queens Borough President - all are Democratic primaries unless otherwise noted:

NY-6 - Queens
Total votes: 47,127
Grace Meng (incumbent): 30,757 (65.3%)
Melquiades Gagarin: 9,444 (20.0%)
Sandra Choi: 6,756 (14.3%)

NY-9 - Brooklyn
Total votes: 95,911
Yvette Clarke (incumbent): 52,114 (54.3%)
Adam Bunkeddeko: 23,564 (24.6%)
Isiah James: 9,910 (10.3%)
Chaim Deutch: 9,342 (9.7%)
Lutchi Gayot: 839 (0.9%)

NY-10 - Manhattan/Brooklyn
Total Votes: 75,795
Jerry Nadler (incumbent): 51,037 (67.3%)
Lindsey Boylan: 16,495 (21.8%)
Jonathan Herzog: 7,818 (10.3%)

NY-11 - Staten Island (Republican)
Total Votes: 22,839
Nicole Malliotakis: 15,688 (68.7%)
Joseph Caldarera: 7,040 (30.8%)

NY-12 - Manhattan/Queens/Brooklyn
Total Votes: 93,520
Carolyn Maloney (incumbent): 40,176 (43.0%)
Suraj Patel: 36,680 (39.2%)
Lauren Aschcraft: 12,530 (13.4%)
Peter Harrison: 3,938 (4.2%)

NY-13 - Manhattan
Total Votes: 78,154
Adriano Espaillat (incumbent): 46,064 (58.9%)
James Keith: 19,798 (25.3%)
Ramon Rodriguez: 11,858 (15.2%)

NY-15 - Bronx
Total Votes: 59,473
Ritchie Torres: 19,090 (32.1%)
Michael Blake: 10,725 (18.0%)
Ruben Diaz Sr.: 8,559 (14.4%)
Samelys Lopez: 8,272 (13.9%)
Ydanis Rodriguez: 6,291 (10.6%)
Melissa Mark-Viverito: 2,561 (4.3%)
Tomas Ramos: 1,442 (2.4%)
Chivona Newsome: 1,366 (2.3%)
Marlene Tapper: 392 (0.7%)
Julio Pabon: 244 (0.4%)
Frangell Basora: 189 (0.3%)

NY-16 - Bronx/Westchester
Total Votes: 89,139
Jamaal Bowman: 49,367 (55.4%)
Eliot Engel (incumbent): 36,149 (40.6%)
Chris Fink: 1,625 (1.8%)
Sammy Ravelo: 1,139 (1.3%)
Andom Ghebreghiorgis: 761 (0.9%)

District 18 - Brooklyn
Total Votes: 33,010
Julia Salazar (incumbent): 28,590 (86.6%)
Andy Marte: 2,627 (8.0%)

District 25 - Brooklyn
Total Votes: 57,398
Jabari Brisport: 32,967 (57.4%)
Tremaine Wright: 20,009 (34.8%)
Jason Salmon: 4,215 (7.3%)

District 31 - Queens
Total Votes: 9,602
Khaleel Anderson: 3,565 (38.1%)
Richard David: 2,770 (28.8%)
Lisa George: 1,819 (18.9%)
Shea Uzoigwe: 690 (7.2%)
Derrick DeFlorimonte: 392 (4.1%)
Tavia Blakley: 342 (3.6%)

District 34 - Queens
Total Votes: 9,893
Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas: 4,087 (41.3%)
Michael DenDekker (incumbent): 2,374 (24.0%)
Joy Chowdhury: 1,457 (14.7%)
Nuala O’Doherty-Naranjo: 1,347 (13.6%)
Angel Cruz: 579 (5.9%)

District 35 - Queens
Total Votes: 7,994
Jeffion Aubry (incumbent): 5,197 (65.0%)
Hiram Monserrate: 2,759 (34.5%)

District 36 - Queens
Total Votes: 16,426
Zohran Mamdani: 8,410 (51.2%)
Aravella Simotas: 7,986 (48.6%)

District 38 - Queens
Total Votes: 7,346
Jenifer Rajkumar: 3,816 (51.9%)
Michael Miller (incumbent): 1,851 (25.2%)
Joseph De Jesus: 1,667 (22.7%)

District 50 - Brooklyn
Total Votes: 18,708
Emily Gallagher: 9,727 (52.0%)
Joe Lentol (incumbent): 8,895 (47.5%)

District 51 - Brooklyn
Total Votes: 10,280
Marcela Mitaynes: 3,591 (34.9%)
Felix Ortiz (incumbent): 3,319 (32.3%)
Katherine Walsh: 2,437 (23.7%)
Genesis Aquino: 933 (9.1%)

District 56 - Brooklyn
Total Votes: 17,954
Stefani Zinerman: 10,171 (56.7%)
Justin Cohen: 7,665 (42.7%)

District 57 - Brooklyn
Total Votes: 27,885
Phara S. Forrest: 15,376 (55.1%)
Walter Mosley (incumbent): 12,464 (44.7%)

District 65 - Manhattan
Total Votes: 13,673
Yuh-Line Niou (incumbent): 8,748 (64.0%)
Grace Lee: 4,875 (35.7%)

District 68 - Manhattan
Total Votes: 12,683
Robert Rodriguez (incumbent): 7,041 (55.5%)
Tamika Mapp: 5,541 (43.7%)

District 73 - Manhattan
Total Votes: 13,148
Dan Quart (incumbent): 8,672 (66.0%)
Cameron Koffman: 4,427 (33.7%%)

District 79 - Bronx
Total Votes: 11,357
Chantel Jackson: 2,944 (25.9%)
Cynthia Cox: 2,599 (22.9%)
George Alvarez: 2,456 (21.6%)
Elvis Santana: 1,536 (13.5%)
Eric Stevenson: 1,383 (12.2%)
Dion Powell: 410 (3.6%)

Total Votes: 192,919
Donovan Richards: 65,122 (33.8%)
Elizabeth Crowley: 52,502 (27.2%)
Costa Constantinides: 32,823 (17.0%)
Anthony Miranda: 22,717 (11.8%)
Dao Yin: 8,504 (4.4%)

by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

2020 Primary Results Certified by Board of Elections; Show 23% Turnout Among New York City Democrats Thu, 06 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: The Working Families Party's Big Primary Wins sochie nnaemeka 600

Sochie Nnaemeka of the NY WFP (photo: @sochiesays)

August 5, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Sochie Nnaemeka on the Working Families Party's Big Wins & Future Challenges

Sochie Nnaemeka, director of the New York Working Families Party, joined the show to discuss the party's endorsements and successes in the 2020 New York primaries, and what comes next.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or

Max & Murphy · Episode 240: Sochie Nnaemeka On The Working Families Party's Big Wins & Future Challenges

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: The Working Families Party's Big Primary Wins Wed, 05 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000
How a Big Brooklyn Upset Unfolded 1 how unfold

Emily Gallagher with campaign supporters (photo: @em4assembly)

Community activist Emily Gallagher ran a successful insurgent Democratic primary campaign like few others: one with no endorsements from elected officials, no support from ascendent lefitist groups the Working Families Party or New York City branch of the Democratic Socialists of America, and relatively little money compared to her opponent, a 47-year incumbent State Assembly member who had not even faced a primary challenge for a decade.

Gallagher, who has lived in North Brooklyn’s Assembly District 50 for 13 years and been active on issues of sexual assault, the environment, and tenants’ rights, among others, declared victory on Wednesday after thousands of absentee ballots were finally counted, overcoming a 15-point deficit from the in-person tally against incumbent Joe Lentol, who has been something of an institution in state government.

Gallagher’s victory was part of a trend but also unique, given that several other primary challengers unseated incumbents in this year’s primaries but Gallagher did so without some of the support and firepower that others had. She was also taking on an officeholder who appeared to have limited room for criticism from the left, given Lentol’s track record on issues like criminal justice reform and climate change.

Nevertheless, Gallagher had organized an impressive campaign team and won several important endorsements from progressive leaders and groups, and made the case to voters in Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and Clinton Hill that it was time for generational change and a representative promising more independence and aggressiveness on crucial issues like affordable housing.

“I’m really grateful and I’m never going to forget what is like outside of the chambers that I’m about to go into,” Gallagher said of her win, in an interview on Thursday. “And I’m going to try to bring as many people in as I can.”

Gallagher ran on a platform that includes passing a New York Homes Guarantee (a slate of legislation pushed by activist organization Housing Justice for All that includes universal rent control), decriminalization of drugs and sex work, increasing the funding and power of the Department of Environmental Conservation, and support for defunding the NYPD. Some of these policies went further left than Lentol, like decriminalizing all drugs (although he does support legalizing marijuana) while others were shared by both candidates, like the homes guarantee.

In some ways Lentol seemed to many like an odd representative for leftists to pick a fight with given his progressive track record, including recent police reforms like the repeal of a law blocking the release of officer discipline records, and ways he had delivered for the district, such as with new green space. Lentol had seniority in the Assembly majority and apparent sway with Speaker Carl Heastie, and he was endorsed by a slew of Democratic elected officials, progressive organizations, and major labor unions, including Congressional Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the teachers’ and nurses’ unions, and the Working Families Party.

But, looking deeper, Gallagher seized on key issues that galvanized supporters and carved out differences between herself and Lentol. She seemed able to appeal to some long-time district residents through her knowledge of hyperlocal issues from her decade of activism, but also to newer, younger residents who make up a significant portion of the district and appeared to appreciate her far-left politics and the chance to have someone of their own generation and experiences represent them. She also ran an insurgent campaign with volunteers and staff that appear to have overmatched an incumbent completely out of practice at competitive elections.

“Despite the understandable perception in the wider political world that this was a nearly unwinnable or at least massively difficult race, I honestly never felt that way,” said Andrew Epstein, Gallagher’s campaign manager, in an interview. “Partially, that just had to do with how I was seeing the district vote.”

Gallagher started her Assembly run focused on issues of transportation rights and environmentalism, two key concerns for residents of the district, home to large numbers of commuters, including many cyclists, and a great deal of waterfront.

When she launched her campaign, she said it was essential to replace Lentol because residents in the district “have crumbling infrastructure next to gleaming glass towers. We have regular floods of raw sewage lapping up on our long-promised parks. Bikers and pedestrians are killed every week,” and she would be able to better address these issues.

Gallagher’s platform included policies like pushing for a 100% reduction in sewage dumping in rivers and increasing the number of bike lanes in the district.

Then it expanded to canceling rent during the coronavirus crisis that quickly left hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers newly-unemployed as the primary was unfolding. The public health and socio-economic crises brought on by COVID-19 altered races and campaigning across the city, and for some voters surely made certain issues and questions of government representation more pressing.

In the midst of the campaign and the multiple coronavirus-related crises, Lentol helped push through the Assembly and Legislature a rent-relief bill to support certain impacted New Yorkers. But it drew criticism from progressives who said it didn’t do enough, a marker of the divide between many incumbents accepting compromise on one hand and challengers and activists demanding bolder action on the other.

Gallagher’s campaign appealed to the significant population of younger voters in a district that overlaps with that of State Senator Julia Salazar, a democratic socialist elected in 2018 on a platform significantly focused on housing, and that in recent Democratic primaries swung heavily for progressives like presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in 2016 and gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon in 2018, even though they both performed poorly overall in Brooklyn.

But the district, which has seen a great deal of change over the last 10 to 15 years, including a lot of housing development and influx of younger residents, in some ways appeared ripe for a younger, far-left candidate, despite Lentol’s significant strengths.

Still, Gallagher’s win is surprising to many. For one, Lentol’s name recognition, track record in the district (which was also represented by his father and grandfather), and initial campaign war chest of more than $350,000 from past fundraising efforts. Lentol raised close to $200,000 more (including $45,000 from the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee) as of July 16 and had outside groups spend almost $400,000 in support of him between January 1 and primary day, June 23, through independent expenditures. Those two buckets brought the total spending in support of Lentol to close to $1 million, a virtually unheard of amount for an Assembly campaign.

Meanwhile, Gallagher raised a little over $80,000 and spent about $70,000 of it as of her most recent campaign finance filing, submitted June 12 (another filing is overdue). While Gallagher had only three paid staff on her campaign, the campaign manager and two field operation leaders, Lentol was able to hire more staff and outside consultants, like Red Horse Media Strategies, and spend big on mailers and other campaign materials.

Michael Kinnucan, a member of the New York City branch of the Democratic Socialists of America who worked as deputy campaign manager for Salazar’s 2018 campaign, where she upset incumbent State Senator Martin Dilan, said at a certain point money becomes less effective.

“There are real diminishing returns to money in campaigns,” Kinnucan said. “Fundamentally, Joe [Lentol] spent, what, $600,000 or something like that on the race? And what was he doing with it? I mean once you send six mailers, sending a seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth, if the message isn’t connecting, is not going to move the ball.”

Kinnucan went on to say that despite absentee ballots historically being used by older voters who tend to be more loyal to establishment candidates, his experience with campaigns this cycle as a DSA member showed a surprising number of young voters excited at the prospect of voting absentee.

When Governor Andrew Cuomo extended eligibility for absentee ballots for the June primary so the “temporary illness” “excuse” included the possibility of contracting COVID-19, Kinnucan said many young voters seemed more comfortable with ordering an absentee ballot online, as opposed to traditional in-person voting. Gallagher could likely appeal more of these younger voters, who are potentially less aware of Lentol’s track record, tend to identify with her anti-establishment, self-identified democratic socialist campaign, and whose votes for candidates like Sanders and Nixon were what made Epstein confident the district was open to change in the first place.

According to census data, the median age in district 50 is about 30, while the median age in New York City is closer to 37; while 23% of the district is between the ages of 30 and 39, that number is only 16% for the city. The district is also 72% white (both Lentol and Gallagher are white), according to the same data, and includes Williamsburg and Greenpoint, two of the most gentrified neighborhoods in the city — other qualities often friendly to progressive challengers.

But other progressive challengers — at least those who find success — usually have the backing of organizations like the WFP or DSA, which can provide them with organized support and volunteers and give their candidacies added credibility, at least among some target voters. Yet Gallagher was not without important endorsers and validators as she sought to gather support in the primary.

Besides her existing activist network, Gallagher won the backing of groups including the New Kings Democrats (NKD), a reform club founded by former Obama volunteers committed to breaking the Brooklyn Democratic Party “machine” through a focus on local offices. NKD had previously approached Gallagher to run for District Leader of the same district in 2016, which she did but lost by less than 350 votes to another long-term incumbent, Linda Minucci, who had been in the position for over 30 years.

“New Kings Democrats, Brooklyn Young Democrats and, actually…Our Progressive Future, they were so helpful, and I think it’s because they are also activists,” Gallagher said. “All of them saw me and knew me and wanted to be a part of it. They really stuck their neck out for me. In many of the meetings that I went into, they would say, ‘Who’s supporting you?’ and that was what I had to name. I didn’t have a [elected] politician I could name, even though I fought full out, everybody was a little uncomfortable with what I was doing.”

Gallagher said her community ties paid off in this way, and others, with people coming up to her during her campaign who said they knew her from things like a 2016 meeting about violence in the park, or her regular column in the Greenpoint Star, or other activist projects of hers that were often about hyperlocal issues.

Though she did not have any elected officials behind her, Gallagher did get support from groups and some progressive stars, namely Zephyr Teachout and Cynthia Nixon, two recent candidates who with a lot of lefist support.

Epstein said sometimes endorsements from organizations could be just on paper, but Gallagher’s came with credibility and resources, including a three-page document on strategies used by past candidates who have had success in the district, provided by NKD. That document was an often-referenced “roadmap” to victory for the campaign.

Gallagher was also endorsed by progressive organizations New York Communities for Change, True Blue New York, The Broad Room, and StreetsPAC, as well as Phara Souffrant Forrest, a NYC-DSA-backed candidate who also pulled off a surprising, insurgent victory over an incumbent, in her case Assemblymember Walter Mosley in Brooklyn’s 57th District. Like Lentol, Mosley had a strong progressive track record, the support of the Working Families Party, and also establishment ties. Gallagher also picked up a seal of approval from good government group Citizens Union.

“She has this really wonderful way of listening to people and putting her ego aside and listening to the data, listening to what people in the district are citing as their most relevant concerns and she built a campaign around it and its genuine,” said Jessica Thurston, Vice President of Political Affairs for NKD, of Gallagher. “I trust her, and I imagine the voters did to, to thoughtfully address these issues that affect people in the district in very disparate ways.”

Thurston mentioned real estate development as an example, an issue that benefits newer residents and gentrifiers who end up living in new apartment buildings, but also can displace other, previously existing residents. Both groups will make up Gallagher’s constituents, and Thurston said she trusts her to represent both interests.

The issues of gentrification, displacement, and tenants’ rights formed perhaps the most prominent broad theme of the campaign, which makes sense for the district. Gallagher sought to differentiate herself from Lentol by standing further to the left on housing.

While Lentol co-sponsored the $100 million, means-tested rent-voucher bill that passed the State Legislature amid the pandemic, Gallagher was among those calling for rent cancelation legislation. In a previous interview with Gotham Gazette during the heat of the primary, Lentol described the voucher bill as a solid, realistic compromise that could help those struggling to pay rent due to the pandemic while not hurting smaller landlords who need rental income they generate to stay afloat, and called legislation to cancel rent (which would have applied to economically-devastated tenants and included provisions for landlords) “a free rent program that’s never going to pass.”

This, Gallagher said, was one way in which Lentol may have been out of touch with his district, which Census data shows is made up of over 80% renters.

“Joining in the call to cancel rent during the quarantine was a really big thing that people appreciated,” said Gallagher, who has referenced her own struggles to maintain housing throughout her campaign. “The majority here are renters but I would say that the people who routinely have had their voices very clearly heard are small homeowners.”

And so it is unsurprising that New York Communities for Change, a Brooklyn-based activist organization for which housing is a top issue, was one of Gallagher’s relatively small number of endorsements. Executive Director Jonathan Westin said the group was proud to have supported her in what he described as one of the biggest upsets he’s seen.

“Affordability and housing are the top issues in the district, and I think across the city and, frankly, across the state,” Westin said in an interview. “Even more so now that people are out of work, they don’t have the money to pay the rent and they want real solutions here and not piecemeal, frankly bullshit, which is what the Assembly passed. The priorities of Albany are absolutely absurd, and I think that’s what we’re seeing in the upending of so many incumbents.”

Westin said Gallagher’s and other leftist candidates’ primary wins showed the rejection by voters of a Democratic establishment he said is “out of touch with the everyday voter,” something Lentol himself seemed to partly acknowledge in a concession statement on Wednesday.

"It's decided: The voters in the 50th Assembly District voted for change. It's been a great honor to represent the people of North Brooklyn in the Assembly. I'm proud of my years of service, delivering important legislation and always attending to constituents' needs,” Lentol said. “My successor will be busy as the new Assembly Member. I wish her well as she faces the enormous challenges ahead."

Brooklyn Democratic Party Leader and  Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte said in a statement that Lentol has been “a progressive champion for his district, Brooklyn and New York State in its entirety,” and thanked him for the work he’s done, while congratulating Gallagher on the win and saying she looks forward to working with her “to continue that progressive agenda.” Lentol was not made available by his campaign for an interview for this story.

Despite his track record of significant progressive legislation, Lentol only seemed to out-perform Gallagher in South Williamsburg, an area with a large population of Hasidic Jews with close ties to the incumbent. Still, this gave him a 2,000-vote lead in strictly in-person voting, although it’s something Gallagher’s campaign had anticipated from the outset.

“The thing about this race was, from the beginning I knew that we were going to have to win 65-75% in Greenpoint and the Northern part of Williamsburg just because of the historic relationship between Hasidic leadership and Assemblymember Lentol,” Epstein said. “And that was going to be a huge deficit for us and to overcome that we were just going to have to run up spectacular margins in Greenpoint and North Williamsburg.”

And that’s what they did. Two days after election day, Gallagher tweeted a graphic showing how those two areas that she performed well in were also the areas where a greater number of absentee ballots were requested. Like with some other insurgent campaigns, such as Marcela Mitaynes’ in Brooklyn’s 51st District, where she upset Assemblymember Felix Ortiz, a deficit turned into a lead when absentee ballots were counted. Assuming they win their likely uncompetitive general elections, if they even have them, Gallagher and Mitaynes will be among a fairly long list of new, younger, diverse, and independent Assembly members promising to move the chamber further to the left and have it deliver on long-stated priorities like single-payer health care, higher taxes on the wealthy, and marijuana legalization, as well as others like stronger eviction protections.

To run its absentee balloting operation, Epstein said the Gallagher campaign used open source software developed by grassroots campaigns, like the text-banking tool called “Spoke” used by Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign or the app “Reach” created by a Long Island City developer for Congressional Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign. He also said that, besides spurring some people to want change, the pandemic provided an advantage in some ways due to the fact that it made apps like these more effective and mailers typically used by old-guard politicians like Lentol less so, because many people had left the city and might be more easily reached by cell phone.

Epstein also said absentee ballots reduced the advantage of name recognition incumbents often have, as voters had more time to consider and research the candidates before sending in their votes by mail, instead of going to the voting booth on election day and being unable or less likely to look up candidates they didn’t recognize on their ballot.

Gallagher’s phone-banking initiative was a major focus of the campaign, according to the candidate, who said she got her mom to make calls for her, as well as a friend who had to temporarily move back to Scotland due to the pandemic but still made plenty of calls while outside the country. Overall, she described a passionate, volunteer-run phone-banking operation that worked at least three hours a day three days a week for months, although Gallagher herself (and her mom, among others) would call potential voters each day. According to her campaign, this resulted in an accumulated 10,000 phone calls. And after an initial round of text-banking to reach 15,000 people two to three times each, the campaign had two text-banking sessions a week where they would contact around 2,000-4,000 people.

“Fewer people are picking up the phone, but the willingness to engage in meaningful political conversations on the phone was so much more present than I had ever seen it before,” Epstein said, attributing this partly to more people being at home due to the pandemic.

Through phone-banking, Gallagher was able to do what many of her supporters and staffers said she was good at: listen to people.

“I think what people wanted in this moment was to have a conversation and be in conversation with someone who could really understand the emergency they were going through right now,” Gallagher said. “As the year wore on, the sick and tired feeling just grew and grew and grew, and we didn’t want somebody who was saying, ‘Oh, I’ve evolved so much in the last few years and I have power and you should trust me,’ we wanted someone to say ‘This is broken and it’s not working and it’s time to fix it now and the old ways don’t work.’”

[Read: Wins Pile Up for the New York Left]

by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

How a Big Brooklyn Upset Unfolded Sat, 25 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000