New York progressives notched several key victories in this week’s primary races for state Senate seats, fending off well-heeled challengers.

But the season may well be overshadowed by the one that got away: a rare open House seat in a deep blue district.

In one of the most high-profile and crowded contests of the summer, ex-prosecutor Dan Goldman narrowly defeated Yuh-Line Niou, a member of the State Assembly from Manhattan who was backed by the Working Families Party for the 10th Congressional District seat. Goldman, who was the richest candidate in the race and gave at least $4 million to his campaign, captured 26% of the vote (not counting outstanding absentee ballots), while Niou and two other progressives saw nearly 60% of the remaining support divided among them.

The victory has led some progressives to view the race as a squandered opportunity. For political experts, the failure to unite around a single candidate in the face of a moneyed rival who eventually won a critical New York Times endorsement was the height of poor strategy and self-serving interests.

“This was a seat that the left could have had for the asking if they had coalesced around one candidate instead of splitting around three,” said John Mollenkopf, director of CUNY's Center for Urban Research, which analyzes voting patterns in New York City races.

As of Wednesday, roughly 1,300 votes separate Goldman and Niou, according to unofficial election results.

Niou has refused to concede, saying she wants to wait until all of the absentee votes are counted. That process could take weeks.

This was a seat that the left could have had for the asking if they had coalesced around one candidate instead of splitting around three.

John Mollenkopf, director of CUNY's Center for Urban Research

Unless absentees come out in Niou’s favor, Goldman is now nearly assured of winning the general election in a district encompassing Lower Manhattan and parts of northwest Brooklyn that lean overwhelmingly Democrat.

Where progressives came out

For now, the small gap of votes between Goldman and Niou — who raised the smallest war chest among the four leading candidates — has only exacerbated frustrations among her supporters.

All of the candidates cast themselves as progressives, but Goldman veered slightly more to the right on issues like public safety, health care, and student loan debt. The third- and fourth-place finishers — Hudson Valley Rep. Mondaire Jones and City Councilmember Carlina Rivera — were left-leaning Democrats who had each once earned the backing of the WFP. The WFP was considered especially influential with liberal Brooklyn voters.

A preliminary analysis from the CUNY Graduate Center shows that Niou secured the most votes of any candidate in Brooklyn.

In the end, Jones came in third with around 18% of the vote, followed by Rivera with 17%.

Rivera, in particular, amassed a broad coalition of progressive support. She locked up key endorsements from Rep. Nydia Velázquez, a well-respected Latina lawmaker able to rally votes in Brooklyn, Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, and 1199 SEIU, an influential health care workers union.

Weak alliances

Mollenkopf said he believed a decision by any of those three endorsers to drop out and back Niou instead would have changed the outcome.

Those familiar with the competitive nature of New York City politics, where there are often ethnic rivalries, say that brokering unity among ambitious politicians is a challenging if not impossible task, especially in the case of a rare open seat that quickly became a free-for-all. The unexpected way in which the district was redrawn and the short campaign runway also caught many in the political world off guard.

In the week leading up to Primary Day, Jones and Niou teamed up in public appearances to oppose Goldman, but it soon became clear that neither was willing to withdraw.

Still, some have argued that if there was ever a moment that demanded strategic calculation and the casting aside of egos for progressives, the 10th District race was the one.

“The deep blue districts are where we want to have the most progressive representation,” said Susan Kang, a political science professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America.

Paraphrasing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who in many ways built the model for insurgent progressive campaigns, Kang added, “it’s where you’re putting the boldest, bravest legislative policies to change the agenda.”

A win by Niou would have made her only the second Asian American elected to Congress from New York. The redrawn district — which includes Greenwich Village and brownstone Brooklyn — represents some of the most liberal portions of New York City, suggesting she could have also become a lasting progressive power broker.

Although Goldman will come up for re-election in two years, provided he wins the general election, he will have the advantage of incumbency — in addition to his personal wealth.


Still, his victory has not been easy for some progressives to swallow. There have been calls by some prominent progressives for Niou to challenge Goldman in November by running on the WFP line.

Niou has said she is consulting with the WFP on her options but emphasized that she is still awaiting the final count of primary ballots.

Sochie Nnaemeka, director of New York’s WFP, declined to openly speculate on whether the party would back Niou in the general election. A congressional bid for the third party is extremely rare.

But she said that Niou’s performance in the race had proved that the WFP had made the right choice.

“There is a damaging myth that progressive women of color can only win by compromising,” Nnaemeka said. “She fought hard and took on the opposition.”

Unlike her rivals, Niou took little money from the real estate industry, which has traditionally tried to influence key elections. In the closing days of the race, she was also the target of $405,000 in attack ads purchased by a super PAC typically aligned with real estate interests, according to campaign filings.

Although some supporters acknowledge the pain of Niou’s defeat, they also see the narrow margin as a vindication of the campaign’s approach.

“Of course we taste the bitterness. How can you not taste the bitterness of the cake that is in front of you?

Whitney Hu, Brooklyn organizer for Niou

“Of course we taste the bitterness,” said Whitney Hu, an organizer in Brooklyn who supported Niou. “How can you not taste the bitterness of the cake that is in front of you?”

She then added: “But we also did something. We showed what organizing could look like.”