Incumbent Democratic Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus declared victory on Wednesday in a race against an apparent QAnon sympathizer, Mark Szuszkiewicz, after days of ballot counting and national attention on a Republican few had ever heard of prior to Election Day.
“I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity to keep serving the community that has raised me for the last 35 years and a district that has broadened my horizons in more ways than I can express,” Frontus said in a statement. “As we celebrate our victory tonight, I remain sober about all the work that lies ahead. I will be serving another term in the New York State Legislature during one of the most unprecedented moments of our state’s history.”
On Election Night, Frontus was behind in the State Assembly race by nearly 3,000 votes—shocking Democrats who were suddenly facing a Republican takeover of her historically blue district.
The 46th Assembly District, a swath of Southern Brooklyn stretching from Brighton Beach and Coney Island to Bay Ridge, soon drew national attention when the Brooklyn Paper reported that Szuszkiewicz had posted on social media supporting QAnon, a web of far-right conspiracy theories that Satan-worshipping pedophiles are running a sex trafficking ring with liberal elites and President Donald Trump is working to take them down.
Szuszkiewicz had raised just $1,420 compared to Frontus’s $18,620 in donations. State Senator Andrew Gounardes was also behind by thousands of votes on Election Night, but ultimately pulled ahead of Republican Vito Bruno with a margin greater than 2018. Democratic Congressmember Max Rose conceded late last week against former State Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis.
Even Frontus told Gothamist in an interview this week it seemed a “red wave” had come “crushing across the district.”
“It certainly did not take me by surprise,” she said on Tuesday evening. Recalling how she felt before the election, “We are going to have a higher than average Trump turnout.”
But days of ballot counting in an unprecedented election during the COVID-19 pandemic helped Democrats surpass their opponents across the state.
As State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie put it, “The #redmirage continues to fade away!”
But the margin of victory for Frontus was slimmer than 2018. She said she was ahead by about 483 votes, compared to the 2,912-vote margin in 2018 against GOP candidate Steven Saperstein. But final tallies weren't immediately known.
Dan Hetteix, a local radio host for Radio Free Bay Ridge who analyzes hyperlocal races, said in Frontus’s district, it seemed down-ballot Trump voters boosted Szuszkiewicz’s lead.
“A QAnon supporter nearly winning is clearly an aberration brought on by the fact that almost nobody knew he was a QAnon supporter before Election Day and people decided to write about the race,” Hetteix said. “Most indications seem that they just simply voted [Republican].”
Russian-speaking communities in Brighton Beach’s Trump Village and Warbasse Houses, as well as parts of Dyker Heights, appear to have turned out for Trump, and voted down the ballot for Szuszkiewicz in unofficial election results maps.
Below is a map of Election Night results in the 46th:
Some pointed to political scars as a factor that hurt Frontus’s lead, specifically that the local councilmember, Mark Treyger, didn’t publicly endorse Frontus. In her 2018 primary, she beat a former Treyger-staffer by 51 votes.
“That slight little non-support can possibly have had an impact, and it’s about unification,” said Mario Caggiano, a Gravesend resident active in Southern Brooklyn politics who supported Frontus in 2018. “I think he did it for selfish reasons.” But Caggiano, a conservative Democrat who helped organize a Blue Lives Matter rally over the summer, also felt the neighborhoods had shifted right because of frustration with a rise in crime and criticism of police.
“I am a proud Jew and I am grandson of Holocaust survivors, and that is in my bones, and it is deeply offensive and hurtful that there would be any suggestion that somehow that I would want a QAnon supporter to win any election in New York or in America,” Treyger said.
He says the local political club he’s a part of, Southern Brooklyn Democrats, petitioned for 900 signatures to help Frontus on the ballot—a task made more challenging during the coronavirus crisis. He noted Frontus’s campaign and the Brooklyn Democratic Party didn’t specifically ask him to campaign for Frontus like they did for Gounardes and Rose. (Party leader and Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte told the Brooklyn Paper the party expects local politicians to take responsibility to help elect members of their party.)
Treyger, a second-generation Ukranian immigrant who speaks Russian, blamed gerrymandering and past redistricting for the close margins, which he noted has sliced in half Russian-speaking immigrant community between the 45th and 46th Assembly Districts.
Frontus declined to speak about Treyger.
“I was standing on my feet for hours, I was campaigning, handing out literature, meeting with voters,” she said. “Some people thought that I should have been behaving like I was unopposed. And I said, 'That’s inconceivable to me.'”
Szuszkiewicz’s campaign featured participation in Blue Lives Matter rallies, republishing pro-police rhetoric, and sharing QAnon conspiracy theories on Instagram.
In July, he reposted a screenshot about someone newly intrigued with QAnon in response to Twitter banning accounts spreading the false claims about QAnon. His post includes hashtags calling pizzagate real, QAnon call line, WWG1WGA, and “q army.” In another Instagram post, he shared a video about a false conspiracy that a furniture company selling cabinets and pillows online are actually selling children who are missing. He said there should be a “thorough investigation.”
According to the Brooklyn Paper, he suggested Tom Hanks had become a citizen of Greece after the country labeled pedophilia as a disability with various QAnon hashtags. The claim is untrue. (Hanks did become a Greek citizen, but pedophilia is not classified as a disability in Greece.)
In a tweet, he said the apparent support was “just reposts and hashtags.”
Szuszkiewicz has also downplayed the COVID-19 crisis. At the same time, he has said on Instagram that having coronavirus antibodies could impact your ability to get health insurance, citing an anecdote from a client.
The longtime Bay Ridge resident had launched a campaign on fighting banks on overdraft fees, a video-gaming afterschool program, and “regrowing the economy.” His website lists a varied employment history, including real estate agent, truck driver, actor, and local TV show host.
His campaign spokesperson, who joined the team after the election to help with a surge in media attention after the race became “unexpectedly” close, declined to make the candidate available for an interview. Szuszkiewicz did not respond to messages.
“Mark's social media repostings were an issue the voters already knew about during the campaign. Discussing them further is clearly a result of the race in the 46th being too close to call, unfortunately distracting from a closer look also at how Democrats alienated Southern Brooklyn voters,” the campaign said in a statement on Wednesday.
The campaign didn’t immediately respond Thursday morning to requests for comment about Frontus declaring victory.
One longtime Brighton Beach resident and former community board member, Ida Sanoff, was stunned at the early results on election night, particularly in the Gounardes and Frontus races.
But she said Democrats had “ignored the warning signs” and “alienated” immigrants from Eastern Europe and their descendants, many of whom fear becoming a socialist country.
“Boy, I was shocked as hell,” Sanoff said. “To have somebody that nobody’s ever heard of that’s a QAnon supporter to do so well is nuts.”
“The Earth did move in Southern Brooklyn," she added.