Early voting kicked off this weekend for congressional and state Senate primaries. And The New York Times has made endorsements for several key races. WNYC's senior political correspondent, Brigid Bergin joined Morning Edition’s Michael Hill to discuss the latest on Monday, as we barrel towards that August 23rd primary.
The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Michael Hill: Brigid, you co-moderated a debate last week for the top candidates in the 10th congressional district primary. That's of course the open seat that covers parts of Lower Manhattan and northwest Brooklyn. What's the news in that district this week?
Brigid Bergin: Well that's right, Michael, that debate was really kind of a slugfest with more of the candidates taking repeated shots at Daniel Goldman really than any other candidate. He is, of course, the former prosecutor who represented Democrats in that first impeachment of Donald Trump. And I guess if being the target of attacks is an indicator that people perceive you to be a front runner, well, Goldman can add another feather to his cap because he also landed the coveted New York Times endorsement. This is a really big deal, particularly in this district, because we're talking about devoted Times readers, and that can really translate into votes.
Goldman is an heir to the Levi Strauss fortune and worth more than $7 billion. What did the Times say in their endorsement of Goldman?
Well, they praised his “knowledge of congressional oversight” and the rule of law, and talked about how important that could be to Congress now, given the worries over threats to U.S. democracy. They also acknowledged that while he and many others in this district are extremely wealthy — as you just mentioned, and I should also note that Goldman put $2 million of his own money into this race — if he is elected, he would really need to spend a significant effort ensuring that lower- and middle-income voters in the district feel like he understands their issues.
Are you hearing much in the way of response to this endorsement? It's big news for the candidates in this field.
Yeah, it really is. One of the strongest statements came from Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, who is considered the most progressive candidate in this race. She basically called The Times out, which was similar to a lot of the reaction I saw on social media.
She said her campaign was about trying to achieve a “true representative democracy.” That's, I think, a nod to both the diversity of this district, which includes two major Chinatowns, and significant Latino and Black communities. It’s also the fact that, out of the field of 13 candidates, The Times went with the straight, white, male candidate in this race, despite several very strong women and women of color on the ballot. Niou went on to say, “It takes political courage to challenge long held beliefs about who should hold office.”
Then she went on to praise her strong grassroots operation and signal that despite this endorsement they're going to keep on fighting until they cross that finish line on August 23rd.
It's all up to the voters.
Who did The Times pick in the race for the 12th congressional district in that face-off among Jerrold Nadler, Carolyn Maloney and Suraj Patel?
So the times went with Nadler, citing his progressive voting record since being elected to the House of Representatives in 1992. Interestingly, they called out some of the specific issues where he differed with Maloney, voting against the Iraq war and for the Iran nuclear deal. While they credited Maloney for her work on behalf of, for example, September 11th survivors and their families — noting that she's the other major incumbent in this race of course — they did dock her for raising some concerns about vaccines, really over a decade-long period. And ultimately they said that Suraj Patel, despite his energy, just didn't have the experience to deliver for constituents.
Not unlike in the 10th, this endorsement really has the potential to sway voters. But it hasn't stopped the candidates from getting out there, hitting the stump this past weekend at farmers’ markets and subway stops to make their own personal pitch to voters.
I did get a response from a spokesman for Maloney who really tried to downplay the significance of the endorsement. In an email Bob Liff wrote, “Ask Mayor Garcia and co-presidents Klobuchar [sic] about the power of the Times endorsement.”
That was a reference to The Times endorsement last spring for Kathryn Garcia for New York City Mayor. And for Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren for president in 2020 — not exactly king-making endorsements.
We wrapped up the first weekend of early voting, Brigid. How is the turnout looking?
The city Board of Elections releases early voting check-in data by county and altogether just over 17,000 voters turned out this past weeked. The highest turnout, not surprisingly, was in Manhattan where we have both of those competitive congressional contests that I was just talking about.
Roughly 8,800 Manhattan voters voted early. The next highest turnout was in Brooklyn with 4,700 voters and then Staten Island with 1,500 and Queens of the Bronx are very close with about a thousand each. While it's really difficult to compare early voting turnout across these primaries, because you have different contests on the ballot, it was about the same number of people who voted early that first weekend during the June primary.
That's of course when the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial primaries were on the ballot statewide, meaning basically every registered Democrat and Republican could turn out to vote, along with state Assembly and party positions now.
That was low turnout then. And so this is low turnout, too. However, not everybody has a contest this time. So for there to be the same level of turnout, particularly when people were so worried that this was going to be such a low turnout primary, it signals a decent start to this race. So I want to give our listeners a bravo — way to start things off and show your civic engagement this summer for that second primary! Of course there's still a week left of early voting. So if you haven't gotten a chance yet, get out there.
So what should voters expect in this final week ahead of primary day?
Well, Michael, voters ask me some questions: I get DM’s. I get emails from voters. I'm happy to try to clear things up. One thing that people keep asking me is, is it possible that they might not have a primary election this time in their districts? And the answer is, yes. You only have a primary if your congressional or state Senate candidates face a challenge in their respective party. So if you go to findmypollsite.vote.nyc that will tell you the location of your early voting and primary day poll site and show you your sample ballot.
If you have a primary, that's a good thing to check either way, before you go out to vote, because as our friends over at The City have reported, a lot of poll sites have changed ahead of this primary. You can still apply for an absentee ballot in person at your local BOE office and absentee ballots can be dropped off at any early voting site or at the board of elections.
If you decide to put it in the mail, it's gotta be postmarked by August 23rd and received by the BOE by August 30th.