For political clubs, endorsing candidates ahead of elections is the moment many have been waiting for: a time to flex their influence. And shortly after the race in the newly drawn 10th Congressional District took shape, members of the Downtown Independent Democrats and four other clubs wasted little time in scheduling a public forum for candidates -- a crucial step before determining who to endorse.
But that event never ended up happening. It was postponed last week, not due to low turnout but from a torrent of interested participants, all of whom are seeking an edge in what could be a close race.
There are 15 individuals who are trying to get on the ballot in the district that covers Lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn. They include ex-Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Trump prosecutor Daniel Goldman, veteran lawmaker Liz Holtzman, Westchester County Rep. Mondaire Jones, Manhattan state Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, Manhattan Councilmember Carlina Rivera and Brooklyn state Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon.
“We want choice and competition,” said Richard Corman, president of the Downtown Independent Democrats. “But people's heads are spinning with this.”
Political analysts say the stage is set for endorsements to play an outsized role in one of the most closely watched midterm elections in New York City. The 10th Congressional District race, which features a rare open seat, will determine one of the newest members of the congressional delegation of a brand new district.
While key endorsements from influential groups and politicians don’t always guarantee victory at the polls, any backing in this district may help break a candidate from the pack with fundraising and campaigning support. Endorsements can also provide clarity for many undecided voters. A poll conducted by WPIX and Emerson College late last month shows that 77% of voters in this district are unsure who they’ll vote for. Jones led the field with 7% of the vote, followed by de Blasio with 6%, and Niou with 5%.
We want choice and competition. But people's heads are spinning with this.
So far, big endorsers like unions and prominent Democratic officials have yet to jump into the fray — and it’s not clear that all of them will.
“We’ve got a lot of good candidates in this race,” said Bruce Gyory, a Democratic strategist. “So to the public, it's like, ‘How the heck do I make up my mind?’”
Along with political clubs, the cast of those who may endorse include elected officials, unions, political organizations and major newspaper editorial boards. Those who choose to weigh in will have relatively little time to make up their minds. The contested redistricting process handed candidates a short campaign runway: The primary will be held on August 23rd.
The Gray Lady’s influence
Although a fusillade of support from unions and elected officials may generate momentum around a candidate, Gyory argued that one particular endorsement would matter more in this race based on the composition of the electorate: the New York Times.
The area includes affluent neighborhoods like Chelsea, Soho, Tribeca and Greenwich Village as well as parts of brownstone Brooklyn that include Park Slope. Those five neighborhoods have a median household income over $133,000, according to city data.
“That's where the Times readership is,” Gyory said. The Times’ 2018 media kit lists the median household income of its audience as making over $98,000.
From a racial makeup standpoint, the district leans heavily toward white Democratic voters. According to John Mollenkopf, the director of the Center for Urban Research at CUNY, more than 82.8% of voters lived on blocks where the majority or plurality of voting age residents were white, according to data that relied on the 2020 census count.
The Times’ endorsement was believed to have played a role in the mayoral race last summer, when Kathryn Garcia, a dark horse Democratic candidate, received a sizable bump in the polls after the paper endorsed her. Garcia — a Park Slope resident who proudly played up the endorsement — came in second, losing by less than 1% in the primary to Eric Adams. But along with Maya Wiley, another candidate, Garcia won by a large margin in the areas that fall under the new district, Mollenkopf noted.
Still, recent history suggests the Times has a mixed track record when it comes to congressional endorsements. In 2020, four out of five congressional candidates the paper picked, including then-newcomer Jones, wound up winning their elections. But in 2016, only two out of five of their congressional choices went on to win the primary. One of their winning picks was Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who currently represents a portion of where the 10th Congressional District will cover. He has decided to run in another district following redistricting.
Working Families Party
One influential institution that is expected to announce an endorsement in the near future is the Working Families Party. The progressive flank of the Democratic Party scheduled Zoom interviews on Sunday with four of the candidates seeking their support — de Blasio, Jones, Niou and Rivera. Following deliberations, which could take several days, the members are expected to vote on their endorsement choice.
The pick will be a delicate one. The party has relationships with each of the four candidates, having backed them in previous races.
“There’s definitely a potential of anxiety of having to choose between friends, champions, and those with which we have history,” said Sochie Nnaemeka, the director of the New York Working Families Party.
She said she expects any mixed feelings would give way to excitement at the opportunity of building out a more progressive congressional delegation.
Candidates were expected to articulate a “compelling theory” of their role in Congress and talk about issues like housing and the ongoing battle for voting and reproductive rights.
Because of the shortened timeline, candidates must also demonstrate a strong campaign apparatus and “be ready to run and win,” she added.
The party has deep ties to Brooklyn, something that may prove valuable in a race where more than 56% of “active” Democratic voters—or those who voted in at least one primary over the last 8 years—live in that part of the district, according to Mollenkopf.
Unlike a Times endorsement, experts say the value of official support from organizations like the Working Families Party, labor unions and local political clubs lies in their ability to fundraise as well as deliver volunteers for their chosen candidate. Congressional elections tend to be low-turnout affairs, which makes door knocking and phone banking even more critical for voter outreach, experts say.
“If you're expecting there to be a low turnout, any entity that can help you with these margins is going to be really important,” said Basil Smikle, a former political strategist who heads Hunter College’s public policy program.
In return, groups that back a winning candidate stand to acquire political capital with a newly elected member of Congress that can help their constituents or members.
So far, a handful of prominent progressive groups have taken an early side in the race. Congressional Caucus PAC has endorsed Jones. He comes into the race with nearly $3 million from a prior congressional campaign, having abandoned a re-election bid in his home district of Westchester County after becoming a victim of the warfare between Democrats in the wake of redistricting.
If you're expecting there to be a low turnout, any entity that can help you with these margins is going to be really important.
Meanwhile, Niou has won the backing of New York Communities for Change, a grassroots advocacy group for working and middle class New Yorkers, and Sunrise Movement NYC, the local chapter of the national activist group that has helped elect candidates who support the Green New Deal.
Among the high-profile elected officials who may endorse, Bronx and Queens Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has the biggest platform among progressive voters. She has so far endorsed one congressional candidate in New York: Alessandra Biaggi, a progressive state senator who is challenging Sean Patrick Maloney, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in a newly drawn district that includes parts of Westchester County and the Hudson Valley.
Rep. Nydia Velázquez, a Brooklyn congresswoman viewed as a progressive matriarch in the Democratic Party, may also exert some pull in the race. Councilmember Rivera’s team told Gothamist that their candidate, the only Latina in the race, is well-positioned to win her endorsement.
Neither Ocasio-Cortez nor Velázquez responded to a request for comment.
Brad Lander, the city’s comptroller who as a councilmember represented parts of the district — and succeeded de Blasio in the Council — plans to endorse a candidate in the race, although not imminently, his spokesperson Naomi Dann told Gothamist.
Mayor Adams last week said he would begin studying the races and decide who to endorse based on their positions on public safety. But given his lagging performance in the district during the primary, experts say it’s unclear whether his support would matter much.
Meanwhile, the head of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, Assembymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, called de Blasio “the most qualified progressive candidate who I believe can win this diverse seat,” but a spokesperson later said that the statement was not meant to be construed as an endorsement.
Will labor make a play?
Another looming question is whether the city’s powerful labor unions will weigh in. Although members of the biggest unions may not necessarily live in the district, experts pointed out that groups like 1199 SEIU, a politically savvy healthcare union, can bring well-oiled field operations that can make the difference in a close race.
Stuart Marques, a spokesperson for 1199 SEIU, said the executive council would make a decision by the end of the month. “It could be a decision to endorse or to stay out,” he said.
Representatives for two other large and politically active unions, 32BJ, whose members include building service workers, and the Hotel Trades Council, both said they were still considering their options and had not reached a decision on whether to endorse.
DC37, the city’s largest municipal employee union, did not respond to a request for comment.
De Blasio notably consolidated support from unions during his 2013 run for mayor and he largely pursued pro-union policies during his tenure like fighting for a minimum wage for Uber and Lyft drivers. De Blasio was also endorsed by the Hotel Trades Council in his long-shot presidential bid.
That history should prove helpful for the ex-mayor, said Smikle, who speculated that some of the unions may decide to either back the mayor “or stay out of it.”
For political clubs, on the other hand, sitting out a race would defeat the purpose, even in the most unwieldy races.
In the case of Corman’s Downtown Independent Democrats, the group decided to hold two forums at the end of the month that will divide the candidates into two groups.
“It’s far from an ideal, let's just put it that way,” Corman said. “Does that mean we don't want people to run? No, not necessarily.“
He then added: “But there's a limit in people's mental capacity to take in all these candidates.”
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said Make the Road Action had endorsed Westchester County Rep. Mondaire Jones. The group has yet to back a candidate in the 10th Congressional District race. The group endorsed Jones in March when he was running for re-election.