There’s an election tomorrow in New York City. And it has nothing to do with Hillary Clinton's health problems or Donald Trump's derangement, actual or performative. Tomorrow is primary day—effectively election day given the Democratic Party’s hegemony in local politics—for a range of legislative and judicial seats.
Because very few New Yorkers exercise their franchise in local elections, your vote really does count. Low turnout, by the way, is not an accident. New York's legislators have put measures in place that make it exceptionally difficult to vote. This year, in a stroke of genius, they scheduled three distinct primaries.
This helps explain how we end up with 10-term legislators elected in primaries by margins of less than 1,000 votes. Many incumbents run entirely unopposed. That said, there are a number of contested races coming up tomorrow and some common threads.
The gift to corporations and the super-rich that is Citizens United keeps on giving, with big money pouring into several Bronx and Brooklyn races. The money is being funneled through New Yorkers for Independent Action, a political action committee backed by wealthy white people who just happen to all live outside the districts involved. Walmart heiress and Texas resident Alice Walton has been a major donor to NYIA, which has spent millions pushing a tax credit for parents who send their kids to private and parochial schools—long opposed by most state Dems—and backing candidates who support it.
The races generating the most heat are for seats vacated by long-time incumbents who have retired, taken a new job, or been convicted of a federal crime. There are also races pitting old line party men and women against reformers, especially in Brooklyn, where the political tectonics are still shifting after the downfall and death of intern-groper and longtime self-dealing Brooklyn Democratic boss Vito Lopez. In other districts, though, the primary match-ups are tangled, Game of Thronesian palace intrigue plays with candidates so thoroughly uninterested in advancing a policy vision that they refuse to participate in debates and haven’t bothered to set up a campaign website.
The Democrats will likely retain a majority in the State Assembly, while the fate of the State Senate hangs in the balance. Technically, the Democrats held a slim majority in the Senate from 2012 to 2014, but that came to nought because the five-member Independent Democratic Conference broke away and voted with the Republicans. A few seats flipped in this election could break the IDC/Andrew Cuomo’s stranglehold on the Senate.
Here is a rundown of some of the top races to watch (and if you're a Democrat, vote in), tomorrow.
Incumbent Sen. James Sanders, left, and Adrienne Adams (Candidates' websites)
Senate District 10
Richmond Hill, South Ozone Park, Rochdale, Springfield Gardens, South Jamaica, Rosedale, Far Rockaway
Incumbent James Sanders took office in 2012 after a stint in the City Council. Typically, the county Democratic machine would leave a relatively new guy in this position alone. However, Sanders seems to have rocked the boat by floating the idea of challenging perennially under investigation Congressman Gregory Meeks. Now local power brokers, including politico-turned-reverend Floyd Flake, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, and Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder have lined up behind challenger Adrienne Adams, chairwoman of Community Board 12.
Sen. Sanders also bucked party orthodoxy by backing Bernie Sanders's presidential run.
Senate District 16
Elmhurst, Rego Park, Pomonok, Flushing, part of Bayside
Incumbent Toby Ann Stavisky, the first woman elected to the state Senate from Queens, is again facing a challenge from S.J. Jung, who took 42 percent of the vote last time around. Jung is a fundamentalist Christian, who has come out for removing pictures of same-sex couples from textbooks and is rabidly anti abortion. (During a debate, he said, "I will not support a woman’s choice.”)
Stavisky, a ranking member of the Committee on Higher Education, has raised eyebrows for taking tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from sketchy for-profit colleges, including one involved in a bribery scandal that implicated another Queens legislator.
Senate District 18
Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Bushwick, Cypress Hills
Seven-term incumbent Martin Dilan is up against Williamsburg native Debbie Medina, a longtime tenant organizer and Democratic Socialist who is hoping her grassroots reach and Sandersesque anti-one-percent message will carry the day. Unfortunately for Medina, the Bern was not felt very hard in Brooklyn polling places this spring, though parts of Williamsburg and Bushwick were fertile ground for the anti-establishment message.
Dilan’s district is ground zero for hyper-gentrification and displacement, so he touts himself as a fan of tenant rights. But he’s a product of the Vito machine and has taken nearly $200,000 from real estate groups. Dilan’s son Erik, once a councilman, now presides over an overlapping patch of Assembly turf. In a sign of the newly fractious terrain in Lopez's old fiefdom, neighborhood Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, another perennial incumbent, is backing Medina, as are Velazquez mentee Councilman Antonio Reynoso and the New Kings Democrats.
Michael Cox, left, and incumbent Sen. Velmanette Montgomery (Candidates' Facebook pages)
Senate District 25
Bedford-Stuyvesant, Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, Boerum Hill, Gowanus, Red Hook
Thirty-two-year incumbent Velmanette Montgomery is facing a challenge from Michael Cox, an NYU administrator and former advisor to the Obama administration and to Rep. Gregory Meeks. Montgomery's tenure lately has been defined by her vocal support of several justice reform measures, includingraising the age of criminal majority and funding college courses in prisons. She’s also made her name as a bit of a jetsetter, spending more money on travel—$21,400 last year—than any of her colleagues in the Senate. In 2014, Montgomery, who is African American, baffled many when she said at a community meaning that white people don’t shop at supermarkets because "white people don't eat the way we do.” She has the support of the Democratic establishment in Central Brooklyn.
The New York Post likes Cox for his support of charter schools.
Senate District 31
Inwood, Washington Heights, Harlem, Upper West Side, Hell's Kitchen
Marisol Alcantara, a labor organizer and district leader, is Sen. Adriano Espaillat's pick to fill his seat as he heads to Congress. Alcantara is also backed by the Independent Democratic Conference, so a vote for her is more or less a vote to keep the Senate under Republican/Cuomo control. She is opposed by Councilman Robert Jackson, Micah Lasher, former chief of staff to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and activist Luis Tejada. Jackson is seen as a proxy for Assemblyman Keith Wright, who lost to Espaillat in the congressional race.
Senate District 33
Fordham Manor, Fordham Heights, University Heights, Belmont, Mt. Hope
Who knew there were so many homophobic evangelical Christians in New York politics? Bronx Councilman Fernando Cabrera got 40 percent of the vote last time he ran for Assembly against incumbent Gustavo Rivera back in 2014. Cabrera, a vocal opponent of gay marriage, was criticized during that primary cycle when it came out that he had worked with the anti-gay Family Research Council and appeared in a video praising Uganda's virulently anti-gay government as "righteous."
Cabrera also backs the parochial and private school tax credit, while Rivera opposes it, making Cabrera popular with the Post and the flush Super PAC New Yorkers For Independent Action. Rivera highlighted his opponent’s big-money backers in a debate, saying, "For most of his life Fernando Cabrera was a Republican."
In his last bid for the seat, Cabrera was endorsed by Public Advocate Letitia James and by retiring Harlem Congressman Charlie Rangel, who reportedly offered his backing as retribution for Rivera’s support of Adriano Espaillat's previous challenge to Rangel. This year, the tables seem to have turned, with James backing Rivera along with a who's who of Bronx- city- and statewide officials, as well as labor unions, and women's and gay rights groups.
Senate District 36
Eastchester, Baychester, Wakefield, Williamsbridge, Edenwald, Wakefield, Co-Op City, southern Mt. Vernon
Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson bailed out this summer to join the Cuomo administration as an advisor to the Division of Homes and Community Renewal, opening up her seat to a crowded field of contenders. Jamaal Bailey, a Democratic district leader and aide to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has the advantage of the Bronx speaker's ample connections. Other candidates include Que English, a reverend and community activist who helped negotiate a community benefits agreement with the developers of the Kingsbridge Armory, non-profit executive Pamela Hamilton-Johnson, Pastor Edward Mulraine, who supports renewing the affordable housing 421-a tax break for developers, and Alvin Ponder, a doctor and community board member without much in the way of a presence in the race. (His web presence seems to be limited to Twitter and he failed to show up to a debate.)
The Daily News likes Hamilton-Johnson because, "She has as an ally Sen. Jeff Klein, leader of the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference, and says she has not yet decided which Democratic faction she will caucus with if elected — potentially making her an important check against one-party rule." Do with that information what you will.
Assembly District 33
Hollis, Queens Village, Bellerose, Cambria Heights
For the first time in 30 years, the Assembly seat has opened up in this southeast Queens district, following the February death of Assemblywoman Barbara Clark. Clyde Vanel, a business lawyer and former chief of staff to Senator James Sanders, is calling for the creation of high-tech zone in downtown Jamaica, though he is short on specifics. Sabine French, a Haitian-American PAC operative, has called for redirecting resources from charter schools back into traditional public schools and spoke out against the Common Core curriculum. Also running are Community Board 13 chairman and paralegal Bryan Block, activist Roy Paul, and Nantasha Williams, former chief of staff to Assemblywoman Diana Richardson, who managed to win the seat for Prospect Lefferts Gardens in 2014 without the Democratic line or donations from developers.
Assembly District 44
Park Slope, Kensington, Ditmas Park
The surprise announcement of longtime Assemblyman James Brennan that he would not seek reelection came just eight days before the filing deadline for candidates, giving an edge to his pick for successor Robert Carroll, a 29-year-old lawyer and head of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, a reform political club founded by his grandfather. Carroll also has the backing of citywide leaders including Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James, as well as the Working Families Party and New York State United Teachers.
Carroll campaigned for Bernie Sanders this go-round, but has nothing on the Berner cred of his opponent, R.M. Curry-Smithson, a high school teacher and union leader who volunteered for Sanders' congressional campaign in 1998. Federal transit wonk Troy Odendhal, a third candidate, also has activist bona fides, having worked with the climate and racial justice organization United Puerto Ricans of Sunset Park, among many other groups.
All three have sought to paint themselves as reformers who would increase transparency and push for campaign finance reform. The Times endorsed Carroll as the person with the most experience.
Kate Cucco, left, and short-term incumbent Assemblywoman Pamela Harris (NY1)
Assembly District 46
Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Coney Island
Former correction officer Pamela Harris, elected in a special election held last year after the sitting Assemblymember, Alec-Brook-Krasny, left office mid-term, is facing a challenge from Brook-Krasny's former chief of staff Kate Cucco of Bay Ridge. The race has been rife with mud-slinging, with Harris emphasizing Cucco's support from the private-school tax credit PAC New Yorkers For Independent Action, which Cucco has refused to disavow. The candidates have questioned each other's loyalty to the party and argued about who attended which community and political club meetings.
During the NY1 debate where much of this went down, Harris said she’s for the school tax credit, but worries about the larger trend of moving money out of the public school system.
Faced with tabloid reports raising questions about her shaky finances and possible self-dealing involving a youth mentoring nonprofit that she ran out of her house, Harris has said that she had trouble finding a space for the organization, and declared bankruptcy in 2013 when she and her mother both had cancer and her husband was sick as well.
From Gotham Gazette:
Cucco recently released a 70-Point Policy plan that focuses on election reform, free SUNY and CUNY tuition for students with at least a B average, and improved access to affordable housing.
Harris said that if she’s re-elected, she hopes to continue to fight for the large senior population in District 46 through affordable housing and social engagement programs. A bill authored by Harris aimed at helping residents in naturally occurring retirement homes qualify for state funding was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month.
Assembly District 55
Sitting Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, elected in 2014, is running against Councilwoman Darlene Mealy. Mealy, who is backed by the private-school-tax-credit PAC New Yorkers For Independent Action, supports the tax credit.
Mealy, a low-profile legislator at the city level, declined the opportunity to debate Walker on NY1.
The race has been light on issues, and heavy on negative mailers, in both directions, as well as wild, unsubstantiated accusations by Walker of past Election-Day sabotage by Mealy, including glued locks, slashed tires, and sugar in Walker's gas tank.
Assembly District 56
Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights
Karen Cherry, aide to assemblyman and Brooklyn political dynasty heir Erik Dilan, is running against Community Board 3 chairwoman Tremaine Wright for the seat being vacated by retiring Assemblywoman Annette Robinson. Robinson has endorsed Wright, who owned the now-closed coffee shop Common Grounds. Wright is vice president of the Vanguard Independent Democratic Association.
Wright also cofounded an organization called the Brooklyn Alliance for Safer Streets. Confusingly, under her leadership, CB3 has repeatedly shot down proposed road-safety projects. In 2014, she said that street safety was "not an issue in our community."
Six-month incumbent Assemblywoman Alice Cancel, left, and Yuh-Line Niou (Candidates' website and Facebook, respectively)
Assembly District 65
Lower East Side, Chinatown, Financial District
Former Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver's corruption conviction removed him from office, but did not dissuade the few voters who turned out in April from ushering in his protege Alice Cancel as a replacement. During her recent campaign, Cancel called Silver "a hero in this community" and his crimes "private." She did, when pressed by an interviewer, eventually say he should serve time behind bars. He is still free pending an appeal.
Now, facing several opponents, including recent foe Yuh-Line Niou, Cancel is on the defensive. Last month, she fled a debate halfway through to attend a fundraiser, rankling debate attendees. Niou, supported by the Working Families Party, won 35 percent of the vote in April. She is the former chief of staff to Queens Assemblyman Ron Kim.
Also in the race are medical tech executive Don Lee, past Community Board 3 chairwoman Gigi Li, who has the endorsements of neighborhood heavyweights Councilwoman Margaret Chin and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Jenifer Rajkumar, a human rights lawyer and Democratic district leader, and Paul Newell, another district leader, endorsed by Councilwoman Rosie Mendez.
Assembly District 72
Inwood, Marble Hill, Washington Heights
Longtime incumbent Guillermo Linares is one of six Democratic state legislators reported to not have sponsored any bills that passed this year, though he did oppose the residential rezoning of a parking garage in Inwood recently, a hot-button issue for some local activists.
He faces a challenge from Carmen De La Rosa, chief of staff to local Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, and a proxy for soon-to-be Rep. Adriano Espaillat, who narrowly defeated Linares and others in the race for outgoing Rep. Charlie Rangel's seat. Linares was the first Dominican American to be elected to city office when he became a councilman in 1991, Espaillat the first to be elected to state office in New York and now in Congress.
Assembly District 78
Belmont, Fordham Manor
Seven-term incumbent Jose Rivera is facing a challenge from Ischia Bravo. Rivera is another state Democrat reported to have failed to pass any legislation this year. Bravo is a community board member, and though she previously ran the Bronx Democratic County Committee as executive director, the party machine is backing Rivera.
Assembly District 86
University Heights, Fordham Heights, Mt. Hope
Incumbent Bronx Assemblyman Victor Pichardo is facing a challenge from his recent foe Hector Ramirez, despite Ramirez's pending 242-count indictment for alleged voter fraud stemming from his last bid. Pichardo won that round only on a recount, by two votes. It later turned out, according to prosecutors, who cited dozens of witnesses, that Ramirez's street team and sometimes Ramirez himself had duped residents into handing over their absentee ballots un-filled out, then wrote in his name. Former assemblyman Nelson Castro, famous for wearing a wire during conversations with fellow politicians as part of a leniency deal with prosectors investigating him for lying under oath to the Board of Elections, opted not to declare his candidacy.
Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
And remember, if you did not register as a Democrat, or if applicable in your district, a Republican a million months ago, you can't vote in this primary, but you might as well get registering over with now so you can vote in the next one (blame our state legislators, who want you to stay home and disengaged). For registration information click here.