Bronx City Councilmember Ritchie Torres is declaring victory in the race to become the Democratic candidate for the 15th Congressional District, the poorest in the country, following an unprecedented June 23rd primary in which results are still trickling in nearly a month later.
Torres, who raised the most campaign cash for the contest, took to Twitter on Wednesday to proclaim victory.
In an interview with Gothamist, Torres, who currently represents portions of central Bronx, pointed to his double-digit lead over his rivals in the race for the South Bronx seat that saw 11 other candidates on the ballot, including Assemblymember Michael Blake, Councilmember Ruben Diaz Sr., and community activist Samelys Lopez.
Torres called his lead “mathematically insurmountable.”
It is unclear whether Blake, who has alleged voter disenfranchisement, will move forward in legally challenging the absentee ballots. His attorney, Sarah Steiner, was unavailable for comment.
Listen to Gothamist news editor David Cruz and WNYC's Brigid Bergin discuss the latest results:
Diaz, who drew controversy for making homophobic remarks, had once been considered the front runner in the race. Although Diaz has not formally conceded, he recently announced that he is done with politics.
Torres, who is openly gay, called Blake a “sore loser,” and took credit for sending Diaz “into retirement.”
The results, though unofficial, bring an end to a highly contentious race that began when Democratic Representative Jose Serrano announced his retirement from politics, opening the door to a flood of candidates vying to replace the 15-term congressman. Many, including Torres, believed it was Diaz Sr.'s race to win, given his strong name recognition and deep ties to the county machine. But Torres won out the race, helped by a hefty campaign war chest.
Two other notable district races, which were called by the Associated Press, resulted in the elections of the first Black candidates. In the 16th Congressional District race, progressive Democrat Jamaal Bowman declared victory over long-serving Representative Eliot Engel for the north Bronx and lower Westchester County post, another surprise that showed the strength of the left wing of the state Democratic party.
Mondaire Jones also declared victory for the 17th Congressional District seat in Westchester and Rockland counties, long held by Representative Nita Lowey. This makes Jones the first openly gay Black legislator representing the district.
In Brooklyn, one of the major upsets came in Assembly District 50 where 46-year incumbent Joseph Lentol conceded his loss to Emily Gallagher in the Greenpoint, Fort Greene and Williamsburg district.
Lentol led Gallagher by more than a 15-point margin on primary night. But Gallagher sent in a team of volunteers to observe the absentee ballot count in Brooklyn, where her campaign made up ground in paper ballots. Gallagher has been working as a community organizer in the district for more than a decade.
“I’ve been a resident and honestly, I’ve been struggling in this community for so long that I think I am bringing a different perspective than I would have if I had grown up in a political family and had an expectation on me that I would be in office,” she told Gothamist/WNYC, making a reference to Lentol whose father was a member of the legislature and State Supreme Court judge.
Gallagher, a democratic socialist, will be joined up in Albany by fellow democratic socialist Marcela Mitaynes, who won Brooklyn’s 51st Assembly District seat, ousting incumbent Assemblyman and Assistant Assembly Speaker Felix Ortiz.
An emerging theme among the primary victors is an endorsement from, or affiliation with, the left-wing Democratic Socialists of America. In Brooklyn, Jabari Brisport appears to have won the nomination for an open State Senate seat in the 25th district, which includes central Brooklyn. He had the backing of the local DSA chapter.
Other incumbents who fell to challengers include Assemblymembers Aravella Simotas, who lost to Zohran Kwame Mandami in the 36th district which includes Astoria in Queens. Also in Queens, incumbent Assemblymember Walter Mosley lost to Phara Forrest, another democratic socialist.
In the 35th Assembly district, it appears that disgraced former State Senator Hiram Monserrate lost his attempt at a political comeback against Assemblymember Jeff Aubry.
On a local level, City Councilmember Donovan Richards appears to have won the five-way primary for Queens borough president after his closest challenger, former City Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley, conceded.
Still yet to be called is the 12th Congressional District race, where incumbent Representative Carolyn Maloney is attempting to hold onto her seat over challenger Suraj Patel. As of Primary Day and before absentee ballots were counted, Maloney held a razor thin 648-vote lead over Patel, her closest competitor. Absentee ballots have been counted in the Queens and Brooklyn portions of the district, but the BOE is still tallying votes in Manhattan.
Last week, Patel became one of the candidates in a lawsuit against Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State Board of Elections over absentee ballots that were being invalidated for missing, illegible or untimely postmarks. While many voters complained about receiving their absentee ballots late or not at all, for those who did receive their ballots and tried to mail them, many ballots are still being invalidated if they don’t show a postmark of June 23rd or earlier.
A spokesperson for the Patel campaign said they don’t expect the counting to conclude until the end of next week. While that process continues, both Maloney and Patel continue to send fundraising appeals to their supporters. In an email sent to supporters on Wednesday, Patel linked to recent editorials in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Daily News that call on the city BOE to count every valid ballot, even those lacking postmarks. His statement also noted that all four candidates on the ballot in District 12, including Maloney, signed a joint statement calling for all the ballots to be counted.
Staff from the city BOE have been counting absentee ballots in each borough’s respective offices for more than two weeks. The count was supposed to begin on July 1st, but the BOE delayed the start by five days, citing the gargantuan number of absentee ballots sent out days before the primary.
On Monday, July 6th, the BOE began counting ballots by Assembly district in Staten Island. Then on Wednesday, July 8th, the counts began in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan and Queens. Each day, city BOE staff announced which Assembly districts they would be counting that respective day. Because of this approach, some candidates did not see any ballots counted in their respective contests until just last week.
Following Cuomo’s executive order that expanded access to absentee ballots to people who wanted to avoid exposure to COVID-19, there was an avalanche of absentee ballots. Those absentee ballots have proven to be decisive in the primary, making up nearly half of the 880,000 ballots cast here in the city.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Governor Cuomo said his administration would be evaluating how the primary was conducted and signaled he was open to making improvements before the general election.
“We are studying what happened from a system-wide point of view and any reforms we can make for November, we will," he said.