Local elections are getting more attention than usual in this politically-charged year, and first-time voters are having a big impact. New voters are the reason Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez smoked the race against Joe Crowley in an off-year primary. Now, state senate newcomer candidates, campaigning in her mold, are getting big splashy profiles. Even Cynthia Nixon, who is trailing Governor Cuomo by 30 points, is saying that polls don’t matter, because they are not capturing the wave of new voters who will decide this election. Maybe you are one of them.
Maybe you learned that the New York State Senate is kind of a shitshow, and not just because the former leader of the State Senate was convicted of corruption (don’t worry, so was the leader of the Assembly). But also because the Republican-controlled Senate has blocked laws from abortion access to speed cameras in school zones. This obstruction was empowered by a group of turncoat Democratic Senators who formed the Independent Democratic Conference [IDC] and caucused with Republicans for years until they returned to the fold in April. Now there’s a batch of newcomers who are trying to replace them for good.
So how do you find out who you are going to vote for? Well, it’s pretty likely that you’ll pull out your phone and Google “Who is running in my district?” You find whosontheballot.org and put in your address. And if you are in one of 19 districts (13 in the city, 6 in the rest of the state) then you are in luck. You have a State Senate candidate you can vote for in the primaries. Now all you have to do is Google the candidates and see what they are all about... but you may have some trouble with that if you live in District 15, 17, 23, 31, 32, 35, or 38. At least one candidate in those districts does not have a website. And maybe most surprisingly, it’s not just the lazy, entitled officeholder who didn’t bother with a website. Four incumbents don’t have websites, but neither do three challengers.
State Senator Diane Savino, a Democrat who represents Staten Island, does not have a website, despite having two Democratic challengers in the primary. Her campaign spokesperson, Thomas Musich, told Gothamist in an email that “Senator Savino uses multiple ways to communicate with those living in her district about her campaign, including Facebook and Twitter as well as traditional methods like door knocking and phone calls. She prioritizes methods of communication that facilitate conversations with voters.”
Thomas Leon does not have a website, but his Facebook page, where he has campaign flyers up, says that the candidate for the 31st District is the President of Computer Hospital, studied electrical engineering in Ukraine, and lives in the Dominican Republic. Luis Sepulveda, State Senator in NY-32, who doesn’t have a campaign website, is a vegan, according to his Twitter page. Both Leon and Sepulveda did not return a request for comment.
Of the candidates that do have websites, 28 candidates do not have the date of the primary election on their front page. (It’s Thursday, September 13th, for voters registered with a major political party.) Some websites have it in small letters, halfway down unrelated pages, or on tweets embedded on other pages, or on the last line of an About page. Others don’t have it at all. Six of the seven websites that do have the primary date displayed on the front page of their websites are challengers.
A candidate’s website is like a resume. Most look exactly the same, but the ones that shine have some unique personal details that just stick out to you. Amanda Kirchgessner, who is challenging Michael Lausell in the 58th District, which includes Ithaca, spent 16 years waiting tables. Jessica Ramos, challenging incumbent Jose Peralta, in District 13, which includes Jackson Heights and Corona, does not have a driver’s license. Pramilla Malick, who is up against Jen Metzger in District 42 just northwest of the city, has photos of herself in a bee costume and being cut out of chains in a protest. Julie Goldberg, challenging incumbent David Carlucci in the 38th District, which includes Rockland County and Ossining, has a video on her website explaining the IDC, narrated by Edie Falco!
Some state senate candidates who don’t have to worry about the September primary also have websites, with revealing details all their own. Anthony Arias (District 26, which includes the financial district) likes to post memes on his Instagram account, which is embedded on his website.
#Friends and #family, we are now accepting #donations and #volunteers! Please share the word and get #involved. You can visit the site for more information: https://anthonywarias.com #Thankyou! #nyc #republican #democrat #independent #politics #fundraising #grumpycat #meme #facebookmeme #subway #mta #politician #life #time #cat #animal #work #mondaymotivation #monday #motivation
Pete Holmberg (District 28, which includes the Upper East Side) has received some brutal honesty in his day, like “You're partying too much and everybody knows it” and “He's just not that into you.” He is now ready to deliver brutal honesty to Manhattan. Jeremy Cooney (District 56, which includes parts of the city of Rochester) was born in an Indian orphanage, and has adorable pictures of his beagle, Lentil, on his Instagram page.
But websites are far more than just places to display your personality and platform, they are places to reach new voters. In New York City, 12 campaigns informed me that they have campaign literature in multiple languages, but only seven candidates have multiple languages that on their website. Only one is an incumbent. Tirso Santiago Pina's campaign website front page is solely in Spanish. He is running in District 31, which stretches from Hell's Kitchen to Inwood. The Pina campaign did not return a request for comment.
Despite the perceived cost for a statewide candidate to have translations on their website, those that have done it say that it isn’t that hard. Andrew S. Gounardes, whose website is translated into Russian and Chinese, told Gothamist that his campaign just recruited volunteers to write the translations. “It’s not that complicated,” said Gounardes.
“The idea of not translating the website simply didn't occur to us,” said Michael Kinnucan, a spokesperson for the Julia Salazar campaign, in an email. The Salazar campaign website is translated into Spanish. “It's surprising that some candidates in North Brooklyn don't do this.” (Salazar is challenging incumbent Senator Martin Dilan, who represents north Brooklyn and part of Queens in District 18.)
“People appreciate the effort” of translating the website, Zellnor Myrie, whose website is translated into Spanish and Chinese, told Gothamist. (Myrie is challenging former IDC Senator Jesse Hamilton in the 20th Senate district, which includes Crown Heights, Brownsville, and Park Slope.) The best way to connect with potential voters is still face to face, said Myrie, but a website is still a very important piece of the campaign.
“Lots of people who are engaging for the first time are very plugged in,” said Myrie. When he has campaigned at subway stations, he found that “people will walk away, look up the website, then come back” and talk to him.