Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to trounce his long-shot challengers in Tuesday's Democratic primary election. But that doesn't mean registered Democrats should skip the polls. All 51 City Council seats are up for grabs this cycle, seven of which are set to be vacated by term-limited council members. And while many of these candidates lack de Blasio's name recognition, their influence on the local level is significant: these are the people who sign off on rezonings with the potential to ebb the flow of gentrification, or accelerate it. They take sides on controversial shelter openings and bike lanes, allocate money to parks, and shape policing protocols like the one laid out last month in Crown Heights for J'ouvert. They have the potential to make the mayor sweat on issues from police reform to immigrant defense, and they allocate resources to stanch the impact of the Trump administration's cuts on social services. They'll also pick the next Council Speaker in February, from a crowded field.
We've pulled together a list of races where newcomers have a shot, from Castle Hill in the Bronx to Bay Ridge in Brooklyn. We've also got a preview of the Brooklyn District Attorney race, where candidates are attempting to out-progressive each other to replace the late Ken Thompson. Polls are open tomorrow from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. You can find your polling site here. As always, if you experience any irregularity at the polls, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Manhattan District 2: East Village, Gramercy Park, Kips Bay, Lower East Side, Murray Hill, Rose Hill
As the former legislative director of outgoing Council Member Rosie Mendez, favorite Carlina Rivera has the pedigree as well as the endorsements (Letitia James, Scott Stringer, the City Council's progressive caucus) that a frontrunner would be expected to have. Five Democrats in total have been going after the party's nomination for Mendez's seat, including education advocate Mary Silver and former Obama administration Millennial Outreach director Ronnie Cho, whose support at times seems to have come from national, rather than local sources.
Rivera was praised as having "all the right experience for the job" by The Villager, for her support of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act and for the wealth of relationships she can draw on in the Council. She's also got the endorsement of StreetsPAC, which focuses on pedestrian and cyclist-friendly street upgrades and alternatives to cars. While she's not backing a plan to close 14th Street to cars during the impending L train shutdown, she's spoken out for dedicated bus lanes and protected bike lanes. "I think we have to think of a better way for traffic to move from east to west without completely closing the street down," she said at a recent L train forum.
Bronx District 13: Allerton, City Island, Morris Park, Pelham Bay, Schuylerville, Throggs Neck
The race to replace Jimmy Vacca has gotten extremely expensive, with Assembly Member Mark Gjonaj slated to spend almost one million dollars on a City Council primary. Along with all of his spending, Gjonaj grabbed endorsements from big names in the Bronx's political establishment, like State Senator and IDC Leader Jeff Klein and Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. Gjonaj has been criticized for his spending, and for moving from an Assembly job to a better-paying City Council job. While Gjonaj voted for a bill to abolish the vacancy bonus for landlords when rent stabilized tenants leave an apartment, he voted against a bill that would have repealed the vacancy decontrol law that pushed so many apartments out of the rent stabilization program.
Two of Gjonaj's opponents present a real challenge, in the form of Marjorie Velázquez and John Doyle. Velázquez, the Democratic district leader, picked up an endorsement from Vacca and from the City Council's Progressive Caucus. Doyle is a community leader from City Island who works at Jacobi Medical Center, and has hit Gjonaj hard for taking money from developers. He's also accused Gjonaj of using public space in a public housing project as a campaign office.
Bronx District 18: Soundview, Castle Hill, Parkchester, Clason Point, Harding Park
State Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr. is favored to win back his former City Council seat. Diaz faces a slew of Democratic challengers, including Elvin Garcia, Michael Belzer, and William Moore, but it's 27-year-old Bronx native Amanda Farias who poses the biggest threat to Diaz, having been endorsed by the New York City chapter of the National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood NYC Votes, and City Council Members Helen Rosenthal and Elizabeth Crowley, to name a few.
Diaz has long been criticized for taking anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice positions. In 1994, Diaz was nearly kicked off the Civilian Complaint Review Board after he claimed that summer's "Gay Games" would help AIDS spread and encourage homosexuality. He voted against a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in New York in 2011, and he has repeatedly compared abortion to the Holocaust. Farias, meanwhile, is pro-choice and pro-LGBT, which has earned her points with more liberal constituents.
Diaz is reportedly trying to return to City Council because it's a cushier position than his State Senate gig—the council pays $148,500 while the State Senate offers only $79,500. Susan Lerner, Executive Director of good-government group Common Cause, told Gothamist in a statement: "[W]e're looking at races where state law makers are running for City Council, looking for a pay bump and coasting off name recognition, against first time candidates."
Hiram Monserrate after he was found guilty of misdemeanor assault in 2009. (Getty Images)
Queens District 21: East Elmhurst, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Corona in Queens, including Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Lefrak City and LaGuardia Airport
Disgraced politician Hiram Monserrate is eyeing a comeback in this Queens district. Though Monserrate was ousted from the State Senate in 2010 after he was convicted of assaulting his girlfriend—and later served prison time for diverting more than $100,000 in City Council discretionary funds to benefit his own failed Senate campaign—there's been some speculation he could pull one over opponent Francisco Moya, thanks to a key endorsement from activist Bertha Lewis's Black Leadership Action Coalition and support from influential residents at the massive LeFrak City housing development in Corona.
Monserrate supporters have criticized Moya, who serves on the State Assembly for Queens' Assembly District 39, for failing to advocate strongly for affordable housing at Willets Point. There's also some concern that Moya doesn't have enough name recognition, since Monserrate previously served as a District 21 Council Member and has been working LeFrak hard. Some district residents have also claimed Moya hasn't made much of an impact in his time in the State Assembly. Still, Moya says the choice is clear. "While my opponent has been absent, not doing anything helpful in the community, I've been working to make sure we can solve the problems facing the people of this district," Moya told Gothamist. "All he's been doing is coming up with lies and accusations, because that is the type of person that he is. He's a person that has built his career on lies. I built my career on my work and my record and delivering for my community."
The Bedford-Union Armory in Crown Heights. (Scott Heins / Gothamist)
Brooklyn District 35: Crown Heights, Fort Greene, Prospect Heights, and Clinton Hill
Laurie Cumbo, the incumbent, has endured months of heated protests from local residents, construction unions and tenant advocacy groups for her refusal to bluntly denounce a controversial development plan for the Bedford-Union Armory: a vacant, century-old structure just south of Eastern Parkway. Developer BFC Partners plans to convert the city-owned property into a mix off market rate and below-market rate apartments, plus a recreational center and office space for nonprofits. The project checks all of the boxes for Mayor de Blasio's affordable housing plan (he's reportedly defensive enough to put some skin in the game) and is catnip for his critics, who argue the project will cater to a recent influx of wealthy, white renters while accelerating displacement in the historically working class Caribbean and Hasidic community.
Cumbo recently withdrew her support from the plan in its current form, denouncing developer BFC's plan to include 58 luxury condominiums. "I would not vote for a project, at all, unequivocally, with market rate, luxury condominiums," she told reporters in May. But critics including New York Communities for Change, one of the city's largest tenant advocacy groups, insist that only scrapping the deal entirely will do. They have thrown their support behind challenger Ede Fox, who has pledged to "kill the deal" and insure a 100 percent affordable housing project, potentially using the community land trust model.
"I just think the idea that an incumbent is being challenged in such a vigorous way shows the intense anxiety the neighborhood has about what it's going to concede to be in the future," said Jonathan Westin, head of New York Communities for Change.
If Cumbo wins, she'll likely face off against long-shot Green Party candidate Jabari Brisport. Brisport, an active member of the Democratic Socialists of America, has garnered plenty of press, if not the requisite number of votes, for his far-left agenda: participatory budgeting for the NYPD, an anti-speculation tax to discourage property flipping. He's also pledged to slash his salary to the median income of Brooklyn.
Reverend Kahder El-Yateem, who's running for City Council in southwest Brooklyn with a DSA endorsement. (via the El-Yateem campaign)
Brooklyn District 43: Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Bath Beach
With Vincent Gentile term-limited out and hoping to grab the Democratic nomination for the Brooklyn DA's race, a number of southwest Brooklyn residents are fighting for the Democratic nomination. Gentile's former chief of staff, Justin Brannan, got endorsements from Tish James and a number of unions in the city, including the TWU and the SEIU. Brannan has called for the city to take control of the bus and subway systems, and for the repeal of the 5-cent bottle deposit because of what he says are safety and privacy concerns.
Of the four other opponents running for the seat (Kevin Peter Carroll, Vincent Chirico, Nancy Tong and Khader El-Yateem), it's El-Yateem who's received the most press. After his endorsement by the DSA, there have been a slew of profiles of the Palestinian-American Lutheran reverend in left-leaning publications like The Nation, the Indypendent, Splinter News and uh, Gothamist. El-Yateem hasn't shied away from his DSA connection, telling us that he sees it as a strength in an area Bernie Sanders won in the 2016 primary. El-Yateem has called for an increase in funding for substance abuse counseling, an end to Broken Windows policing and for the Department of Buildings to more aggressively inspect plans for home conversions in order to cut down on illegal subdivisions.
The New York Immigrant Action Fund has also thrown its support behind El-Yateem, who they see as well positioned to represent a growing immigrant voter base in a district that also has many white, working class voters. "We really felt that he was the best candidate to represent a changing district," said NYIAF's deputy director Anu Joshi.
Brooklyn District Attorney:
While two District Attorney seats are open this election, Manhattan and Brooklyn, only the latter is contested, with six candidates, all Democrats, vying for the job. As the New York Times recently pointed out, the group is difficult to parse on the issues, with everyone focusing on criminal justice reform: fewer prosecutions for low-level offenses, stronger protections for immigrants, a bail system less stacked against the poor.
Eric Gonzalez, interim DA since Ken Thompson's death in office, has positioned himself as the most qualified to carry Thompson's legacy, and recently received an endorsement from the paper of record (he's also got the major unions on his side). But the current front-runner received the lowest grade on a new report card compiled by 5 Boro Defenders: a coalition of public defenders, civil rights attorneys and academics from across the city. The group spent the last several months monitoring each candidate on topics including broken windows, police reform, bail reform, and immigration, looking for inconsistencies between media statements and more candid remarks at public forums. 5 Boro member Alisha Williams conceded that Gonzalez is the only candidate whose words are currently being put to the test. For the rest, "their grades would probably be lower if we saw them in the courtroom."
Highest marks on the 5 Boro report card went to Marc Fliedner, a DSA member and the first openly gay DA candidate in the nation. Fliedner is best known for successfully prosecuting NYPD Officer Peter Liang in the shooting death of East New York man Akai Gurley in a darkened stairwell in 2015. Late last week, he held a press conference outside the Pink Houses, where Gurley was shot, to announce a defamation lawsuit against Gonzalez. DNAInfo has a rundown of all of the candidates, including Anne Swern, a former assistant DA and managing counsel for the Brooklyn Defenders; Patricia Gatling, also a former assistant DA and head of the Commission on Human Rights; Ama Dwimoh, another Brooklyn DA's Office alumna who also worked for Borough President Eric Adams; and outgoing City Council member Vincent Gentile.
With Rebecca Fishbein and Dave Colon.