early and often

Everything You Need to Know About New York City’s Primaries

A voter votes in the 2008 US general election at a voting site on Frederick Douglass boulevard in Harlem, New York, NY, United States, 4 November 2008.
Photo: David Brabyn/? 2008, David Brabyn

Primary day is upon us, and New York City Democrats and Republicans — the former outnumbering the latter six to one — will be casting ballots in competitive races for mayor, comptroller, public advocate, Brooklyn district attorney, and city council. Here’s our guide to the nitty gritty of how to vote, who’s running, and which contests are most likely to come down to the wire.

Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 9 p.m. Turnout estimates vary widely, with experts predicting somewhere between 15 and 25 percent of the city’s roughly 3 million Democrats will vote in the mayoral primary (though if Bill de Blasio’s late surge has sparked a real enthusiasm among liberals and progressives, that number could inch higher). The city is going back to its classic lever voting machines because of hiccups in the newer electronic system, which should make for a vintage scene at your polling place if nothing else. You can look up where to vote based on your address here.

This looks like Public Advocate Bill de Blasio’s race to lose, with the Park Slope liberal easily outdistancing his opponents in all the polls. The real drama will be over whether he can clear the 40 percent mark and thus avoid a runoff with the second place finisher, which would be held on October 1. Former Comptroller Bill Thompson, who nearly unseated Bloomberg four years ago thanks to massive support in the outer boroughs and especially Central Brooklyn, will be hoping he can pick up enough backing from black voters to squeak into the runoff and then figure out a way to take down De Blasio. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, once the front-runner when it looked like New Yorkers wanted four more years of Bloomie, is mired in third place in most surveys. She’s depending on massive support in Manhattan — and especially the Village/Chelsea area, where many are excited about the prospect of the city’s first LGBT mayor — to compensate for what might be some brutal numbers in the outer boroughs.

Former Congressman Anthony Weiner and incumbent Comptroller John Liu are in the mix, too, of course, though neither is thought to have a real shot at the runoff. As New York’s Chris Smith notes, they could play the role of spoiler, however, siphoning off enough liberal voters from De Blasio to help Quinn or Thompson force a second round.

The battle for comptroller, essentially the city’s accountant and financial watchdog (and a springboard for future mayoral campaigns), is usually a sleepy one. Not this year. After planning to run for mayor, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer got spooked by the crowded field and switched to this race, quickly locking up the support of the entire Democratic Establishment, including organized labor. Game over, right? Nope. Eliot Spitzer, the former governor and attorney general whose prosecution of Wall Street titans made him a national star before his “black socks” prostitution habit and inept administration in Albany brought him down, jumped in this summer. He immediately overcame the relatively unknown Stringer in the polls. But steady attacks on Spitzer’s brush with the law and the support of Lena Dunham appear to have dented his support; the latest polls show Stringer surging into a tie or even a lead. Spitzer is depending on heavy support from black voters, while Stringer needs to do very well among women. This one could be close, folks.


Public Advocate
The city’s “ombudsman” or “chief kvetch” doesn’t have a whole lot of actual power, but the office provides a nice platform to run for mayor (as incumbent Bill de Blasio can attest). Because of a lack of polling, the four major Democratic candidates are all thought to have a legitimate chance to win, with Congressman Daniel Squadron (endorsed by Chuck Schumer) and City Councilwoman Letitia James (up in the polls in mid-August and backed by the Working Families Party and labor unions) perhaps the likeliest to come out on top. The other candidates are Reshma Saujani, a former deputy to de Blasio in the public advocate’s office and founder of “Girls Who Code” (her previous life was on Wall Street), adjunct Columbia Professor Cathy Guerriero, and Sidique Wai, who serves as NYPD community relations specialist.

Brooklyn D.A.
Longtime incumbent D.A. Charles “Joe” Hynes and his challenger, former federal prosecutor Kenneth Thompson, accuse each other of race-baiting, incompetence, and not living in Brooklyn. At a debate this summer hosted by St. Francis College, Thompson cracked that Hynes’s challengers “always seem to end up dead, broke, or in jail” as the D.A. sat a few feet away, looking ready to explode. Hynes, who was propelled to office in 1989 after a widely praised stint as special prosecutor in the Howard Beach trial, has struggled to weather a series of tough stories in recent years alleging prosecutorial misconduct, wrongful convictions, and protection of allies in the Orthodox Jewish community. Thompson, on the other hand, is best known for having represented the hotel maid who accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of rape in 2011, but also enjoys the backing of 1199 SEIU, the largest union in the city, and has been endorsed by the entire Brooklyn congressional delegation, the Daily News, Bill de Blasio, and even a few celebrities like Mary J. Blige and Jamie Hector, the actor who played ruthless drug kingpin Marlo Stanfield on HBO’s The Wire. With no public polling, this one is impossible to predict: Hynes has come close to going down before only to hang on by the skin of his teeth. 

City Council
Perhaps the juiciest contest is in Brookyn’s 34th district, centered on Williamsburg and Bushwick, where ex-Assemblyman Vito Lopez (who resigned in disgrace after allegedly groping several female staffers) is going up against progressive Antonio Reynoso in a test of old machine power versus the alternative built up in recent years by activist and former District Leader Lincoln Restler. Also worth watching: the Upper East Side’s 76th district, where incumbent Micah Kellner is trying to overcome reports that he sexually harassed two staffers. (What a town!) Finally, Brooklyn’s 42nd features fiery outgoing Councilman Charles Barron, whose controversial views are essentially on the ballot as his wife, State Assemblywoman Inez Barron, tries to replace him. Check out the City Campaign Finance Board’s voter guide for more about the candidates in your district.

What You Need to Know About NYC’s Primaries