the city politic

4 Big Takeaways From New York’s Weird Late-Summer Primaries

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: Getty Images

New York’s sleepy late-August primaries — ordered by a state court to settle contests for congressional and State Senate seats — didn’t draw much of a turnout (only about 12 percent of eligible voters), but the results could have big political consequences. Below are four dynamics that could play out across the state in the fast-approaching November general election and beyond.


Roe v. the Red Wave: Did Democrats get their groove back?

A Democratic win in a special election upstate suggests that the U.S. Supreme Court, by overturning Roe v. Wade, may have handed pro-choice Democratic candidates a powerful and effective organizing tool — one that could blunt the so-called red wave of Republican congressional victories that has been predicted by boastful GOP leaders.

“Stand up and fight. Stop pulling our punches,” said Pat Ryan, the Democratic Ulster County executive who won the election to fill the vacant House seat in the 19th District, which stretches from Kingston westward to Ithaca. (The vacancy was created after Antonio Delgado resigned upon being appointed lieutenant governor.)

Ryan made no bones about his path to victory. Within an hour of the Supreme Court’s decision striking down Roe, Ryan released a pro-choice ad and soon began plastering the district with signs saying “Choice is on the Ballot” in letters bigger than his own name. He openly tapped into the anger among voters, especially women, and promised to fight for a law that would codify Roe and make abortion legal nationwide.

The strategy worked: Ryan beat Republican Marc Molinaro 51 percent to 49 percent despite the more than $1.7 million poured into the district by the National Republican Congressional Committee and a political action committee allied with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

As Molinaro himself acknowledged after losing: “Democratic voters were energized by the Supreme Court decision.” That’s a lesson other Democrats running in swing districts will likely take to heart.


Progressives didn’t make big inroads — but they didn’t lose ground, either.

Progressive candidates supported by the Democratic Socialists of America and/or the Working Families Party made a respectable showing on Tuesday, but they didn’t win some of the key prizes on the ballot. It’s a far cry from the impressive wins the leftists have racked up in the years since the victories of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and a slew of state assembly and senate candidates in 2018. For now, the battle between the centrist Democratic Establishment and the “aggressive progressives” appears to have reached a stalemate.

Yuh-Line Niou, the WFP candidate in the Tenth District, finished in second place behind Dan Goldman and is unlikely to win, barring a near-miraculous wave of votes among the small number of remaining absentee ballots. Niou is also considering a possible rematch by running on the WFP line in the November general election.

Alessandra Biaggi, a WFP candidate who moved into the 17th Congressional District in the Hudson Valley in order to challenge the centrist incumbent Sean Patrick Maloney, came up shortwinning only about 33 percent to Maloney’s 66 percent. “Tonight, mainstream won,” crowed Maloney at his victory party. “Common sense won. Candidates who can bring results won.”

And in the Third District, which mostly covers northern Nassau County and part of Queens, centrist Robert Zimmerman, a business owner and longtime Democratic fundraiser, won in a crowded field with about 35 percent of the vote. The progressive in the race, Melanie D’Arrigo, finished in fourth place with less than 16 percent.

In the State Senate races, 27-year-old DSA candidate Kristin Gonzalez won a decisive victory in the primary for the newly drawn 59th District, which covers all or part of Astoria, Long Island City, and Greenpoint. Gonzalez got over 58 percent of the vote, while her nearest rival, former city councilwoman Liz Crowley, finished with 32 percent, despite being endorsed by Mayor Eric Adams and City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams.

“We multiplied our strength to show once and for all that socialism is here to stay,” Gonzalez tweeted, and told supporters “we will not stop until we see a socialist state across this city.”

There was considerably less euphoria a few miles away in Brooklyn’s 21st District, where the revolution hit a bump in the road. DSA candidate Davis Alexis failed in an attempt to unseat incumbent state senator Kevin Parker, who prevailed in the three-way race with 46 percent of the vote. Alexis got only 38 percent, with the balance going to attorney Kaegan Marie Mays-Williams.

But in the nearby 25th District, which includes all or part of Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospects Heights, and Bedford-Stuyvesant, an effort to oust an incumbent DSA state senator, Jabari Brisport, failed badly. Centrist challenger Conrad Tillard pulled only about 16 percent of the vote, far less than Brisport’s 70 percent.

Left-leaning lawmakers are both becoming entrenched in New York politics and getting rejected at the polls. It’s likely Niou and Biaggi, who first won office in the 2018 wave, will leave office at the end of this year. But the proven staying power of incumbents like Brisport and Ocasio-Cortez — who did not have even a token challenger in her primary — means the long war between progressives and mainstream Democrats will continue.


The power of incumbency.

Through hard work and hustle, two progressive state senators who were seen as vulnerable held off strongly backed challengers, demonstrating the immense advantage conferred by the day-to-day visibility of incumbents.

“When you come for the king, you best not miss!” State Senator Gustavo Rivera told a roaring crowd at his victory party at the Bronx Alehouse, echoing a famous line uttered by a murderous gangster in The Wire television series. Rivera had earned the right to a little swagger, having turned back a well-funded challenge by Miguelina Camilo, an attorney backed by the county’s Democratic organization in a rare instance of the party — and many of its prominent leaders — targeting a longtime incumbent.

Camilo’s financial backers included Adams, who held a fundraiser for her, as well as Jay Jacobs, the chair of the state party (who donated $7,500), and outside pro-charter school and pro-police groups that spent over $300,000 on ads and mailers. Rivera still prevailed with about 52 percent of the vote.

And in Manhattan, incumbent state senator Robert Jackson handily beat a challenger, Angel Vasquez, winning a district which, after redistricting, has become mostly Dominican. Jackson’s victory was a loss for the area’s powerful congressman, Adriano Espaillat, who backed Vasquez.

The Rivera and Jackson victories underscore the power and value of incumbency: Local officials have a high level of neighborhood visibility; knowledge of local issues down to the level of individual blocks and apartment complexes; and mailing lists of active voters. The average state senator or city councilmember has attended countless block parties, church and synagogue services, high-school graduations, and community board meetings — building a level of name recognition that makes them hard to beat.


New York Republicans rejected extremism.

Republican leaders in New York, like their counterparts nationwide, have to decide whether the party will play a responsible role in governing the country, or be a movement of extremists willing to say or do anything to gain and keep power. This week’s primaries suggest New York Republicans want to keep fringe candidates on the sidelines.

On Long Island, incumbent congressman Andrew Garbarino beat back a challenge from a pro-Trump extremist, winning over 51 percent of the vote against Robert Cornicelli, who attacked Garbarino for voting to certify the 2020 presidential election and for voting to investigate the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Cornicelli, who finished with just over 39 percent, had called the 2020 presidential race “stolen” and “rigged.”

And in western New York, the execrable Carl Paladino — a wealthy Buffalo real-estate developer who was the party’s nominee for governor in 2010 and co-chair of the state’s Trump campaign in 2016 — failed in a run for the open seat in District 23, losing to Nick Langworthy, the current chair of the New York Republican Party, who narrowed prevailed with 51 percent of the vote compared to Paladino’s 47 percent.

Paladino’s racist and extremist ravings and antics are too many to recite here, but suffice it to say that he was thrown off the Buffalo School Board in 2017, called Adolf Hitler “the kind of leader we need today” in a radio interview last year, and more recently, told Breitbart News that Attorney General Merrick Garland “probably should be executed” for ordering a search of Donald Trump’s home for classified documents.

The Republican Party hasn’t won a statewide election since 2002, and it has little hope of regaining power with candidates like Paladino who are unfit to serve in any public office. Langworthy’s victory may be a first step on the party’s road back to relevance.

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4 Big Takeaways From New York’s Weird Late-Summer Primaries