At first blush, Tuesday night seemed rough for progressives. Dan Goldman, a multimillionaire former prosecutor, narrowly defeated Yuh-Line Niou, a Working Families Party–endorsed assemblywoman, in a wide-open race featuring four viable candidates. Had Niou won the primary, she would likely have become the newest member of the Squad. Goldman, a centrist Democrat who enthusiastically raised cash from Wall Street and the real-estate industries, will be a tough representative to swallow for the most committed leftists of the Tenth Congressional District. And beyond the five boroughs, Representative Sean Patrick Maloney breezed to victory over his AOC-backed challenger, State Senator Alessandra Biaggi.
But down the ballot, in the State Senate primaries held across New York City, there was plenty of good news for progressives and socialists. The left possesses much more clout in Albany than at the national level, and after some impressive electoral performances Tuesday, there will be three members of the Democratic Socialists of America in the New York State Senate come 2023.
Kristen Gonzalez, a tech worker from Queens, beat back Elizabeth Crowley, a former city councilwoman and the first cousin of Joe Crowley, whom Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez vanquished in 2018. AOC joined DSA in backing Gonzalez, who had to contend with Crowley’s heavy spending and outside PAC support. The real-estate industry, traditionally a powerful force in Albany, also invested in Crowley to little avail: Gonzalez won easily, 58 percent to Crowley’s 33 percent, in a newly carved Queens-Manhattan-Brooklyn district.
One socialist incumbent, Jabari Brisport, obliterated a primary challenger, Conrad Tillard, who was endorsed by Mayor Eric Adams and funded in part by major players in the real-estate industry. Tillard’s history of antisemitic and homophobic remarks surfaced in the primary, probably contributing to his decisive defeat. Brisport broke 70 percent, a huge number that illustrates DSA’s growing popularity in the central Brooklyn district. Julia Salazar, another socialist Brooklyn senator, ran unopposed. Just south of Salazar and Brisport’s districts in Brooklyn, DSA came tantalizingly close to electing another socialist to the State Senate. In a three-way contest, David Alexis took 38 percent of the vote against Kevin Parker, a moderate state senator with a history of controversy; Parker finished with only 46 percent. Had another relative progressive, Kaegan Mays-Williams, chosen not to run, Alexis may have been heading to Albany next year.
Two progressive non-DSA state senators also thwarted challengers to their right. Although he’s not a self-identified socialist, the Bronx’s Gustavo Rivera has usually aligned with leftists in the State Senate, carrying a bill to create a single-payer health-care system in New York and loudly opposing centrists such as Andrew Cuomo, the disgraced former governor. Running in a redrawn district, Rivera appeared doomed when the Bronx Democratic Party and the growing political machine cultivated by Adriano Espaillat, a more moderate representative, endorsed an attorney named Miguelina Camilo. Ritchie Torres, a young Bronx congressman who has clashed with New York progressives over the past few years, also endorsed Camilo, as did Adams. Most significantly, perhaps, major real-estate and charter-school super-PACs spent furiously to try to undercut Rivera, a pro-tenant and pro-labor lawmaker, as much as possible. But Rivera had Ocasio-Cortez in his corner as well as WFP and SEIU 1199, the powerful health-care-workers union. In the end, despite the daunting coalition aligned against him, he won 52 percent to Camilo’s 47 percent. Rivera will probably draw only closer to the left after surviving such an onslaught.
Robert Jackson, a Manhattan state senator, may have been in even more peril than Rivera. Best known for defeating a member of the Independent Democratic Conference, the old group of conservative Democrats who once helped Republicans control the State Senate, Jackson was facing the former chief of staff to the senator he had previously beaten, Marisol Alcantara. The same real-estate and charter-school forces that wanted Rivera gone took aim at Jackson, backing his opponent, Angel Vasquez. Espaillat, who has fought to elect more Dominican Americans, took Vasquez under his wing, whipping other Manhattan Democrats behind him. Insiders predicted Jackson would lose; instead, he crushed Vasquez 58 to 33. Given his margin of victory, Jackson will be further incentivized to work with progressives in Albany. Real-estate and charter lobbyists may not get their phone calls returned.
Tuesday’s leftist victors will now be further emboldened to fight for tougher tenant and environmental laws next year. Amid a citywide housing crisis, top priorities include passing the “good-cause eviction” law and banning broker fees for apartments. The left, broadly speaking, faced significant headwinds going into Tuesday. That they came through largely unscathed on the state level speaks to their durable power as a force in New York politics.
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