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Spoiled for Choice

The many, many candidates for New York’s Tenth District.

From left: Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, former representative Liz Holtzman, Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, City Councilmember Carlina Rivera, Representative Mondaire Jones, and Dan Goldman. Photo: Victor Llorente
From left: Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, former representative Liz Holtzman, Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, City Councilmember Carlina Rivera, Representative Mondaire Jones, and Dan Goldman. Photo: Victor Llorente

After weeks of appearing at countless community forums — each one a fraught exercise in avoiding verbal gaffes — the leading Democratic candidates running in the newly created Tenth Congressional District are getting a little sick of each other. It showed in the televised debate sponsored by Spectrum News NY1 and WNYC/Gothamist.

“You’re a walking campaign-finance loophole,” City Councilwoman Carlina Rivera said to ex-prosecutor Dan Goldman, referring to Goldman’s decision to lend his campaign nearly $1 million from his personal fortune.

“Will you apologize to the victims of your investments?” Represenative Mondaire Jones asked of Goldman, pointedly referring to Goldman’s ownership of shares in Fox News and Sturm, Ruger & Co., a gun manufacturer. (Goldman declined, promising to place his investments in a blind trust if elected.)

“I believe in the Constitution. Maybe you haven’t studied it sufficiently,” Elizabeth Holtzman snipped at Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon as the two jousted over whether there should be term limits on Supreme Court justices (Simon favors the idea, and criticized Holtzman for not backing it).

Each of the candidates has a plausible path to victory, not least because the unusual date of the primary on August 23 — a time when many New Yorkers leave town on vacation — all but guarantees a low voter turnout. A candidate who manages to herd his or her supporters to the polls can walk away with a high-profile political prize, representing a district that includes Wall Street, Greenwich Village, NYU, the World Trade Center and other landmarks.

Yuh-Line Niou has the backing of the progressive Working Families Party, and might be able to build a base among Asian families in the district’s two Chinatowns (the one in Manhattan and a growing one in Sunset Park). Mondaire Jones has endorsements from marquee names (including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi) and a string of more than 200 laws that he sponsored or co-sponsored, more than any other freshman member of Congress, according to Axios.

Rivera scored backing from SEIU Local 1199, the politically powerful health-care union, as well as Representatives Nydia Velasquez and Adriano Espaillat, who have joined other leaders in complaining about a dearth of Latino leaders in citywide and statewide offices. Simon claims that turnout is so high in her Assembly district — which includes all or part of Brooklyn Heights, Gowanus, and Park Slope — that she got more votes than any other candidate for Assembly over the last three election cycles..

Goldman, a staff attorney for Democrats during the first impeachment of Donald Trump, has been a fixture on MSNBC and CNN for months, building name recognition supplemented by a personal fortune (an heir of a founder of the Levi-Strauss company, has a personal net worth estimated as high as $253 million). And Holtzman’s legendary political pioneer began in 1972 when she was the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, and later became the first woman to serve as Brooklyn District Attorney and as City Comptroller. She has been endorsed by Gloria Steinem, a fellow women’s rights pioneer, as well as the editorial board of the New York Daily News.

From Park Slope to the Lower East Side to the East and West Village, the Tenth will likely rank among the most progressive districts in New York, if not the country. The candidates all see eye to eye on big federal issues, notably the need to prevent a repeat of the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and the efforts by Donald Trump to overturn the 2020 election. They are also in lockstep on a soon-to-be developed parcel at 5 World Trade Center, a planned residential tower of nearly 1,000 apartments; all six candidates want the future building to be 100 percent subsidized for low-income tenants.

But on a few issues, the candidates showed subtle but important differences. On the subject of how to deal with New York’s rising crime rates, for instance, Niou attributed it to poverty, Rivera blamed the social disruption caused by the pandemic, while Jones and Simon emphasized the need for stronger regulation of guns. But ex-prosecutors Holtzman and Goldman emphasized the need to be realistic about our need to arrest, prosecute, and imprison violent criminals.

By the end of the two-hour debate, the candidates seemed weary, but satisfied that they’d made the points they want their followers to hear. A few days later, Goldman snagged a crucial prize: an endorsement by the New York Times editorial board.

In a mini-masterpiece of elite liberal reasoning, the Times made no reference to any of the local representatives in the district or the gritty, difficult neighborhood issues on which they have toiled away over the years — sorry, Niou, Rivera, and Simon! — but the board reassured its readers that, “Those who have worked with Mr. Goldman behind the scenes describe him as diligent and prepared and a person of integrity.” (Translation: Queries within the alumni networks of Sidwell Friends, Yale, and Stanford Law, from which Goldman graduated, turned up good reports and no scandals.)

The board made a point of saying they had agonized over possibly selecting Jones, “but Mr. Goldman won us over as the better choice.” So they picked the straight white guy with elite credentials and a family fortune with a gentle reminder that “Mr. Goldman would need to use his first term to convince the large numbers of lower-income and middle-class Americans he would represent that he understands the issues facing those constituents.”

Not everyone is swayed by a Times endorsement, of course. Niou told me she has 600 volunteers who have been knocking on doors, and the News editorial board gave special mention to Rivera as their second choice after Holtzman, citing her work on bills protecting delivery workers and rezoning Soho.

With early voting underway in this low-turnout, late August primary, expect more elbows to be thrown in the sprint to the finish line.

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