Walk us through the results — what are the biggest takeaways?
Locally, there really weren’t many surprises. Perhaps the most notable result, though not even to the point of really being a shocker, was Republican Kristy Marmorato’s triumph over Democratic incumbent Marjorie Velázquez in the east Bronx Council District 13 race, which I’ll get into a bit more later. Not a surprise but always a disappointment was the turnout, which seemed to hover at about 11% of registered voters (already a smaller proportion of the population in this immigrant-heavy city) as of last count.
There are a number of reasons for that, the most basic of which is: how many New Yorkers were even aware that there was an election on Tuesday? Obviously, the readers of this particular newsletter were much likelier to have been aware, but there’re good odds that a person chosen at random on the street would have no idea. The reasons for that, in turn, have to do in part with when the election is taking place; more specifically, what year. It is 2023, an odd-numbered year, and insofar as most people have heard mass-media discussion of elections, they’ve heard about 2024, when the very consequential presidential election is taking place. There have been some efforts to move our elections to even years and pair them with better-attended federal elections, but they’ve gone nowhere.
The other likely culprit is that, for the general election in particular, there’s not really much choice to be had. Dozens of ballots featured elections for both council and judicial districts, with literally only one possible candidate per position (some voters had a laugh at judicial elections with three or five open seats and a corresponding number of candidates, all picked in arcane party machine politics). A handful of council districts had competitive elections, including the southern Brooklyn contest that bizarrely pitted not one but two incumbents — Justin Brannan and Ari Kagan — against each other in a quirk of redistricting. For most, though, the real election happened earlier this year with the primary, and there weren’t any flashy ballot amendments to drive turnout (not a lot of people care about sewer debt financing).
Looking nationally, there were some interesting takeaways. Democrats in Virginia, a purple state with a current Republican governor, held onto the Senate and retook the House. Among the salient issues in that race was abortion, support for which continues to be a winning issue nationally, including in Ohio, where voters roundly approved a ballot measure adding abortion protections to the state constitution, continuing an unbroken streak of statewide referenda results either enshrining abortion or defeating proposed bans and tight restrictions.
Overall, Democrats had a pretty good night, not only with the Virginia results but in hanging onto the contested Kentucky governorship. The strength is notable for a couple of reasons, one general and one specific. The more general one is that, historically, the party of the president in power has a tougher time electorally during the midterm season. Americans are to some extent contrarian by nature, people blame the president for pretty much everything, and the upshot is basically that the party in the White House can expect losses, or at least a much harder road to prevent losses. That did not materialize in the actual midterm elections last year, and it didn’t materialize here.
More specifically, much hay has been made about a recent New York Times/Siena College series of polls that shows Biden losing to Trump in several swing state match-ups. As is to be expected from our rather overheated political analysis ecosystem, these polls, a full year out from that election, set off immediate waves of brow-furrowing, consternation, and discourse about how the Biden-led party was doomed and dragged down by questions over Biden’s competence and so on. Clearly, the Democrats are far from doomed, and seem bolstered in part by both the incredibly unpopular end of abortion protections and the figurehead of Trump, who despite his lead in the Republican primary, remains very unpopular nationally, and is now all over the news constantly for his many civil and criminal legal entanglements.
What was up with the Brooklyn democrats turning on Justin Brannan? He won, so now what?
As we’ve alluded to a couple times before, there’s little the Brooklyn Democratic Party seems to like better these days than constant infighting, recrimination, and a desperate attempt to retain traditional machine politics even as the world moves on. In this case, more than the party itself going after Brannan, it was the lightning-rod party leader, assembly member Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, who was criticized for spending a good amount of energy supporting Velázquez in the Bronx, a completely different borough, instead of on the Brannan-Kagan showdown in southern Brooklyn (and, remember, Velázquez lost anyway).
She never directly campaigned against Brannan or for Kagan, but did lend her support to a former Brannan staffer that had accused Brannan of bullying behavior, which was an incident that the Kagan campaign seized on. After his win, Brannan first made a veiled comment about not forgetting “those who tried to bring us down in some of the toughest moments of this campaign,” and then more explicitly called on Bichotte Hermelyn to step down (he’s not the first, and the whole party apparatus practically imploded this time last year).
Of course, he can’t directly make this happen, but at this point Bichotte Hermelyn has taken a lot of hits and doesn’t have many victories to show for it. Brannan is a contentious and often combative figure himself, but he’s a popular outer-borough Democrat who is winning in some of NYC’s only real purple neighborhoods, bolstered by his visibility as the council’s finance chair during budget fights with the mayor, and representing one of the city’s largest Arab populations during a global conflict that has spotlighted them. I think it’s clear who the future of the party is, and who isn’t (for the record, the New York Daily News editorial board, on which I sit, endorsed Brannan in this race).
Any thoughts on Suffolk County and other NY bellwether races and what that means for 2024?
While the Democrats nationally bucked the trend during last year’s federal midterms, Long Island proved a bloodbath, and the bad news continues, with Ed Romaine being elected the first GOP Suffolk County executive in over 20 years. Voters also gave Republicans a supermajority, and kept GOP control of LI’s other county, Nassau. State Democratic Chair Jay Jacobs blamed redistricting in part, but I don’t think that is in and of itself the root cause here. GOP voters were more motivated to turn out in part due to the party’s emphasis on certain relatively straightforward narratives, including the crime-related concerns that proved so effective last time around (as I riffed then, there is no one more afraid of NYC crime than a voter who lives in Long Island and sets foot in the city a few times a year). Add to that the narrative of the migrant crisis, which is similarly driven by a more visceral concern with disorder and quality of life than it is strictly about policy, and it makes for a potent cocktail.
The GOP hasn’t been shy about relying on immigration as a potent wedge issue during the presidential election, and this is one early salvo of that. One of the more shocking bits about that NYT/Siena poll was that respondents indicated more trust in Trump’s handling of immigration than Biden’s, despite the fact that a) their approach has been substantially similar in practice, even if most voters have very different understandings of it, and b) they’ve both been historically harsh, veering occasionally into outright sadism, as perhaps best exemplified by the infamous family separation policy. One potential outcome is that Biden, realizing that staying on the same track as Trump is politically pointless, will veer in a totally different direction and actually take an active executive role in managing migrant arrivals, finally.
A republican in the Bronx? Kristy Marmorato will be the first Republican to represent the borough in the City Council in decades — what’s up with that?
There have been a lot of news pieces referring to this outcome as a stunning upset or an incredible result or whatever but, while I certainly wouldn’t say it was expected, it’s not some kind of jaw-dropping bellwether indicating a GOP takeover of the Bronx. These are very local races, tied to very local issues, with (as we mentioned) very low turnout, where a few motivated single-issue groups can really make the difference. In this case, there was some back and forth about crime and quality of life, as there always is, but I think I can summarize the apex issue in three words: Bruckner Boulevard rezoning.
This is a whole thing, but the abridged version is that, well over a year ago, a developer sought to rezone a stretch of this Throgs Neck roadway to allow a development planned to have about 350 units of housing, including almost 200 designated affordable. A group of local advocates went absolutely wild about this, calling it a heinous outside imposition that left out the community and would change the neighborhood character and all that — the standard NIMBY stuff. The City Council eventually passed the rezoning 48-0, including a yes vote by Velázquez, who flipped from opposing the development after it became clear that the rest of the council was going to steamroll her. People were irate, going so far as to call her the “Benedict Arnold of Throgs Neck” and such, and have held up the development for months on spurious legal grounds.
Even her pretty tepid support for that development is probably what ultimately tipped her opponent over the edge. I’d argue that in a city absolutely starved for affordable housing, in which the lack of housing stock is a driver of sky-high housing costs and gentrification — that’s right, there’s decent research showing that lack of new development can be a direct driver of gentrification, as opposed to the popular narrative of reverse causality — sending the signal that supporting housing development will lose you your seat is a disastrous one, but here we are.