Welcome to the latest edition of this NYC election-focused newsletter. I’m journalist Felipe De La Hoz, and we are now officially in the post-election landscape after Tuesday’s general election —we’ve come a long way since we started discussing the primaries months ago! Some results were nothing surprising: Eric Adams, the Democratic nominee for mayor, swept the race with about 66 percent of votes in the still-unofficial election night results (which include early and day-of votes), as expected. Also expected was a relatively abysmal turnout, with what seems like just under a quarter of the city’s nearly 5 million registered voters heading to the polls, already a small number in comparison to the city’s roughly 7 million adult residents (a significant chunk of whom are noncitizens who aren’t allowed to register).
The big story here is the unexpected. The New York City Council—where 35 out of 51 members were term-limited out this election—appears set to expand its share of Republican members. The GOP kept the three seats it already had: in Queens’ District 32, which includes the Rockaways and Ozone Park, county GOP chair Joann Ariola appeared to comfortably prevail over progressive Democrat Felicia Singh to succeed outgoing Councilmember Eric Ulrich. David Carr, former chief of staff to GOP member Steven Matteo, defeated Democrat Sal Albanese for his boss’ former seat in Staten Island’s District 50, and prominent Trump surrogate Joe Borrelli won reelection in Staten Island’s District 51.
Joann Ariola, Photo: @arioal2021
Republican gains & bail reform
In addition, there will be at least one GOP pickup, with potentially more on the way: in Brooklyn’s District 48, which includes Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay and was vacant after Democrat Chaim Deutsch was expelled following a tax fraud conviction, Republican Inna Vernikov prevailed against Steven Saperstein, aided in part by Deutsch’s cross-party support and the endorsement of Donald Trump Jr. Queens District 19 and Brooklyn District 43 remain in play; the latter, which includes Bay Ridge and Gravesend, currently features a razor-thin lead by Republican candidate Brian Fox against incumbent Democrat Justin Brannan, who is a progressive and seemingly popular legislator seen as a frontrunner for the Council speakership. The final count, including absentee ballots, will determine these results.
If the GOP ends up winning these seats, it still won’t be enough to really cause that much of a headache for the still-overwhelmingly progressive Council, or for Adams. Still, any GOP wins are markers of dissatisfaction with the city’s Democratic party in some enclaves. The dynamics between them will also be something to watch as the broader party attempts to define itself in the aftermath of the Trump presidency. Borrelli, as mentioned, is a Trump booster and surrogate, and Vernikov is an enthusiastic Trump supporter who has trashed policies like vaccine mandates. Ariola, meanwhile, is supportive of the mandates, decries Trumpism, and has signaled a willingness to speak out against the more toxic elements of her party.
The Republican gains here, though, are dwarfed by the red wave to our east, on Long Island. In both Nassau and Suffolk counties, closely watched district attorney races were won by GOP candidates, with Anne Donnelly defeating Democratic State Sen. Todd Kaminsky in the former and Ray Tierney beating incumbent DA Tim Sini in the latter. The popular Nassau County executive, Laura Curran, appears to have been a casualty to the campaign against Kaminsky, as she is almost certain to lose her reelection bid to challenger Bruce Blakeman. A driving force in these upsets appears to have been simmering resentment over the state’s recent bail reform measures, which were broadly enacted to cut down on the number of defendants held in jail pre-trial simply because they could not afford bail by prohibiting the use of cash bail for the majority of misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies.
In a way, basing the campaign around the bail reform measures is a perfect example of the GOP’s broader electoral efforts in recent years and going into the 2022 midterms, and these tactics’ effectiveness at turning out disgruntled voters: take an issue that has deep emotional cachet, fixate on or manufacture particularly egregious instances of supposed Democratic wrongdoing or complicity, wildly inflate what may be some legitimate criticisms, and mount a charged and geographically targeted campaign around restoration of order or values largely around this single issue.
Panic over education and Critical Race Theory
On Long Island it was bail reform, where Republicans pointed to high-profile instances of the bail reform forcing the release of ostensibly dangerous people and tied it to concerning spikes in homicides and shootings, despite no evidence linking the two. Elsewhere, like in the Virginia gubernatorial race—where former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a close ally of President Biden, lost to first-time candidate Glenn Youngkin—it’s the panic over education and the supposed teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in schools.
It’s a different issue but fundamentally the same dynamic; there’s really no evidence to be found that there is some organized teaching of CRT in any K-12 schools, anywhere, or widespread teaching about racial dynamics at all. This hasn’t stopped some isolated incidents and plenty of bad-faith fanning of the flames from creating the perception among parents in Virginia and elsewhere that there is some kind of campaign to brainwash their kids, and this perception is strong enough to drive turnout. It can be fear-mongering about immigration and the border (and its racist undertones of ethnic replacement), or false accusations of voter fraud. It plays out the same way, which is a concerning portend for Democrats going forward. An improving economy or finally passing the major infrastructure and social spending bills in Congress will certainly improve their odds, but it won’t necessarily be enough to counteract these potent narratives.
Voter Fraud fears
Speaking of voter fraud, misplaced fears around voter fraud may have contributed to the defeat of the two state ballot proposals that would have facilitated voting in New York by eliminating the requirement for registration at least 10 days in advance of an election and permitting indefinite no-excuse absentee ballots. Both these proposals won in New York City but lost statewide, along with the first ballot proposal on redistricting (we wrote about all these earlier). Victorious were the ballot proposals around enshrining a constitutional right to clean air, water, and a healthful environment, and expanding the jurisdiction of some civil court judges. And just a final note on the election, it appears that Buffalo Democratic mayoral candidate India Walton, who had defeated incumbent Byron Brown in the primary, has now lost to Brown in a rematch that he ran as a write-in campaign. It’s a shocking result, partly explained by the state party’s essential refusal to support her despite her primary win, and one that bodes darkly for the continued strain between the party’s moderate and progressive wings.
Democrats in Puerto Rico
Switching gears for a moment, you may have noticed that a huge number of New York Democratic political figures appear to be in Puerto Rico this week, and may be wondering why. The answer is the annual conference organized by SOMOS, a well-connected nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the needs of the state’s Hispanic populations. The glitzy affair is the event of the year for politicos and power brokers to huddle, smooch, jockey for influence, and hash out the next round of political deals, and we’ll be keeping an eye on what’s coming out of it. It’s a symbolic end to the election cycle and a jump-start to the political battles of the coming year.