Epicenter NYC has crafted this election guide to make things easier for you this November. Credit: Edmond Dantès

Starting this Saturday, you can begin early voting in New York’s primaries. Hold on, hold on, we can hear you groaning, but hear us out. These are important.

We harp on this every time election season rolls around, but it bears repeating that for a  good number of NYC races, the primary election is fundamentally the election. Most branches of government in the city, whether they be City Council, Assembly, State Senate, or Congress, are not particularly competitive between the parties, and so the victor of the intra-party contest has essentially a smooth path towards victory in the general, if they face an opponent at all.

The clearest illustration of this is the heated primary between incumbent Rep. Jamaal Bowman and Westchester County Executive George Latimer in a district that mostly encompasses the suburbs to New York City’s north, though does include a small sliver of the northern Bronx. Odds are you’ve already heard about this race given that it’s gotten national attention, in part due to its status as an avatar for multiple contentious intramural Democratic Party fights.

Most acutely, the contest has illustrated the third-rail issue of Israel, which was contentious enough even before the October 7 Hamas attack and the nation’s subsequent draconian military response. Public opinion has shifted sharply in the intervening months, with some of the Democratic Party’s traditional reflexive support for Israel turning to measured ambivalence or even outright criticism, which was still a rarity up until recently. Bowman, a progressive former school principal in the Bronx, has occasionally ticked off his leftist allies by being somewhat in the middle on the issue, including having taken a trip to Israel in 2021 with the advocacy group J Street (a visit that prompted some democratic socialists to call for his expulsion from the DSA group).

Starting this Saturday, you can begin early voting in New York’s primaries. Credit: Sora Shimazaki

In the wake of last year’s attack, though, he became one of the first congressional Democrats to forcefully question the heavy-handed response, broaching some language that would slowly come to be echoed by some of his other colleagues. Latimer has used this as a significant point of attack, bolstered heavily by pro-Israel groups that want to make Bowman into an example, and presented himself as a much stauncher supporter in a bid to activate the district’s substantial Jewish population.

The county executive has also leaned heavily into questioning Bowman’s personal and political style, which could be characterized as forceful and packaged for media consumption. We on the New York Daily News editorial board conducted endorsement interviews with both (sorry, I can’t tell you who we’re actually endorsing just yet, but stay tuned) and Latimer struggled a bit to draw concrete contrasts with Bowman on raw policy when asked directly, instead focusing more on what he sees as the latter’s showmanship and antagonism of Democratic leadership. Bowman, for his part, bristled when I brought up the idea of his political style, saying he felt that Latimer’s emphasis on that had a racial tinge (Bowman is Black).

Nonetheless, he definitely does have a different approach, and while it’s narrowly a distinction between two personal styles, I think it’s more broadly a stand-in for separate visions of how a party can be effective, and what service in Congress is supposed to be about. Latimer seems to take the more traditional view of legislative politics as navigating multiple interests and working behind the scenes to reach whatever’s passable, and being a good soldier for the party. Bowman seems much more comfortable seeing Congress as it has increasingly become: a circus where the only way to operate is to claw your way to the top of the attention economy and state your positions brashly, even if leadership finds it antagonistic. In truth, what legislation of note has even a remote chance of passing right now, with the razor-thin GOP minority?

Perhaps the bully pulpit really is the main tool right now, and Bowman navigates it well. The last few months have also been an illustration of just how much public perception can trump all else. The economy is on paper roaring at nearly unprecedented levels, with unemployment at historic lows and real wages up, yet we’re in the midst of the so-called “vibe-cession,” with polling showing a lot of voters believing this to be not only a bad economy, but a historically terrible one. We’ve gotten into some of the practical reasons for that, including the acute increases in certain key expenditures like rent and childcare, but ultimately it’s a perception game, fed by our fractured information landscape and the collapse of a shared reality.

Anyway, here I am getting into these ruminations about the nature of effective politics, as is my wont, but the base point is that this is the election, not the one between one of these candidates and whoever the Republicans put up in November. The presidential primary that we already had in April was basically for show, with the results predetermined, but this is a real chance to make selections about the future of each party at a time when both seem to be caught in periods of wrenching transformation.

Time is running out to register to vote in the June primaries. Credit: Edmond Dantès

The GOP is practically at the endpoint of its MAGA-fication, as exemplified by the shift from immediate condemnation following the January 6 attack on the Capitol (even from Trump, who had whipped the crowd up in the first place) to calling the rioters “warriors” in a recent speech given by the former president, who is set to be formally nominated again even after his 34 felony convictions.. Whatever moderate Republican wing tenuously held on I think we can say is formally dead and buried, leaving way for the contemporary party with, it must be said, an openly fascist approach. We gain nothing from pretending it isn’t.

Meanwhile, the Democrats are in the midst of deciding whether the party is going to commit to combating the GOP transformation, or trying to pretend it isn’t happening. At some stage, you can’t really work with an opposition that has stopped believing in the electoral and legal processes altogether, and then what? The GOP nominee tried to stage a coup, it’s become party orthodoxy to question the validity of elections before they even happen, and you have Supreme Court justices agreeing with the assertion that the country has to be returned to some conception of “godliness.” These primaries, at the federal level, are about who is going to be staring that down.
Anyway, there are some other notable races happening at the state level, including several for State Assembly and Senate. Former senator Hiram Monserrate, kicked out in 2010 for assaulting an intimate partner, has kept running for various offices and now is hoping to win a seat being left open by retiring Queens Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubry, facing off against District Leader Larinda Hooks. Gov. Kathy Hochul’s former aid Micah Lasher is hoping to win a multi-way race in Manhattan’s 69th Assembly District, facing stiff competition from public defender Eli Northrup. And Queens Assemblymember Juan Ardila, who’s been essentially invisible since facing sexual harassment allegations early in his term, seems sure to be unseated.

Felipe De La Hoz is an immigration-focused journalist who has written investigative and analytic articles, explainers, essays, and columns for the New Republic, The Washington Post, New York Mag, Slate,...

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