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Can Progressives Stop Dan Goldman?
A surprise New York Times endorsement powers Dan Goldman to the front of the pack, but where does that leave Yuh-Line Niou, Carlina Rivera and Mondaire Jones with less than one week until Primary Day?
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On Saturday morning, The New York Times upended the race for New York’s 10th Congressional District, announcing a surprise endorsement of former House Impeachment lawyer, Dan Goldman - in what can best be described as the inflection point of the campaign.
A former federal prosecutor running on a center-left message, Goldman distinguished himself from the field with his “knowledge of congressional oversight and rule of law,” as the Editorial Board lauding his “law enforcement experience… at a time when New Yorkers are concerned about public safety.”
The endorsement interviews, conducted by The Times Editorial Board, were weighted towards national issues, like defense of democracy and working in a bipartisan Congress.
Editor’s Note: The New York Times Editorial Board has faced criticism after reporting from The Intercept’s Ryan Grim linked AG Sulzberger, Chairman of The Times, as a family friend of Dan Goldman - a fact which was not disclosed in the endorsement writeup. The Times spokesperson has refuted the notion that Sulzberger exerted any influence over the Goldman endorsement.
Ultimately, Goldman narrowly edged out sitting Congressman Mondaire Jones, whom the Editorial Board praised as a “bridge builder between the progressive wing of the party and its more moderate leadership.” However, the Westchester Congressman’s controversial move into NY10 to avoid a member-on-member primary against DCCC chair Sean Patrick Maloney, likely cost him the race’s most pivotal endorsement.
Elizabeth Holtzman - the former Congresswoman, Brooklyn District Attorney and City Comptroller - was also commended for her “compelling” case centering on experience, similar to Goldman. However, Hotzman’s age (81) and history in electoral politics (dating back to the early 1970’s) appeared to only take her so far, as The Times quipped, “this diverse and dynamic district is ready for new representation though.”
Notably, The Times pressed that Goldman, the heir to the Levi Strauss fortune, “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 these constituents.”
However, it appears the Editorial Board failed to take their own advice, as they declined to even mention City Council Member Carlina Rivera or State Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou. Throughout the race, both Rivera and Niou have constantly polled amongst the race’s leaders, with Rivera comfortably leading amongst Latino voters, and Niou with Asian voters, many of whom are the district’s working class voters The Times alluded too.
Consequentially, both Niou and Rivera have consistently remained at the top of the polls from the campaign’s abrupt kickoff in mid-May. Yet, upon the first day of Early Voting, they were forced to contend with a Goldman surge. While Niou was often labeled as too left-leaning for the Editorial Board, the snub of Rivera was particularly shocking, given her “pragmatic progressivism” appeared to be in lockstep with the Times ideological leanings. Instead, Rivera lost an important chance to breakout from the pack and further cement a winning coalition of Latinos, young progressives, and older, highly-educated liberals voters. Having entered last weekend as the favorite of many pundits, both to win the backing of the NYT and ultimately capture the congressional seat, Rivera faces a make or break week.
So, with less than one week to go, where does the campaign stand?
While Goldman’s NYT endorsement snagged most of the headlines, he quietly capped off a strong weekend by winning the support of influential Hasidic leaders in Borough Park - many of whom are engineering voter registration drives to switch local Republicans to Democrats ahead of the August 23rd Primary. In June’s Democratic Primary, the Borough Park portion of NY10 accounted for approximately 1,500 votes - roughly 2.2% of the overall vote in the Congressional District. If Goldman wins 60-75% of this bloc - given Borough Park’s reputation for bullet voting - he could net over 1K votes, which would prove significant in a close election.
Overall, Goldman’s polling lead amongst the white electorate, which accounts for over 60% of NY10’s likely voters could define the outcome. In a fractured field, his path to victory can run almost exclusively through the district’s most exclusive enclaves - from Lower Manhattan to Brownstone Brooklyn (and Borough Park).
While much attention is paid to the Brooklyn portion of the district, Goldman is poised to enjoy his largest margins along Manhattan’s West Side - amongst wealthy, white moderates in the Financial District, TriBeca (where he lives) and the West Village - all high-turnout, high engagement neighborhoods which do not overlap with any of his competitors.
Ultimately, Goldman has the most money, the most influential endorsement, and mirrors the district’s largest racial (whites) and class (upper middle class, wealthy) cohorts. This confluence of factors will prove difficult to overcome.
As of now, this is Dan Goldman’s race to lose.
However, Rivera and Niou are still within striking distance, and can potentially eke out a win if Goldman stumbles down the stretch.
Rivera boasts the widest array of endorsements, from large labor unions to influential Members of Congress, like Nydia Velázquez and Adriano Espaillat. Not to be outdone, Niou boasts the field’s largest volunteer operation. Flanked by the Working Families Party, she is joined by other progressive elected officials, like Jumaane Williams, Jabari Brisport and Marcela Mitaynes.
While Rivera and Niou’s collective strength in Latino and Asian neighborhoods, like the Lower East Side and Sunset Park, or amongst young progressives, from Prospect Heights to South Slope to the East Village, is not in doubt - whether that support alone will ultimately translate to victory, amidst Goldman’s gains in the district’s toniest zip codes, remains the burning question. To win, Rivera and Niou will have to keep Goldman’s margins down in Brownstone Brooklyn and along Manhattan’s West Side, while reaching the nearly 4,500 voters (6.6% of the electorate) who came to the polls in June that live in or adjacent to public housing developments in the district.
NY10’s Times-trending neighborhoods - Greenwich Village, Tribeca, FiDi, Brooklyn Heights, Caroll Gardens, Boerum Hill, and Park Slope - have only eschewed the Gray Lady’s favor once in recent memory, gifting Cynthia Nixon large margins over incumbent, NYT endorsed, Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2018. Could history repeat itself?
While there are similarities (both Niou and Nixon were backed by WFP and were outspent considerably) the key distinction is Goldman’s lack of polarization. Pre-dating the Times endorsement, most of his opponents remained reluctant to consistently attack him or go negative, as Goldman only fielded two cross-examination questions in last week’s NY1 debate (from Jones and Holtzman - although, Rivera did take a parting shot).
With less than one week left, Goldman’s rivals will seek to polarize him, and portray his candidacy as radioactive. Whether those efforts will affect the electorate at large - rather than solely more online, progressive-left spaces - will shape the result come Election Night. While Goldman’s vast wealth - and the self-funding, stock investments, and summer homes that come with it - have faced scrutiny, many of the New York City’s wealthiest zip codes reside within the borders of NY10. Undoubtedly, some residents of Greenwich Village, Brooklyn Heights, and Carroll Gardens spent the early days of the pandemic away at their summer homes (like Goldman) - heck, they may be there right now, casting ballots for Goldman via absentee.
Goldman’s abortion gaffe (in his interview with Hamodia) was out of the news within one cycle. The anti-Trump candidate’s hiring (and firing) of a Trump-linked consultant never gained traction. If these issues did not matter to The New York Times Editorial Board, then who is to say they will sway voters as time ticks away. Goldman’s prosecutorial resume, focus on Trump and emphasis on defending democracy plays well in upper-class circles, many of whom recognize his frequent appearances on MSNBC. Even if progressives effectively rally against Goldman, will their charges stick - as persistent attacks on the frontrunner could appear desperate.
The one candidate who has consistently trained his fire on Goldman has been his closet rival throughout the race, Mondaire Jones. While his own campaign has languished since its’ onset in mid-May - failing to finish higher than fourth in any NY10 poll, or win a single endorsement from any New York City elected official - Jones has remained determined to battle Goldman over the district’s upper-class white liberals, given Niou and Rivera quickly gobbled up much of the local, institutional progressive support - and appear set to lead with Latinos, Asians and voters under 35. Had Jones taken either on instead, undermining their chances in the process, his credibility with progressives would only have been damaged further. Thus, better to target Goldman, who began to rise in each poll with an ever growing war chest, while Jones’ appeals to voters stagnated.
Narrowly losing The New York Times endorsement - a metaphorical Hail Mary that could have jumpstarted a late surge to the top of the polls - proved absolutely devastating to Jones’ comeback efforts.
With Goldman’s frontrunner status reinforced by an (Pre-NYT) Emerson poll released Monday - showing him five points ahead of Niou - there is mounting pressure for the fractured liberal-progressive coalition to coalesce behind one of Niou, Rivera, or Jones. Yet with each passing day, the chance of an eleventh hour consolidation dwindles.
Both Rivera and Niou are polling close enough to Goldman (and each other) where a “drop out and endorse” scenario is unrealistic, given each candidate, and their respective camp, can conceivably claim that they have the best chance to win. While Jones is nonetheless facing longer odds, he gambled his political career on a successful pivot to NY10 - anything less than carrying the effort through to Election Day would be unfathomable. Were Holtzman or Simon to leave the race, the net result would likely only help Goldman run up the score with the district’s older white voters. Ultimately, the late timing of the Times endorsement - coming on the first day of early voting - damned any realistic chance of progressive unification.
The most likely scenario rests with a de-facto truce between Niou, Rivera and Jones - coinciding with an all-out anti-Goldman effort (Jones has already gone on the offensive with his latest TV ad). On Monday, amidst volunteers and supporters holding “NYC is NOT for Sale” and “Anyone But Goldman” signs, Jones and Niou held a joint press conference branding Goldman a “conservative democrat” - taking turns admonishing his self-funding, stock investments, and retreat to the Hamptons at the height of Covid-19. In their remarks, Jones and Niou implied they asked other candidates to join them, but were rebuffed.
Sensing momentum, more politicians are coming out of the woodwork to back Goldman, hoping to be apart off the winning ticket. Just yesterday, State Senator Brad Hoylman and Democratic-nominee for AD65 Grace Lee endorsed Goldman. Lee’s endorsement of the frontrunner, in particular, bears mentioning. After Niou declined to run for re-election to the State Assembly, the more centrist, pro-real estate Lee (who had challenged Niou in 2020) defeated DSA-endorsed Illapa Saritupac to capture Niou’s old Assembly seat. In spite of her political history with Lee, and progressive symmetry with Saritupac, Niou stayed out of the race altogether, irking socialists - likely to avoid the ire of Chinatown’s more conservative political factions.
Now, Niou is hoping that other progressive leaders do not make the same mistake.
In Daniel Marans latest piece on NY10, many consultants parallel the failure of progressives to coalesce in NY10 with similar struggles in last year’s Mayoral Primary. However, I don’t believe such a comparison is apt, here is why:
As I’ve highlighted in my previous NY10 columns, the broad liberal-progressive coalition that exclusively lined up behind Maya Wiley last June is either fractured between Niou and Rivera, or still neutral altogether - severely hampering the left’s overall effectiveness. While NY10 is not the leftist bastion of North Brooklyn or Western Queens - Kathryn Garcia won the district over Wiley by seven points - it remains more progressive than New York City as a whole, and more favorable to left-leaning candidates. The primary is not a power struggle between the moderate, outer borough Black and Latino working class and the City’s liberal, professional class enclaves - but rather a district with a near-supermajority of old liberals and young progressives, with the district’s Latino and Asian working class backing two left-adjacent candidates. Crucially, without ranked choice voting (as is the case in City elections), there is no recompense for a split vote along ideological lines. In many respects, this scenario is worse for the City’s progressives given the left has enjoyed recent success, one way or another, throughout every corner of this district.
A reluctance to choose between Niou, Rivera, and Jones has kept many progressive powerbrokers on the sidelines - which, in turn, has stagnated momentum. Now, they might not have a choice.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (+65%), as well as City Comptroller Brad Lander (+41%), have some of the highest-favorability among NY10 primary voters. Niou endorsed Warren for President in 2020, and it is worth considering whether the policy-wonk Senator from Massachusetts will return the favor, so Niou can join her in Washington. Lander, the Park Slope Council Member turned City Comptroller, dominated his competition throughout NY10 last summer. His endorsement would surely hold water, if he makes it. Their involvement, or lack thereof, down the homestretch of the campaign is worth monitoring.
Furthermore, all eyes are on the three most famous letters in American politics, as one of the Nation’s most influencial voices has not weighed in… yet - suggesting the potential for one more seismic domino to fall. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose endorsement exerts unparalleled influence throughout New York City’s progressive core, reiterating Monday through spokesperson Lauren Hitt, “We’ll announce if/when she does.” Undoubtedly, her phone is ringing off the hook.
However, there are a few obstacles impeding a last-minute AOC endorsement - namely, the implications of only supporting one of Niou, Rivera and Jones.
If Ocasio-Cortez declined to back Jones, she would be eschewing a progressive congressional colleague whom she has endorsed in the past. If she sidestepped Rivera, she would overlooking the race’s only Latina (and fellow Boricua). Not endorsing Niou would probably cause the most blowback in progressive circles, given their ideological symmetry, as many of AOC’s local allies have already backed Niou. Point being, the endorsement game theory is fraught with potential conflicts.
Thus, I am of the opinion that if AOC chooses to get involved in this race (there’s a strong chance she just stays on the sidelines) - it will be from an anti-Goldman lense, rather than a full-throated affirmation of any single candidate. Goldman’s dismissal of Medicare-for-All and tepid support for the Green New Deal give AOC political cover too. It’s just policy, nothing personal. While the timing and context are different, Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet admonishing Andrew Yang’s comments on Israel-Palestine helped turn the tide in the Mayoral race against him.
Congressional seats in New York City are the closest thing to a lifetime appointment in Government. Nadler, Maloney and Velázquez have all served since 1993. Charlie Rangel represented Harlem for forty-six years. The Representatives that preceded Ritchie Torres, Yvette Clarke and Hakeem Jeffries - José Serrano, Major Owens and Ed Towns served for a combined eight-five years. If Goldman wins, he will likely hold the seat for as long as he chooses, as his campaign coffers are filled and his name recognition swells.
Besting Goldman over the next week is no fools errand, but it will be exponentially harder to defeat him as the years go by.
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