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Seven State Senate Races to Watch
How redistricting has shifted the battle lines in some of New York City's most important local elections
Unlike New York City’s new congressional maps, which largely shield incumbents and overall lack the intrigue of the redistricting bloodbaths from a generation prior, I have found the new State Senate maps quite interesting.
Not only do the new maps significantly alter multiple districts - either insulating incumbents or hanging them out to dry - they create two new districts altogether, on account of New York City’s consistent population growth in comparison to the rest of the state.
For me, there are seven seats throughout the five boroughs that stand out.
To analyze them, I have once more consulted election data, demographic trends, and the newly drawn district lines - in an attempt to ascertain how each aspect could determine said election.
Just like in my latest piece on New York City’s Congressional Redistricting, I primarily focused on electoral data from the 2021 Mayoral Primary to better discern the district’s ideological composition. I specifically used data from the sixth round of ranked choice voting - thus narrowing and coalescing the field to just include Eric Adams, Maya Wiley, Kathryn Garcia, and Andrew Yang.
As such, I sought to create “molds” of each respective candidate, detailing their strengths and weaknesses. Obviously, not everyone, candidates or voters alike, fits neatly into this little exercise, but I find it helpful nonetheless.
Eric Adams - A moderate, law and order style candidate who is deeply rooted in the City’s working class communities. This candidate is well versed with insider politics, courts big unions effectively, and is looked upon favorably by the county organizations. A candidate in this mold will be strongest in the outer boroughs, particularly with Black, Hispanic, and Orthodox Jewish voters
Maya Wiley - A clear progressive, whose strength rests with younger, professional class voters in gentrifying neighborhoods in North Brooklyn and Western Queens. This candidate would be the favorite amongst activists and left-leaning nonprofits, in addition to more progressive labor unions, like 1199 SEIU and NYSNA.
Kathryn Garcia - A technocrat candidate with managerial experience that appeals most to the City’s highest earners, concentrated in Brownstone Brooklyn and Manhattan south of 96th street. This candidate can combine support amongst white liberals, who frequent The New York Times, and more moderate outer borough white ethnics.
Andrew Yang - An Asian American candidate running in a more moderate lane. Most similar politically to the Eric Adams mold candidate, except performs better amongst Asian, Orthodox Jews, and ethnic whites, while struggling more with the City’s Black and Hispanic working class.
While these candidates' respective vote totals are not perfect proxies for how any particular candidate, challenger or incumbent will perform, I believe they are relatively apt ideological parallels that make drawing inferences on voter preference easier.
Without further adieu, let’s begin.
All electoral data is from atlasizer.com
All maps and demographic information is from Dave’s Redistricting
Could be vulnerable to a challenge
SD-22 - Andrew Gounardes
Demographics: White 47.5%(-4.9) Hispanic 23.5%(+10.2) Black 6.1%(+3.5) Asian 23.5%(-8.0)
2021 Mayoral Primary - Garcia 33% Wiley 32% Adams 18% Yang 17%
Few incumbents had their district more significantly altered than Andrew Gounardes. When Gounardes’ old seat was drawn by the legislature, the Senate chamber was controlled by Republicans, who were intent on preserving Marty Golden’s incumbency at all cost. When Gounardes bested Golden during the Blue Wave of 2018, he did so in spite of a heavily gerrymandered district that wove through Southern Brooklyn’s most conservative neighborhoods, threading together pieces of New Utrecht, Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Manhattan Beach and Marine Park.
Now, Gounardes’ new district sheds many right-leaning precincts to the east, while extending north up Fourth Avenue, to include reliable progressive neighborhoods like the western, more Hispanic portion of Sunset Park, as well as Gowanus, Boerum Hill, and parts of Downtown Brooklyn - making the district into an L shape. All told, the newly drawn SD-22 significantly shifted the district’s ideological median - both amongst the Democratic Primary electorate and in terms of the November general election. In the 2020 Presidential election, Gounardes’ old district swung towards Donald Trump by over two points, whereas his newly drawn district is comfortably safe - Biden+37 - an absolutely staggering difference. A similar trend emerged in the 2021 Democratic Mayoral Primary, as the candidates' respective shifts in vote share, from the old to new district were as follows: Maya Wiley (+15%) Kathryn Garcia (+7.5%) Eric Adams (-9.5%) Andrew Yang (-13%).
Not only will the district be significantly more Blue come November, but it will also be substantially more liberal and progressive come June, which could set up Gounardes for a progressive challenge from the north. Having never represented Sunset Park, Gowanus, Boerum Hill or Downtown Brooklyn, the district’s new boundaries are not confined to Gounardes’ home turf, which could leave him outnumbered. Additionally, as a Southern Brooklyn Democrat perpetually forced to fight off red waves, Gounardes has had to consistently brand himself as a moderate who tacts to the center, something that could further increase his liability in a primary battle.
SD-23 - Diane Savino
Demographics: White 41.7%(+2.8) Hispanic 24.9%(+0.6) Black 22.7%(+4.0) Asian 13.1%(-5.2)
2021 Mayoral Primary - Adams 32% Garcia 30% Wiley 24% Yang 14%
Ashore New York’s most conservative borough, Diane Savino has always been insulated from progressive tides, until now. Unlike many former members of the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference, Savino has comfortably remained in the Senate chamber since 2004, handily winning re-election each time. However, the seeds could be planted for Savino’s ouster, as her district grew progressively more liberal - adding left-leaning waterfront enclaves like Red Hook, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn Heights and Dumbo - while ceded her share of Bensonhurst, Gravesend and Sheepshead Bay - many of which hold swaths of voters ideologically aligned with the eight-term State Senator. From the old district to the new, Kathyrn Garcia (+13%) and Maya Wiley (+5%) saw the greatest boost to their vote share, while predictably Eric Adams (-10%) and Andrew Yang (-7%) saw sharp declines. The question that will ultimately define a Savino challenge is whether the progressive Brooklyn precincts to the north can hold up against the more conservative voters of Southern Brooklyn and Staten Island’s north shore. A candidate in the mold of Kathryn Garcia, who won SD-23 over Eric Adams in the final round of ranked choice voting, will have a much better chance than a challenger in the mold of Maya Wiley.
Actively being primary challenged from the left
SD-21 - Kevin Parker
Demographics: White 13.2%(-9.9) Hispanic 11.8%(-2.0) Black 69.3%(+14.8) Asian 8.0%(-0.9)
2021 Mayoral Primary - Adams 60% Wiley 26% Garcia 9% Yang 5%
You would be hard pressed to find an incumbent who received a more favorable redistricting cycle than Kevin Parker. The Chair of the Committee on Energy and Telecommunications, Parker is currently receiving a spirited challenge from NYC-DSA endorsed David Alexis, a community organizer and rideshare driver. However, Alexis’ path to victory just got significantly more difficult, as the district shed its most progressive precincts in Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, and the northern portion of Kensington (a familiar pattern to Rep. Yvette Clarke’s district) while stretching further north towards Kings County Hospital - as the district now encompasses more of Brownsville, in addition to the iconic Linden Boulevard. As demographics shifted, voter preferences did as well - drastically. Comparing the old district to the new, changes in vote share amongst the 2021 Mayoral candidates were as follows: Eric Adams (+19%), Maya Wiley (-6%), Kathryn Garcia (-13%). While many progressive and socialist candidates have fared well in districts also won by Eric Adams - rarely have the margins been this high, sans Charles Barron. Parker himself, who finished a distant sixth in the Comptroller primary, did well in his new district, banking 32% of the vote there on the first round - compared to his old district where Brad Lander vastly outperformed him 44.5% to 23%. It cannot be understated how much the loss of Park Slope and Windsor Terrace will affect this race, given both neighborhoods reliably produce high turnout and overwhelmingly backed socialist city council candidates Brandon West and Shahana Hanif this past June.
SD-29 - Brian Kavanagh
Demographics: White 47.9%(-9.1) Hispanic 16.6%(+2.8) Black 9.0%(+2.9) Asian 27.3%(+5.4)
2021 Mayoral Primary - Garcia 36% Wiley 27% Yang 20% Adams 16%
One of the most high profile races this calendar year is the heavyweight clash between Yuh-Line Niou, a State Assembly member from Lower Manhattan, and Brian Kavanagh, the incumbent State Senator and Chair of the Housing Committee in Albany. Niou, who has gained notoriety as one of Albany’s most progressive legislators, is vacating her Assembly district - setting up a showdown between Socialist Illapa Sairitupac and Grace Lee in AD65 - with the hopes of switching chambers in the state legislature.
The district itself, which used to stretch across the Brooklyn waterfront, is now entirely based in Lower Manhattan - shedding parts of Greenpoint around McCarren Park, Hasidic Williamsburg, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn Heights, Dumbo and the Brooklyn Naval Yard. Kavanagh, who used to represent AD74 in the State Assembly, appears to have benefitted from this shift, as the district, which previously ended around East 6th Street, now extends as far north as 24th street, including Alphabet City and Stuyvesant Town - all areas previously represented by Kavanagh during his time in the Assembly.
While Niou has been integral to Albany’s progressive revival, establishing herself as one of the left’s biggest stars, this race will be difficult and carries serious risks. Kavanagh, who has received past endorsements from the Working Families Party, did not appear to be an obvious target for a primary this cycle, like Cathy Nolan or Erik Martin Dilan, and will prove to be a tough out - given his strong relationships with organized labor and ties to the local power brokers.
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Demographics: White 31.3% Hispanic 38.0% Black 8.6% Asian 21.8%
2021 Mayoral Primary - Wiley 37% Garcia 25% Adams 21% Yang 17%
While the rest of the State lagged behind, New York City’s population continued to steadily grow over the past decade. Thus, once Democrats regained control of the Senate chamber, it was only natural to reallocate two State Senate seats from Upstate to Downstate following the decennial census. In addition to better reflecting the population shifts throughout the state, both newly created State Senate districts (17 and 27) sought to empower Hispanic and Asian voters.
Senate District 17, which stretches from Greenpoint in the west to Richmond Hill in the east along the Brooklyn-Queens border, is plurality Hispanic. Already, it figures to be one of the most progressive Senate districts in all of the five boroughs - highlighted by many neighborhoods teeming with young urban professionals, like Long Island City, Greenpoint, Sunnyside, and Ridgewood. In the 2021 Mayoral Primary, Maya Wiley enjoyed her largest margins over Eric Adams in SD-17, something that held consistently throughout each round of ranked choice voting.
Already, the race appears to have a clear frontrunner, Kristen Gonzalez, a Socialist tech worker who organizes with NYC-DSA’s tech action working group. Following her launch announcement, Gonzalez amassed Twitter followers at such a rapid pace her account was actually temporarily suspended. This is a prime opportunity for NYC-DSA to further build its base in the State Senate, where Gonzalez hopes to join fellow Socialists Jabari Brisport and Julia Salazar. The energy of Gonzalez’s launch, coupled with the district’s ideological leanings and strength of NYC-DSA’s organizing capacity could ultimately dissuade many county/establishment-aligned candidates from entering. While Gonzalez is already the early favorite, if she can further consolidate other progressive endorsements, this race could turn into a walk.
Demographics: White 29.9% Hispanic 18.7% Black 3.8% Asian 48.0%
2021 Mayoral Primary - Yang 28.6% Wiley 28.5% Garcia 26% Adams 17%
Uniting both of Brooklyn’s Chinatowns - Sunset Park and Bensonhurst - Senate District 27 was drawn to augment Asian voting power in Southern Brooklyn, which had long been divided amongst several Senate districts. While the district also hosts more conservative precincts in Dyker Heights and New Utrecht to the south, it extends north to include the reliably progressive Windsor Terrace, stretching around Greenwood Cemetery.
However, therein lies a crucial dynamic that will ultimately shape who holds this seat into the future. While Andrew Yang wracked up large margins throughout the district’s predominantly Asian precincts, his vote total barely exceeded both Maya Wiley and Kathryn Garcia. This was largely due to higher turnout in many of the Windsor Terrace precincts, lined along the Prospect Expressway and McDonald Avenue. While this is not a 1:1 comparison, it is not inconceivable that a non-Asian candidate from the district’s north could run, and ultimately win due to higher turnout amongst the whiter, more affluent residents of Windsor Terrace - especially in a fractured field.
Who could run? Right now, I have my eye on two names. Yu Lin, an adult day care operator based in Sunset Park who came in second to Alexa Avilés in the City Council primary, could be in the mix once more. Lin promises to be a more centrist choice, as he told New Kings Democrats he was not committed to eschewing donations from real estate developers and police unions. Elsewhere, Assembly member Robert Carroll, who represents Park Slope, Windsor Terrace and Kensington in Albany, could consider seeking a promotion to the State Senate. While Carroll has been rumored to be considering a run in the newly drawn 11th Congressional district, I am doubtful of his chances at winning, given what promises to be a highly competitive field. Theoretically, he would have an easier time running in the newly drawn SD-27, which solidly overlaps with his current Assembly district. Although any non-Asian candidate who runs will undoubtedly face a degree of backlash, since a core tenant of the seat’s creation was to increase Asian political representation.
SD-36 - Alessandra Biaggi
Demographics: White 34.0% Hispanic 41.7% Black 18.5% Asian 10.5%
2021 Mayoral Primary - Adams 31% Garcia 29% Wiley 24% Yang 16%
As Alessandra Biaggi launches her bid for Congress, she is leaving behind a coveted State Senate seat, which stretches across the Bronx - from Throggs Neck to Morris Park to Riverdale - into the suburban Westchester Town of Pelham. While the district was only marginally altered by redistricting, it did lose Hunts Point and Castle Hill.
Per reporting from Zach Williams and Jeff Coltin, interest in the seat is already brewing, with three names already rumored to be in the mix: State Assembly member Nathalia Fernandez, City Councilmember Marjorie Velázquez, and Kate Theobald - Chief of Staff to Keith Powers. Both Fernandez and Velázquez current districts overlap with SD-36, as they both represent Morris Park and Baychester, while Velázquez also represents Throggs Neck.
A potential clash between Velázquez and Fernandez would be one of the most captivating races in the City, as the two emerged from competing factions of Bronx politics. Fernandez rose up through the office of ex-city council member Mark Gjonaj, a conservative Democrat who routinely courted controversy - including soliciting campaign funds from the Gambino mob family and chanting “Shame” outside Alessandra Biaggi’s office during her 2018 challenge to State Senator Jeffrey Klein, the former head of the IDC and a close ally of Gjonaj. When Gjonaj vacated his seat to join the city council, Fernandez was chosen by the county committee to run on the Democratic Party line, where she won easily, and has since remained unopposed. The more progressive Velázquez narrowly lost to Gjonaj himself in that 2017 open primary, and was poised for a rematch against the scandal-plagued councilman in 2021 before he abruptly dropped out. She ultimately won the council seat handily.
If she runs, Velázquez would be the strongest candidate in the field, given her strong ties to Bronx Democratic Chair Jamaal Bailey, influential unions like 1199 SEIU and DC37, and the Working Families Party. Alessandra Biaggi herself also endorsed her.
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