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People vs. Money
Despite an influx of outside spending against them, New York City's progressive and socialist candidates notched key State Senate wins last week. Here, I give my precinct-level analysis.
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Assailed by six-figure independent expenditures - bankrolled by the Real Estate Industry and Republican-aligned donors - progressive incumbents in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx nonetheless held off formidable challengers backed by local machines, while a socialist insurgent crushed a well-funded relic of the old Queens Machine.
The collective performance of Gustavo Rivera, Robert Jackson, and Kristen Gonzalez countered a sea of narratives brewing against progressives since Eric Adams election last summer, that were further emboldened by a disappointing performance in June.
These victories, already impressive on the surface, grow more remarkable as further context is applied.
Editor’s Note: All precinct level data by race is filtered to only include registered Democratic voters. I have also applied an additional filter (must have voted in one of the following Democratic Primaries: June 2022 State, June 2021 City, or September 2018 State) to better approximate data for likely voters.
I wanted to avoid situations where a hypothetical precinct is 55% Latino and 33% white, but voter turnout in said precinct is 45% white and 45% Latino - hence, I would not classify that precinct as 50%+ Latino. In short, this filter helps ensure that racial date with respect to voter turnout is not artificially inflated or deflated.
Keep in mind, no data is 100% airtight, so it is best to view these as close ~approximations~
While Gustavo Rivera, the lead sponsor of the New York Health Act, has remained a steadfast-progressive during his time in Albany, a combination of redistricting and strained relationships with the Bronx Democratic Party threatened to imperil his political career.
Before the political calendar was upended by the Special Master, the Bronx Democratic Party backed lawyer Miguelina Camilo in a separate bid for a now-defunct State Senate seat. Yet, upon this year’s unprecedented redistricting saga, Camilo was shifted into the newly-drawn Senate District 33 - including her home neighborhood of Riverdale, in addition to Norwood, Bedford Park, Fordham, Tremont, Belmont, Bronxdale, and parts of Morris Park.
This pivot put Camilo on a crash-course with incumbent Gustavo Rivera, who found his rent-stabilized University Heights apartment redistricted into Robert Jackson’s 31st District. Yet, Rivera was unwilling to cross Jackson, a longtime progressive ally, nor was he enticed by the prospect of running in the open primary for Alessandra Biaggi’s seat (almost none of which Rivera had previously represented) - both options floated by the Bronx Democratic Party. Thus, Rivera opted to run in District 33 - which retained approximately 40% of his old voting base - a move that pitted him on a against Camilo, who maintained the support of the County Organization - chaired by Rivera’s Senate colleague, Jamaal Bailey.
In spite of the fact that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lined up behind Rivera, a fellow-Boricua, her congressional colleagues - Ritchie Torres and Adriano Espaillat - backed Camilo. For Espaillat in particular, the race promised to be another test of his political influence in the West Bronx, where the Congressman had notched an impressive series of victories entering Tuesday.
While ethnic politics traditionally dominate many of New York City’s electoral contests, nationality loomed large in SD33. Espaillat, the first Dominican elected to U.S. Congress - has made a habit of backing fellow-Dominican candidates for office across Upper Manhattan and the Bronx. This year, that ethos has pitted him against Puerto Rican incumbents, like José and Gustavo Rivera (no relation) - with critics charging that Espaillat is fracturing the broader-Latino coalition.
The focus throughout the piece on the impact of an Espaillat endorsement is not unwarranted. In an era where few genuine political power brokers still exist, Espaillat boasts an impressive track-record of picking winners within his political sphere of influence. Thus, when his preferred candidates stumble, it comes with greater surprise and intrigue - given recent history. Eric Adams, who thus far has amassed a putrid record of endorsements as Mayor, largely skirts the same degree of scrutiny after he backs a losing candidate - precisely because his endorsement was not actually expected to move votes in a meaningful way. For Espaillat, it is the opposite: the expectation is that his candidates will perform well, especially in Dominican strongholds throughout Upper Manhattan and the West Bronx. In many respects, he is a victim of his own success.
Undoubtedly, Camilo pinned her hopes on decisive margins with whites in Riverdale, Spuyten Duyvil and Fieldston (neighborhoods Rivera has never represented) - where the local political establishment had lined up behind her - coupled with a majority share in the district’s Dominican plurality neighborhoods like Bedford Park and Tremont, many of which also resided in Espaillat’s 13th Congressional District. Ultimately, she received neither.
Editor’s Note: For the sake of comprehensive graphics, I only included the two leading candidates.
Despite tangible support from the Dinowitz family (father Jeff in the State Assembly, son Eric in the City Council), motivated by years of contentious history with Rivera (and Alessandra Biaggi), coupled with incendiary mailers, intent to frame her opponent as anti-semitic to the neighborhood’s large Jewish population, at the behest of a seven-figure independent expenditure - Camilo barely edged Rivera in the 81st Assembly District. While Camilo performed better in precincts where the white population constituted over two-thirds of likely voters, she failed to meaningfully create distance from Rivera - only beating him there by seven points.
Almost everywhere else, Rivera and Camilo ran neck-and-neck, with Rivera performing well in Belmont and Camilo eking out small margins along Pelham Parkway. The two split Norwood, University Heights, and even the plurality-Albanian precincts in Morris Park - where they netted a draw, with Rivera taking eighty-five votes to Camilo’s eighty-three.
Nonetheless, a consistent pattern emerged - that, across all Assembly Districts - Rivera performed best in precincts with higher shares of Latino voters. Nowhere was this more evident than in the Seventy-Eighth Assembly District - where in June, longtime incumbent José Rivera was handily defeated by Espaillat-backed challenger George Alvarez. While Rivera, by all accounts, struggled to mobilize a campaign to effectively counter Alvarez until it was too late - an error Gustavo Rivera would not make - the district, particularly the Bedford Park neighborhood, where Dominicans make up a plurality of the Latino population, had already convincingly backed an Espaillat-endorsee.
In the aforementioned Bedford Park and Fordham North precincts, Alvarez ran up the score against Rivera just two months prior, taking nearly fifty-five percent of the vote to Rivera’s twenty-five - cementing his upset victory.
However, such would not be the case this time. In fact, Gustavo Rivera easily surpassed Camilo in these precincts, while enjoying his strongest cumulative performance with Latinos amongst any of SD33’s five Assembly Districts.
Rivera’s convincing margins in precincts that overlapped with Espaillat’s 13th Congressional District, ultimately made the difference in deciding the result of the race.
In the eyes of many, despite being a well-recognized incumbent, Robert Jackson entered Primary Day as the underdog - and for good reason. A longtime foe of Rep. Adriano Espaillat, Jackson once again found himself in the crosshairs of the Upper Manhattan power broker, who tapped Angel Vasquez - the former Chief of Staff to IDC-aligned Marisol Alcantara - to challenge him.
The district’s previous (and significantly gerrymandered) iteration - stretching from Inwood to Hells’ Kitchen - was friendlier to Jackson and his progressive politics, given it included pockets of liberal whites along Manhattan’s West Side. After narrowly losing in 2016 to the Espaillat-backed Alcantara, Jackson prevailed two years later in the anti-IDC wave - marrying support from Black voters in West Harlem and Sugar Hill with progressives from the Upper West Side to Hudson Heights.
Despite his triumph, Jackson struggled east of Broadway - a street which often demarcates Upper Manhattan’s racial and class divide - consistently losing the 72nd Assembly District by double digits - an area that is over 70% Latino (approximately 3/4 of whom are Dominican descent). In the past year, both Espaillat-endorsees Carmen De La Rosa (who defeated Jackson’s Chief of Staff) and Manny De Los Santos ran quite strong here. There were few indicators that Vasquez - a Dominican candidate with the full weight of Espaillat’s apparatus behind him - would not replicate such success in AD72.
Thus, when the Special Master removed everything south of 154th Street from SD31 in favor of shifting the district into the West Bronx - Jackson appeared to be in considerable trouble - given a reliable chunk of his support, rooted in racial and ideological symmetry, was suddenly excavated - and replaced with Latino-majority, predominantly Dominican neighborhoods like University and Kingsbridge Heights, where Espaillat’s vast network was considerably stronger.
In a theme present throughout this piece, a pro-charter school super PAC spent over $200K in digital ads against Jackson, a lead plaintiff in the original 1993 Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, twice walking from New York City to Albany to raise awareness. Vasquez, a former teacher himself and ex-deputy political director for the United Federation of Teachers - one of Jackson’s core endorsers - ironically tried to distance himself from the expenditure.
As I framed the campaign in my Primary Eve Predictions post, the race stood as a test of whether traditional institutional support could protect seasoned incumbents at the heart of Espaillat’s electoral network - as Jackson combined big labor, like the UFT, 32BJ, and DC37, with progressive organizations, from Inwood Indivisible to the Working Families Party.
Given the presumed demographical advantage - SD31 is nearly 2/3 Latino - and Espaillat’s string of successful endorsements (prior to Tuesday night), many observers (including myself!) may have overlooked Vasquez’s poor fundraising (only $66K) and lack of endorsements outside the Espaillat network.
The results were resounding, as Jackson took 58% of the vote overall, crushing Vasquez (33%) by over twenty-five points. Of the six Assembly Districts in SD31, Jackson outpaced Vasquez in all but one (AD86). In Assembly District 71 - where the likely voting pool skews toward whites west of Broadway - Jackson took home 75% of the vote.
At the precinct level, white voters overwhelmingly supported Jackson, as the incumbent beat Vasquez by over sixty-five points in Upper Manhattan precincts that were 40%+ white. In white 66%+ precincts, Jackson’s margin swelled to seventy-seven points, as he took home 87.3% of the vote. Evidently, Vasquez’s past association with the IDC severely hampered his campaign with the district’s progressive white voters.
Jackson’s success did not end there. After losing Assembly District 72 by thirty-seven points to Espaillat himself during his first run for Senate eight years ago, then by twenty-nine and fifteen points in his two clashes with Alcantara, Jackson won a plurality against Vasquez.
Upon closer examination, Jackson also drew even with Vasquez in precincts where 60-80% of the voting base is Latino, with Vasquez only able to significantly edge Jackson in Latino 80%+ precincts - which he won, 62% to 29%.
However, the math quickly turned bleak for Vasquez, who only bested Jackson by 677 votes in Manhattan’s 60%+ Latino precincts - which featured more than 5K votes between Jackson and Vasquez altogether. Contrast that with Jackson, who bested Vasquez by a whopping 3,855 votes (over 5.5K votes between the two) in Upper Manhattan’s 40%+ white precincts - and the incumbent’s margin became almost impossible to overcome.
In the Bronx, Jackson continued his dominance, winning Black plurality/majority precincts with 69.1% of the vote to Vasquez’s 21.5%. Even in Latino-majority Bronx precincts, entirely new to his Senate District, Jackson prevailed with a plurality of the vote - as tertiary candidates Rueben Vargas and Francesca Castellanos combined for 17%. Similar to Upper Manhattan, Vasquez was only able to breakthrough with deep pockets of Hispanic voters, yet was still unable to command the majorities necessary to win - earning 45.6% of the vote to Jackson’s 34% in Latino 66%+ precincts in the Bronx (Vargas and Castellanos combined for 20%).
After a string of impressive victories, the decisive defeat of Vasquez (and to a lesser extent Camilo) - in his electoral stronghold - has brought Adriano Espaillat’s momentum to a screeching halt.
Did the Uptown power broker overplay his hand? Is Espaillat a paper tiger? Should progressives look closer at Upper Manhattan? Is this simply an overreaction to a bad cycle, or a symptom of something larger?
Would Jackson, who turns 72 in December, consider a primary challenge to his longtime rival in 2024? If not Jackson, will anyone else may feel emboldened by Tuesday Night’s results and try their hand?
Whatever the answers are, Robert Jackson’s impressive victory - against considerable odds - has ignited more conversations than it has quelled.
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Speaking of blowouts, that remains the best way to describe Kristen Gonzalez’s commanding victory in Senate District 59.
Heading into Primary Day, the question remained whether the DSA-endorsed Gonzalez could stave off Elizabeth Crowley’s significant financial advantage, which included television ads (nearly unheard of in a State Senate Primary), copious mailers, and real estate-aligned independent expenditures exceeding $400K.
The answer was emphatic.
Having consolidated support from the City’s preeminent progressive power brokers - including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Nydia Velázquez, the Working Families Party, State Senate Majority Leader Mike Gianaris, and Comptroller Brad Lander and DSA’s Socialists in Office Slate - Gonzalez ran away with the vote in North Brooklyn and Western Queens.
Gonzalez’s eighty-one percent in Brooklyn is staggering, especially when considering that, unlike Manhattan, North Brooklyn (Northside Williamsburg, Greenpoint) and Western Queens (Long Island City, Astoria) - two recent additions to NY7 - featured an uncompetitive race at the top of the ballot between Velázquez and Paper Boy Prince. Thus, the collective ability of Gonzalez, her team, and DSA’s organizers to consistently generate turnout and name ID for a first-time candidate - on an accelerated timeline nonetheless - remains quite impressive. All told, Gonzalez outperformed other left-candidates in SD59’s precincts, exceeding Jumaane Williams by twenty-four points and Ana Maria Archila by thirteen.
The possibility remained that voter turnout across the East River would be significantly higher than Queens and Brooklyn due to the heavyweight clash in NY12, and that if Crowley performed well in upper-class, moderate enclaves like Kips Bay, Murray Hill and Tudor City - zip codes that are also difficult to canvass (similar to AD66 in NY10) - she could eke out a win fueled by favorable turnout. District Leader Mike Corbett, backed by Rep. Carolyn Maloney and an assortment of Manhattan Democratic Clubs, figured to eat into her margins with establishment-leaning voters - but, if Corbett collapsed, Crowley could stand to benefit. However, despite winning those three aforementioned neighborhoods and Corbett proving to be a non-factor, Crowley ultimately did not come close to reaching the numbers she needed to with Manhattan voters - as Gonzalez won Stuyvesant Town (h/t Aaron Narraph - congrats on your job) and only lost the borough by four points, becoming the first DSA-elected to represent Manhattan.
While Crowley only performed well in a select few precincts outside of Manhattan, it is important to note that she won both the Queensbridge and Ravenswood Houses (Gonzalez and Crowley split the Astoria Houses). If Gonzalez receives future challengers, it is worth monitoring whether she can build off this performance, as Tiffany Cabán did in 2021.
Despite considerable financial advantages over her opponents, Crowley’s message - largely branded around abortion rights and law-and-order - failed to resonated in one of the City’s most leftist districts. Given that in the past decade she has lost elections for Congress, City Council, Queens Borough President (twice) and now State Senate - Crowley may be due some political self-reflection. Without it, her career in public office might be over.
While the scope of Gonzalez’s triumph is critical to furthering the left’s momentum, Senate District 59’s progressive core rests in reliably red (Socialist red, that is) areas. As New York City’s Progressive movement ponders future electoral organizing opportunities, campaigns will inevitably be waged on less ideologically-hospitable terrain. Hence, the race from last Tuesday that may prove most influential, long-term, to the left’s electoral potential - was actually a defeat.
That brings us to Senate District 21 in Central/Southeast Brooklyn, featuring a three-candidate clash between incumbent Kevin Parker, Chair of the Senate Committee on Energy, and DSA-endorsed David Alexis, a rideshare driver and organizer, and Keagan Mays-Williams, a former Manhattan District Attorney.
In addition to a bizarre history of “explosive remarks” and outbursts, Parker has emerged as a consistent impediment to progressive legislation in Albany, while frequently drawing criticism for a reliance on campaign donations from the fossil-fuel industry. A challenge from the left, at some point, was inevitable - with the The New York Times even opining, “voters in central Brooklyn should start recruiting a qualified replacement,” after one of Parker’s infamous tirades.
Prior to redistricting, Parker appeared particularly vulnerable - as his district included many staunchly progressive neighborhoods, like Park Slope, Windsor Terrace and Kensington, in addition to his electoral base in the majority-Black and Caribbean East Flatbush. While the Special Master was not friendly to all incumbents, Parker was further insulated once the new district lines crystalized - as Senate District 21 shed majority-white, high-income liberals in Park Slope and Windsor Terrace for Orthodox Jews and South Asians in West Midwood, in addition to whites and Blacks farther Southeast in Flatlands and Bergen Beach.
Had the old lines held, it is safe to say that Parker would have lost to Alexis, especially given that the competitive NY10 race would have juiced down-ballot turnout in the already vote-rich precincts adjacent to Prospect Park. Unfortunately, hypotheticals are just that - hypotheticals.
So what actually did happen? Well, Parker prevailed narrowly - with 45.8% of the vote to Alexis’ 37.6% and Williams 16.2%. Yet, upon closer examination, many interesting trends emerge.
With white voters (50+% white precincts) in Assembly Districts 42, 44, and 48 - think Kensington, Prospect Park South, Ditmas Park, West/South Midwood - Alexis won 51.8% of the vote to Parker’s 22.3% and Williams 24.9% - as the socialist Alexis unsurprisingly performed well with a voting base that skews towards young progressives.
Yet, with white voters in Assembly Districts 41, and 59 - think Flatlands and Bergen Beach - Parker won a majority of the vote (50.7%), amongst an older cohort that largely consists of moderate homeowners.
While Parker also took nearly 60% of the vote in precincts that were 75+% Black, the most-intriguing result came in the 42nd Assembly District - where Alexis earned 37.4% of the Black vote compared to Parker’s 49.7%.
This is noteworthy for a variety of reasons. Interestingly, Keagan Mays-Williams, who consistently performed better in Alexis’ strongholds than Parker’s - implying a degree of overlapping support (more on that later) - did not see an uptick in vote share with Black voters here compared to her results across other Assembly Districts - suggesting that Alexis’ votes came directly from Parker. Furthermore, AD42 is no ordinary Assembly District, but rather the home base of Brooklyn County Leader, Rodneyse Bichotte. Not only did Alexis win the Assembly District outright, he also bested Parker in precincts that were 50%+ Black - with 45.4% of the vote. A socialist candidate for office making durable inroads with Caribbean voters, in the County Boss’ backyard no less, is quite significant.
One narrative worth touching upon is the role that Keagan Mays-Williams played in the race’s outcome. Mays-Williams - who was largely backed by clubs and organizations like Brooklyn Young Democrats, Lambda, CBID, Stonewall and StreetsPAC (among others) - ran as a progressive candidate to Parker’s left, but nonetheless targeted Alexis with mailers assailing his socialist leanings - to the dismay of her endorsers. After Alexis’ close loss, many have branded her a spoiler, given their overlapping support in Parker’s weakest areas. While the symmetry in their voting bases is indisputable, it is worth noting that even had Alexis won 75% of Mays-Williams’ voters, he still would have come up short - albeit, by just thirteen votes. Notwithstanding, an essential ingredient of a successful challenge to an incumbent is a consolidated field.
Alexis’ performance, while in a losing effort, undoubtedly turned heads. Robert Carroll, a last-minute Dan Goldman endorser, may be looking over his shoulder if Build Public Renewables fails to pass in Albany, given his 44th Assembly district - from Park Slope to Windsor Terrace to Kensington, boasts some of the City’s most fertile ground for leftist candidates - with Alexis and Yuh-Line Niou sweeping the area comfortably this August.
Furthermore, it is worth pondering whether DSA would consider an overlapping primary strategy against Parker and Bichotte to maximize resources and voter turnout, similar to a 2020 effort that culminated in the victories of Jabari Brisport (Senate) and Phara Souffrant Forrest (Assembly).
For New York City’s progressives and socialists alike, while the past and present have orbited around professional-class pockets in North Brooklyn and Western Queens, the future rests with working-class Black and Latino voters in Central Brooklyn and Upper Manhattan.
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