Predicting New York City's Five Most Contentious Primaries
I share my predictions for five of New York City’s most important races in tomorrow’s Congressional and State Senate Primaries - including a Rumble in the Bronx, a DSA vs Crowley grudge match, & NY10
Disclaimer: Substack is my personal project. All writings, words, ideas, and opinions expressed here are my own and are not related in any way to my employer, nor my duties at work.
In the first installment (of hopefully many more) New York City Democratic Primary predictions here at The Narrative Wars, I will train my gaze on three pivotal State Senate showdowns and two cathartic Congressional contests, spanning hundreds of thousands of voters across four boroughs.
Why am I doing this? Honestly, I think it will be a fun exercise. I am always looking to sharpen my analysis and learn from any mistakes along the way. There is no better way to hold yourself accountable, than by going on the record like this.
In surveying these races, I primarily reviewed past electoral patterns in addition to likely voter data by race, oftentimes sorting by different districts (EDs, ADs, CDs - you know the drill). It’s crucial to know who is going to the polls before examining any factors that may influence voting patterns, whether it be ideology, race, class, outside spending, or even nationality. Oftentimes, it is an amalgamation factors that can vary from block to block, zip code to zip code. Even with an endless amount of fine tuning, in a primary decided by no more than a few thousand people - estimation is unavoidable - where a degree of intuition, or personal touch, is necessary.
Editor’s Note: When I say “likely voter”, I am referencing a person who has voted in ONE of the following Democratic Primaries: June 2022, June 2021, September 2018.
All I ask, is that if you disagree, you do so respectfully. These races will all be very close. Don’t forget to offer up your own predictions as well.
Lastly, I am not picking who I want to win, but rather who I think will win. As best I can, I try and check my personal feelings and biases at the door. If I left your candidate or race out, I apologize - it is not a reflection of the campaign’s importance - but rather my own capacity - which naturally has its limits. Limiting the scope of the project helps me further delve into the information I need, which helps ensure that my analysis does not suffer.
Enough monologuing, there’s less than 12 hours until the polls open on Primary Day, let’s begin !
Robert Jackson(I) vs. Angel Vasquez
To best understand the tension-filled tilt between State Senator Robert Jackson and challenger Angel Vasquez, one must first look to the top of the ballot, where Adriano Espaillat, the first Dominican elected to Congress, has established himself as the preeminent powerbroker in Upper Manhattan and the West Bronx.
Since 1996, Espaillat has tactfully maneuvered his way from Albany (first in the Assembly, then the Senate) to Washington - consolidating support and building power along the way. Allies view Espaillat as a seminal figure in the Dominican community, one who helped pave the way for the next generation of Dominican politicians through mentorship and institutional support. To his detractors, Espaillat has created a new age political machine, one that now runs from Washington Heights to University Heights, from Inwood Hill Park to Bedford Park.
Robert Jackson and Espaillat have history, to say the least. After Espaillat’s second unsuccessful challenge to Rep. Charlie Rangel in 2014, Jackson launched a furious challenge of his own against Espaillat, then a State Senator representing an oddly-gerrymandered West Side district stretching from Inwood to Hell’s Kitchen. While Espaillat narrowly prevailed, winning by less than seven points, the rivalry was only beginning. After Espaillat was elected to Congress in 2016, Jackson ran for his vacated State Senate seat, losing by two points to (Espaillat-backed) Marisol Alcantara, who went on to join the IDC. In a rematch two years later (without fellow-liberal Micah Lasher), Jackson dethroned Alcantara in the infamous anti-IDC wave of 2018, winning overwhelming margins in white-majority areas, like the Upper West Side and Hudson Heights. Now, Espaillat has a chance to settle old scores against Jackson.
From the moment SD31 was redrawn to add in portions of the West Bronx, significantly increasing the district’s Latino population, Jackson became the City’s most vulnerable incumbent Senator, with Alcantara’s former-Chief of Staff, Angel Vasquez, already running to replace him.
Vasquez, buoyed the support of Espaillat and his many allies throughout the district, will stand to benefit from significant outside spending in the race, mostly from pro-Charter School PACs, who are eager to oust Jackson - one of Albany’s most progressive legislators with respect to education.
While the Working Families Party, Bronx Democratic Chair Jamaal Bailey, and most of organized labor (DC37, 1199) remains behind Jackson - the race stands as a test of whether traditional institutional support can protect seasoned incumbents at the heart of Espaillat’s electoral network.
Approximately 70% of the district’s voter turnout comes from the Manhattan side (AD71 and AD72) - which will serve as a microcosm of the election itself. The 71st Assembly District, which largely runs west of Broadway in Washington Heights and Inwood, includes a plurality of white likely voters, taking in the more affluent, pre-war enclaves in proximity to Fort Tryon and Inwood Hill Park. These pockets are reliably progressive, having consistently backed Jackson in past elections with decisive margins each time. However, the 72nd Assembly district, which runs east of Broadway - a street which often demarcates Upper Manhattan’s class divide, remains over two-thirds Latino, nearly three-quarters of which are Dominican. The area, which comprises over 40% of the electoral, has been a traditional weakness for Jackson - he lost AD72 by 37 points to Espaillat, and by 29 points and 15 points respectively in both his clashes with Alcantara.
Since his first Congressional run, Espaillat has slowly built up an organization in the West Bronx capable of rivaling the influence of the County Democratic Party (not that they often disagree), providing integral support to Pierina Sanchez, Oswald Feliz, and George Alvarez, who recently toppled longtime incumbent, Assemblyman Jose Rivera. Given that Senate District 31 also encompasses Morris and Kingsbridge Heights - heavily-Latino neighborhoods where both Sanchez and Alvarez did well - Vasquez stands to pick up more votes across the University Heights Bridge.
With the full-weight of Espaillat’s network behind him, Vasquez will likely earn breakaway margins there and in the 72nd Assembly District, which will prove too much for Jackson to overcome.
Prediction: Vasquez by 5-10 points
Gustavo Rivera(I) vs. Miguelina Camilo
While Senate District 33 remains exclusively in the Bronx, many similar themes from Jackson’s race still apply.
Another beleaguered, progressive incumbent - this time Gustavo Rivera - is fighting for his political life against a centrist challenger, Miguelina Camilo. Like Vasquez, Camilo is also backed by Espaillat - yet, still retains the support of the Bronx Democratic Party, who first agreed to endorse her campaign for a different seat. Once the chaotic redistricting process unfolded, Camilo found herself running in Rivera’s much-altered District 33, with Rivera himself unable to reach a deal with the County Organization to either 1) run against fellow-progressive Jackson in SD31 where Rivera’s rent-stabilized apartment was located or 2) run in Alessandra Biagi’s vacant SD34 - almost none of which Rivera had previously represented. However, he chose the third option, to stay in District 33 - which retained approximately 40% of his old voting base - and risk his career in a rumble with Camilo.
Once more, Independent Expenditures are banking significant capital on anti-Rivera advertisements, blanketing the district with mailers in an attempt to malign him for progressive stances on public safety and BDS.
As the district’s neighborhoods largely align with the old Congressional lines, I see the race breaking down into four distinct sections based on Congressional District:
Rivera’s core strength resides in the Belmont and Tremont portions of the district, neighborhoods he has represented in Albany for over a decade, all of which are located in Ritchie Torres’ NY15. While Torres - who has steadily migrated closer to Espaillat network - is backing Camilo, Rivera stands to benefit from his longstanding electoral ties to the area.
On the other side of the Bronx River Parkway in NY14, Rivera’s incumbency advantage is less pronounced, but still critical. Having previously represented the Van Nest area, SD33 now extends to also include Bronxdale, Little Yemen, Allerton (north of Pelham Parkway), in addition to bits of the Albanian-heavy Morris Park. Of the area’s Hispanic population, a majority are Puerto Rican.
Crucially, in a district represented by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at the federal level, Rivera has scored an ultra-coveted endorsement from his fellow Boricua, whose name recognition will prove quite helpful in connecting with voters. Between NY14 and NY15, Rivera has the inside-track with approximately 40% of the Primary electorate.
That withstanding, Rivera is due to encounter greater resistance in the rest of the district - for markedly different reasons. Unlike Jackson’s primary, where race looms as a key factor in shaping the outcome, nationality will play a greater role in Senate District 33. Gustavo Rivera is hoping to avoid the fate of fellow-Puerto Rican incumbent, Jose Rivera (no relation) who was ousted by Espaillat-backed George Alvarez in June. Like both Espaillat and Alvarez, Camilo is also Dominican.
Less than two months ago, Alvarez crushed Rivera in Bedford Park, one of Senate District 33’s largest Dominican neighborhoods - which rests at the heart of the Bronx portion of Espaillat’s congressional district. Given NY13 makes up approximately 30% of the electorate’s likely voters, a Camilo coalescion along Grand Concourse would significantly eat into Rivera’s margins.
While over 70% of the voting age population in SD33 is Black and Latino, concentrated in the working-class neighborhoods of the north-central Bronx, the district also covers both sides of Van Cortlandt Park, including the more-affluent, predominantly white neighborhoods of Riverdale, Fieldston and Spuyten Duyvil. Often conflated with other liberal, historically Jewish neighborhoods, like the Upper West Side or slices of Brownstone Brooklyn - Riverdale exhibits markedly less progressive voting tendencies - coupled with a recent history of backing white candidates in competitive primaries (which this race lacks).
The Dinowitz family (father Jeff in the State Assembly, son Eric in the City Council), have a contentious history with Rivera (and Alessandra Biaggi), spurring the local powerbrokers to eagerly line up behind Camilo’s bid. Incendiary mailers, intent to frame Rivera as anti-semetic to the neighborhood’s large Jewish population, have not gone unnoticed. Despite not constituting an overwhelming number of the district’s registered Democratic voters, these neighborhoods consistently constitute close to 30% of SD33’s electorate. Camilo, who lives in the area, remains in pole position to capitalize on the local establishment’s animosity towards Rivera. If voter turnout resembles past primaries, Camilo’s margins here could decide the outcome.
Prediction: In the closest race of the evening, Camilo ekes out an upset over Rivera by one point.
Kristen Gonzalez vs. Elizabeth Crowley vs. Mike Corbett
In this tri-borough battle, what’s old is new again.
Will history repeat itself, with a socialist Latina ending a Crowley’s political career?
In a campaign espousing the ever-constant theme of people versus money, DSA-backed Kristen Gonzalez comes into Primary Day with considerable grassroots momentum, having coalesced much of the liberal-progressive coalition that remains fractured or sidelined in NY10 - including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Nydia Velázquez, the Working Families Party, and 1199 SEIU. Despite a fundraising deficit, Gonzalez has the weight of DSA’s vaunted canvassing and volunteer apparatus behind her, with the district including three of the organizations strongest branches: Queens, North Brooklyn, and Lower Manhattan.
However, Elizabeth Crowley, who has lost races for Congress, Queens Borough President, and City Council all in the past decade, is back once more - this time running for a Senate seat two districts away from her home. With a campaign warchest pushing seven figures, Crowley has launched a blitz of digital and TV ads - while benefiting from considerable outsider spending against Gonzalez, a recurring theme kneecapping progressives throughout this piece. Much of organized labor, oftentimes weary of socialist candidates, uniformly supported Crowley as well.
District Leader Mike Corbett, backed by Rep. Carolyn Maloney and an assortment of Manhattan Democratic Clubs, rounds out the list. While he remains a longshot to win, given establishment-aligned institutions eschewed him for Crowley, Corbett is primed to play a pivotal role in the all-important Manhattan share of the district’s vote.
Whether the deal, brokered by State Senator Mike Gianaris, for Nomiki Konst to dropout and endorse Gonzalez (Konst is still on the ballot) ultimately makes a difference, remains to be seen.
In a district split between Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens - voter turnout (and where) will likely decide the outcome.
On the Brooklyn side, Gonzalez enjoys a significant advantage, given Greenpoint and Williamsburg’s Northside host some of the most leftist-friendly precincts in all of New York City. Running up the score in Brooklyn is tantamount to offsetting an expected deficit to Crowley on the Manhattan side.
Speaking of, the district’s Manhattan portion, encompassing Stuy-Town, Kips Bay and Tudor City, is defined by relative racial and class homogeneity. With a consistently moderate voting histories, Crowley and Corbett’s message may resonate better on this side of the East River. The worry for Gonzalez and her team is that Corbett crumbles here, ceding votes to Crowley and increasing her margins amidst an overlapping Congressional Primary - which inevitably drives up turnout to the point where Manhattan drowns out Brooklyn and Queens.
If Gonzalez and Crowley play themselves close to a draw between Manhattan and Brooklyn, the pivotal swing county may be the World’s Borough - stretching from Long Island City past Astoria Park. Perpetually on the City’s progressive vanguard, Astoria has emerged as the epicenter of leftism in Queens - dating back to the performances of Zephyr Teachout’s in the 2014 Gubernatorial Primary and Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Presidential Primary - culminating in Zohran Mamdani’s upset over Aravella Simotas and Tiffany Caban’s ascension to the City Council.
In both her runs for Queens Borough President, Crowley struggled to make hay in Western Queens, winning only a handful of pockets along the Long Island City waterfront and in Astoria’s traditionally Greek enclaves. While Crowley may have greater name ID, a clear majority of Western Queens voters have consistently rejected her candidacy in favor of more progressive alternatives.
Not to be overlooked, with three of the Borough’s largest public housing developments, how Gonzalez and Crowley perform in the Queensbridge, Ravenswood, and Astoria houses could ultimately decide a close race.
In June’s Democratic Primary, the Working Families Party ticket of Jumaane Williams and Ana Maria Archila saw varying results throughout the district. Across the board, Williams could not keep pace with Archila’s margins, as he lost by over 22 points to Governor Kathy Hochul.
However, Archila’s race is the much-more apt comparison to Gonzalez - given Archila 1) campaigned more frequently 2) had a very similar endorsement profile 3) was also significantly outspent across various digital mediums. The tertiary candidate in the Lieutenant Governor’s race, Diana Reyna, despite a more conservative posture, likely ate into Archila’s Brooklyn margins, given the fact that Reyna represented a neighboring district in the City Council for twelve years. Yet in this case, the third candidate - Mike Corbett - stands to cap Crowley’s Manhattan ceiling, while not threatening Gonzalez in her North Brooklyn and Astoria strongholds.
Prediction: Gonzalez wins a nail bitter by 2-4 points. Buckle Up.
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Jerry Nadler(I) vs. Carolyn Maloney(I) vs. Suraj Patel
Perhaps the enduring legacy of the Special Master maps will be race for New York’s 12th Congressional District, which pits longtime incumbents Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney, and their respective sides of Central Park, against one another.
A primary between members - let alone powerful committee chairs: Nadler (Judiciary), Maloney (Oversight) - who had served alongside one another in Washington for nearly three decades, is simply unparalleled in the vast history of American politics.
Yet, such a historic race has not commanded the same level of intrigue as New York’s open 10th Congressional District. More importantly, the race forecasts to have the widest margin of the five primaries I am previewing. But why?
Let’s rewind just a bit. Coming into the race, my overriding question was whether Maloney’s extensive history of close, hard-fought victories - coupled with an already active, fully-functioning campaign apparatus - would better-equip her to defeat Nadler, who had not run a race decided by less than twenty-nine points since 1976. Similarly, to what extent would Maloney’s regrettable votes (for the Iraq War, for the Patriot Act, against the Iran Deal) and questionably comments about vaccine efficacy - contrast to Nadler’s more consistently progressive record - not just with voters, but also The New York Times.
With less than one day left, these answers appear to be crystalizing.
Believe it or not, Maloney began the race leading the field - as an Emerson poll in late May showed her ahead of Nadler, 31% to 21%. Since then, it’s all been downhill. While Nadler proceeded to stumble throughout their first debate - Maloney’s “I don’t believe [Biden] is running for re-election” proclamation soaked up all the headlines, even attracting national attention. Not only was she put on the defensive, but the gaffe distracting from an otherwise respectable performance. That was the beginning of the end, as Maloney’s polling has only flatlined since, with Nadler steadily climbing upon each new survey.
Maloney’s message centered on her effectiveness - particularly bringing federal infrastructures dollars back to the district, for projects like the Second Avenue Subway - remains a worthwhile talking point to the voting bases on the Upper East and West sides. Yet, through a series of unforced errors, her pitch has been muddied, likely not reaching its full potential.
Despite Maloney’s history of prevailing in tight races, Nadler and his team - forced to assemble on the fly - have run a strong campaign throughout, particularly since the first debate, nabbing endorsement from Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren, while staying above the fray as the race took on an increasingly personal tone.
To a neutral observer, one might surmise that Nadler’s team had the more recent campaign experienced.
An endorsement from The New York Times firmly cemented Nadler as the frontrunner, further fortifying his Upper West Side stronghold while offering a Gray Lady olive branch to disaffected East Side voters. A post-NYT Emerson poll shows Nadler with 43% of the vote, to Maloney’s 24% (down 7% since the first poll) and Suraj Patel’s 14%.
While over 58% of the new NY12 is Represented by Maloney, as opposed to only 41% by Nadler - the district’s likely voters narrow the margin between East and West - buoyed by the voter turnout powerhouse, better known as the 67th Assembly District. While Patel will likely finish in third, he stands to ciphon considerably more votes from Maloney than Nadler - given this is Patel’s third time running against her on Manhattan’s East Side.
Maloney, on the brink of defeat, has resorted to calling Nadler “senile” on NY1 - a move which will assuredly backfire and plunge her farther down in the polls.
Prediction: Nadler by over fifteen points
Carlina Rivera vs. Yuh-Line Niou vs. Dan Goldman vs. Mondaire Jones vs. Jo Anne Simon vs. Elizabeth Holtzman
The one you’ve all been waiting for !
Since I have written about the race for New York’s 10th Congressional District ad nauseam on this Substack, I’ll do my best to not repeat myself too much.
To read more in-depth pieces about whether progressives can stop Dan Goldman and what voter turnout could look like in the district’s various ideological, race and class enclaves, check out either of my articles from last week.
Dan Goldman, the former-House Impeachment lawyer, enters Primary Day as a slight favorite off the heels of The New York Times endorsement. While Goldman has been the proverbial punching bag of his opponents over the past nine days, he enters the home stretch with the widest margin for error, and most paths to victory, of any candidate in the field.
Propelled by his own self-funding, the Levi Strauss heir matches the district’s largest racial (white) and class (upper-middle class, wealthy) cohorts, and is hoping his frequent appearances on MSNBC ingratiate him with a voting base that backed technocrat Kathryn Garcia over the progressive-favorite, Maya Wiley.
While much attention has been paid to the Brownstone Brooklyn neighborhoods of Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Carroll Gardens, and Brooklyn Heights - Manhattan’s equally-affluent and vote-rich West Side has been consistently overlooked. Battery Park City, TriBeca and the West Village - not to mention SoHo/NoHo - are the district’s most Times-trending zip codes. Scattered amidst tourists and “daygration” (a term coined by the late author, William Helmreich) amongst wealthy high-rises and elite enclaves, residents are difficult to canvass - neutralizing the effectiveness of a strong field operation. To reach these voters, TV and mail are tantamount to success, which Goldman has in droves. Tomorrow night, I will be closely watching the 66th Assembly District. Will they all be on vacation?
Whether efforts to polarize Goldman - for his self-funding, stock portfolios, and retreat to the Hamptons at the height of Covid-19 - ultimately resonate with voters, or simply fall on deaf ears - remains inconclusive. Thus far, Mondaire Jones has been the only candidate to attack Goldman in television ads.
The Westchester Congressman, who swapped Rockland for Kings County, is facing a make-or-break moment tomorrow. Yet, after losing out on The Times endorsement, Jones appears destined for a third of fourth place finish. A saving grace for Jones could come if his negative ads diminish Goldman’s standing among affluent whites - who ultimately defect, opening the door for Carlina Rivera or Yuh-Line Niou. However, if Goldman wins, Jones risks blowtorching his reputation in progressive circles, as many will brand him a spoiler for staying in the race.
While Yuh-Line Niou and Carlina Rivera are behind Goldman in the race’s sparse public polling, both remain within striking distance and can conceivably capture victory come Tuesday evening. Which of those two has the best chance to breakthrough and defeat Goldman? What about finish in second place? Is the answer to both questions the same?
After careful mix of Google Sheets formulas and rigorous internal deliberation, if I was forced to split hairs between the two - I believe Carlina Rivera has the best chance to knock off Goldman. Here are a few reasons why:
While many have soured on Rivera’s chances following the latest Emerson poll, which placed her in a tie for third place at 13% - behind Niou’s 17% and Goldman’s 22% - it is worth remembering that the survey was only conducted in English and Mandarin, despite the district’s substantial Latino population.
Rivera still has many of the ingredients needed to pull off an upset: a durable base of support with Latinos in Sunset Park and the Lower East Side, progressive appeal from the East Village to South Slope, a history of winning NYCHA residents (who account for over 5% of the electorate), television advertising courtesy of Nuestro PAC, and the influential endorsement of Nydia Velázquez (which holds water in NY10’s Brownstone neighborhoods, many of which she has represented over the past decade). Importantly, while many of her leading rivals have come under siege to close the campaign, Rivera has avoided blows, from the media, independent expenditures, and her opponents. I believe Rivera has the potential to swing undecided voters at the eleventh hour to bubble in her name at the ballot box.
While Yuh-Line Niou stands to perform well with young progressives and Asians - I believe her ceiling may be hindered. A few issues that feed this hesitation: No Manhattan elected officials (let alone in AD65) have endorsed her - meaning she could conceivably bleed support in her home base. Older, secular Jews, may be put off by her comments supporting BDS - many of whom live throughout Brownstone Brooklyn. Some progressive voters, whom would ordinarily support Niou, have migrated towards Rivera, who has outflanked the former on housing issues. Lastly, neither Niou nor the Working Families Party have devoted significant capital expenditures towards television.
At their joint press conference last Monday, had Mondaire Jones dropped out and backed Niou, I would have felt differently coming into today - about all of this. Same with The New York Times Editorial Board, who opted to not take a hard-line against Goldman’s self-financing in order to elevate national over local.
Prediction: With much of the progressive vote split between Niou, Rivera, and Jones - Dan Goldman prevails with a narrow plurality.
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