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The Calm Before the Storm in NY10
Taking the temperature of the race for NY10: Where do candidates stand with less than three weeks to go, what coalitions have emerged, and will The New York Times endorsement decide the victor?
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With less than three weeks until the polls close on August 23rd (and a mere eight days until Early Voting begins), the pace of play in the race for New York’s 10th Congressional District - already characterized by a frenetic, accelerated timeline spurred by an unparalleled redistricting shuffle - has devolved into an all-out sprint to the finish line.
The campaign itself, which fully crystalized in mid-May upon the congressional map makeover, has been defined by twists and turns since the very beginning.
Four public polls, all released within the last month - from progressive think tank Data for Progress, the Working Families Party, to internals from Elizabeth Holtzman and Dan Goldman - have helped roughly outline the general contours of the race, and where each candidate stands heading into the homestretch.
In a twist of fate, one prominent candidate’s poor polling prevented him from even reaching the finish line. Former Mayor Bill de Blasio, just seven months removed from his eight year tenure at City Hall, elected to drop out of the race in late June. Despite having launched his political career from the same Park Slope streets that now constitute the 10th district’s geographic core, while scoring progressive wins like Universal Pre-K and the expansion of paid sick leave, de Blasio had worn out his welcome with large swaths of the City’s electorate - particularly educated, upper-middle class, white liberals - a core constituency of NY10.
In the Data for Progress poll, the former Mayor had a net favorability of -46, in stark contrast to every other candidate, who had double-digit positives. It became clear, rather quickly, that there was nothing de Blasio could do to significantly amend his image. Without any conceivable path to victory, and mired in low single digits, he bowed out quietly rather than risking further embarrassment.
Such a disappointing campaign likely marks Bill de Blasio’s final foray into electoral politics, while adding another pristine example of how being Mayor of New York City is a dead end job. The only thing left to muse about with respect to de Blasio is what will happen to all of his congressional campaign donations?
On the opposite (and more optimistic) end of the spectrum, both City Council Member Carlina Rivera and State Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou have emerged from the crowded field as the race’s two frontrunners.
Since declaring, Niou has established herself as the race’s most progressive candidate, securing the backing of the Working Families Party in addition to many left-aligned non-profits, like Sunrise NYC, the Jewish Vote, and New York Communities for Change. In addition to emphasizing her votes against Cuomo state budgets and community outreach efforts at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Niou has focused on the historical nature of her run for office, namely, that she would be the first Asian-American to represent Manhattan and Brooklyn’s Chinatowns in Washington, and the first openly-autistic member of Congress.
Similarly, Rivera’s campaign got off to a fast start, as she quickly scored a landmark endorsement from her longtime mentor, Rep. Nydia Velázquez. The first Puerto Rican woman elected to Congress, Velázquez has represented New York’s 7th Congressional district for nearly thirty years, including over 45% of the newly drawn NY10 over the past decade. La Luchadora is featured prominently in Rivera’s first TV ad, as her continued presence figures to be a key ingredient in Rivera’s path to victory.
Not to be overshadowed, Rivera has also won several labor endorsements, most notably 1199 SEIU, in addition to the Jim Owles Democratic Club, Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, and many of her colleagues on the City Council.
While the weight of individual endorsements is routinely overrated, they can serve as a microcosm of the many schisms within New York City’s Democratic electorate. Thus, the proxy battle between Niou and Rivera in NY10 - and how it reverberates around ideology, race, and nationality - remains especially intriguing.
Notably, the broader left-liberal/progressive coalition that coalesced behind Maya Wiley in last June’s Mayoral Primary, remains largely fractured in this race, with the Working Families Party and Alphabet Left backing Niou, while Velázquez, Reynoso, and 1199 support Rivera.
Both Rivera and Niou are competing for a finite amount of young, professional class liberal voters - spread across the district’s mixed-income, racial heterogenous neighborhoods, like the East Village, Lower East Side, Prospect Heights, Gowanus, Red Hook, South Slope and Sunset Park West. Niou’s firebrand progressivism will endear her to the district’s most ardent leftists and activists, many of whom support DSA, whereas Rivera’s pitch of pragmatism will entice older, wealthier voters who backed Kathryn Garcia.
Even DSA elected officials are not uniformly behind one candidate, as Council Member Alexa Avilés of Sunset Park and Red Hook endorsed Rivera, while Assembly Member Marcela Mitaynes (also Sunset Park-Red Hook) and State Senator Julia Salazar backed Niou. This split can be mostly attributed to the fact that Rivera and Aviles are colleagues in the Council, whereas Niou, Mitaynes and Salazar collaborate frequently in Albany.
The gravity of race and nationality cannot be understated as well. Rivera is running as the only Latina candidate in a district where 18.4% of the voting age population is Hispanic. Leaning into her Puerto Rican heritage, she is hoping to join Velázquez, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ritchie Torres in Washington as the fourth Boricua in New York City’s congressional delegation, despite a steady decline in the City’s Puerto Rican population over the past thirty years. While the district’s Hispanic population is plurality-Puerto Rican, Rivera’s performance with Latinos as a whole - given the thousands of Mexicans, Dominicans, and South Americans throughout the district - could be a harbinger of her success.
While Congressman Adriano Espaillat’s endorsement of Rivera will not move votes in Brownstone Brooklyn the way it would in Washington Heights, the support of the Upper Manhattan power broker is nonetheless significant to Rivera building a Latino coalition.
Editor’s Note: Espaillat has faced criticism for backing Dominican candidates against Puerto Rican incumbents, like Jose Rivera and Gustavo Rivera.
In a like manner to Rivera’s aspirations with Latino voters, Niou is hoping to perform well amongst Asians - which comprise 22% of the district’s voter age population, anchored by Chinatowns in Manhattan and Brooklyn. While conservative Democrats like Andrew Yang and Eric Adams have performed well with NY10’s Asian voters, Niou has repeatedly held her ground in Assembly District 65, where the Chinese population is largely Cantonese, winning multiple primaries against moderate challengers.
While Niou should expect to do well again in and around her electoral base, former City Council Member Margaret Chin (a longtime ally of Niou) and State Committee Member Jenny Low - two of the neighborhood’s more moderate politicians - elected to back Rivera instead.
The real test for Niou resides in Sunset Park East, where she has yet to previously appear on the ballot. Unlike Manhattan’s Chinatown, the neighborhoods population is more Fujianese than Cantonese, and many of the local, more conservative business interests have rallied around another candidate, Jimmy Li. While Li has no chance of winning the primary, it remains to be seen whether he can affect Niou’s margins in Sunset Park.
An encouraging sign for Niou is that progressive-left candidates have performed well in Latino-majority precincts within the 51st Assembly District. In June, fellow WFP-endorsee Ana Maria Archila won a majority of the Latino vote in Sunset Park. That withstanding, Eric Adams and Maya Wiley split said precincts in the Mayoral Primary, while Wiley ran up the score in the Greenwood Cemetery corridor north of 39th Street, as the white population increased.
I believe a similar electoral pattern will emerge on August 23rd, where Rivera picks up most of Sunset Park’s Latino-majority precincts, while Niou performs better in Latino-plurality election districts with greater shares of young white voters. How Niou performs with Latinos, and Rivera with Asians, could ultimately make the difference come Election Night.
When I previewed this race in early June, I tapped Niou and Rivera as the two candidates with the best chance to win, given their ability to marry support from the district’s voters of color - Rivera (Latinos), Niou (Asians) - with younger, left-leaning whites - coupled with a strong chance to win the ultra-coveted New York Times, a Queen maker in this race (more on that later). As of now, I have no reason to alter that prediction.
Sans Niou-supporter Cynthia Nixon admonishing Rivera’s list of campaign contributions, the two frontrunners have been reluctant to engage with one another, likely waiting for televised debates or the The New York Times endorsement to gain clarity amidst a potential reshuffling of the race.
However, both Niou and Rivera, as well as their respective camps, have trained their collective ire at former House Impeachment lawyer Dan Goldman.
Goldman, the heir to the Levi Strauss fortune, has polled near the top of the field throughout the duration of the race. His large social media following, backchannels in Washington, and cable news notoriety have helped him fundraise at a breakneck pace.
With a fractured liberal-left coalition, Goldman remains a threat to capitalize upon a split progressive vote. Already, he appears to be the leading choice of many of the district’s most affluent residents, stretching from Tribeca to Cobble Hill. Goldman and his team are hoping to run up margins in Brownstone Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan’s wealthy enclaves, while coalescing Borough Park through a bullet-vote from the neighborhood’s Hasidic faithful. In a crowded field, Goldman has a plausible path to victory that runs exclusively through the district’s predominantly white neighborhoods.
However, in a race without Bill de Blasio, Goldman has assumed the role of the proverbial punching bag, largely due to a series of missteps. When asked about a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy after viability (assuming the baby was healthy) by Hamodia, an Orthodox Jewish newspaper, Goldman said he would “not object to” a state law barring the termination of the pregnancy - an episode that prompted widespread backlash. More recently, Goldman has faced criticism for hiring (then firing) a Trump-supporting consultant - who once tweeted that Rep. Maxine Waters (CA-43) was “retarded” - to perform outreach to Borough Park’s Hasidic voters, and decamping to his second home in the Hamptons at the height of the pandemic.
I believe that these errors, coupled with Goldman’s vast wealth (he has self-financed $2.2 million in TV ads so far), lack of local political involvement, and efforts to court wealthy NIMBYs and conservative Hasidic Jews - will put him on the outside looking in with The New York Times Editorial Board.
Without ranked choice voting, Goldman does not have to fear a progressive consolidation against him. Yet, he should remain concerned that nearly every candidate, from Niou to Holtzman to Jones, will gleefully cast him as the centrist boogeyman and go negative against him over the final two weeks.
A Goldman internal poll, released yesterday, showed him leading Niou by 2% and Rivera by 4%. However, as I referenced on Twitter, the survey was only conducted in English, casting serious doubts on the merit of the results, especially considering that both Goldman’s leading rivals are counting on significant support from Latinos and Asians.
Unsurprisingly, Goldman’s performance peaks in polls where the sample is conducted in English-only and skews heavily towards older, triple-prime voters (many of whom are white). Make no mistake, if white voter turnout dwarfs that of Latinos and Asians, Goldman will certainly like his chances.
Yet, unless he can make headway with the district’s voters of color, Goldman’s margin of error will remain rather slim, given that Simon and Holtzman are also courting the district’s white plurality.
While State Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon entered the race as a dark-horse candidate capable of riding her base in the vote-rich 52nd Assembly District all the way to Washington, she has yet to emerge from the middle-pack, despite endorsements from some of Brooklyn’s premier Democratic Clubs - like IND, CBID, DID, and Lambda.
The more intriguing case is former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, who has climbed polls and earned media coverage, despite being at a significant fundraising and endorsement disadvantage. Evidently, her name recognition has held strong. Thus far, she has put up a credible fight, and currently places fourth in polls behind Rivera, Niou, and Goldman.
However, it remains unlikely Holtzman pulls off the shock-upset, and here is one key reason why: In one of her publicly-released internal polls, Holtzman was shown in second place with 12% of the vote, two points behind Goldman’s leading 14% - with Niou and Rivera idling at 10%. Importantly, this survey was also English-only, and selected a voting sample that was significantly older than other NY10 polls - i.e. a nearly perfect voter turnout/sample for Holtzman to perform well. Hence, while Holtzman did come in second place, the poll forecasted that even amidst her ideal voter turnout, she would still come up short to Goldman, given his collective strength with upper-class white voters.
Nevertheless, there is a non-zero chance that Holtzman, over forty years removed from the House of Representatives, outperforms sitting Congressman Mondaire Jones. Who would have guessed that three months ago?
The first openly gay Black member of Congress, Jones built a reputation in Washington as squad-adjacent legislator with a bright future at the forefront of the progressive movement, championing issues like Supreme Court expansion and gun violence prevention. Equipped with charisma, political acumen, and a compelling life story - growing up on Section 8 housing, attending Harvard University, winning a historical election to Congress - Jones’ meteoric rise was derailed by New York State’s redistricting debacle, which thrust him into a battle for his political life.
Eschewing a member-on-member primary with DCCC chair Sean Patrick Maloney in New York’s 17th Congressional District, Jones traded Westchester County for Carroll Gardens, electing to run in the open primary for NY10 instead. It was a tremendous political gamble.
But now, over three months later, Jones’ campaign is languishing, having not finished above fourth place in any poll. What happened?
From the outset, Jones hedged that his lack of ties to the district would be offset by his progressive profile, financial advantage, and relationships in Washington.
Yet, while Jones is respected and admired in many left circles, his name recognition is far from universal, even amongst progressive voters in New York State. Many local left-liberals - voters, elected officials, and organizations alike - who would otherwise assuredly support Jones, either in NY17 or statewide, were flummoxed by his surprise announcement to run in NY10 - and ultimately deciding to back Yuh-Line Niou or Carlina Rivera.
Early on, Jones was relegated to receiving D.C-centric endorsements, from the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Cory Booker, while Rivera and Niou gobbled up key local support. As of publishing, no New York City elected official has endorsed Jones. There’s a chance some combination of Christopher Marte, Ritchie Torres or Hakeem Jeffries back Jones before Election Day, but I doubt they are capable of moving any votes.
The compressed election timeline was certainly not helpful, and had Jones been running (and living) here for the past year, I imagine he would be performing much better. Likewise, the Congressional schedule, even with proxy voting accommodations, is brutal - often requiring 4-5 nights a week in D.C. With August recess upon us, Jones will have a better opportunity to be seen consistently throughout the district.
Not to mention, Jones simply may have underestimated his competition. In an interview with Daniel Marans of the Huffington Post, this ethos was on full-display, with Jones asserted, “progressives should coalesce around my candidacy. We’ve seen that coalescing, nationally, but unfortunately there have been some groups in New York who are not there yet. And it’s devastating for the progressive movement.”
When specifically asked about Yuh-Line Niou’s progressive bona fides, Jones quipped, “I will say that being a serious legislator in Congress ― as I am, and as none of my opponents dispute in this race ― requires a focus on the job and getting results far more than a focus on being on Twitter all day.” This came shortly after Jones “told party insiders that Rivera can’t raise the funds necessary to run a competitive race,” per The New York Post. That last quote, in particular, did not age well.
For every James Scheuer, there is a Stephen Solarz. (I’ll write a Substack on Scheuer after the primary)
So, how can Mondaire Jones turn this around?
To this point, Jones’ financial advantage has only netted marginal returns - he’ll remain viable and on the air thanks to an excess of cash, but it won’t be enough to carry him home.
A skilled orator, next Tuesday’s NY1 debate (listen free on WNYC) presents the opportunity for a late breakout if the stars align. However, that leaves too much to chance. This late in the game, Jones needs a game-breaking endorsement from the race’s most influential powerbroker, The New York Times.
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The extent to which the The New York Times endorsement will ultimately decide the outcome of NY10, cannot be understated.
Last year, in the two most recent polls prior to The Times surprise endorsement of former-Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia on May 10th, the eventual runner-up was languishing at seven and eight percent, respectively, behind the likes of Adams, Yang, Wiley and Stringer. Yet, The Times endorsement singlehandedly catapulted Garcia to frontrunner status, de-facto coalescing upper-middle class liberals across Manhattan and Brooklyn’s elite enclaves.
Editor’s Note: I remain convinced that had The NYT endorsed Maya Wiley, she would be in City Hall.
Amongst voters in NY10, Garcia comfortably won a plurality, racking up big margins with the district’s wealthiest (and whitest) voters in Greenwich Village, SoHo, Tribeca, Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Caroll Gardens, and Park Slope. This year, a map of Kathy Hochul’s vote share across precincts in NY10, is a near 1:1 match for Kathryn Garcia’s.
The list continues. Brad Lander, also backed by The Gray Lady, thoroughly dominated his competition for Comptroller in NY10, winning nearly every neighborhood (sans both Chinatowns + NYCHA developments in Red Hook, Gowanus, and along the East River). Even in the closely contentious Manhattan DA’s race, The Times helped Alvin Bragg coalesce The Villages (Greenwich, West, East), pulling voters away from Tali Farhadia Weinstein. In 2018, both Jumaane Williams and Zephyr Teachout crushed their competition throughout the vast-majority the 10th district’s vote-rich neighborhoods.
The only counter to this trend (at this point, its closer to a rule) was Cynthia Nixon. While the Editorial Board backed incumbent-Governor Andrew Cuomo, Nixon still performed quite well throughout NY10’s Times trending neighborhoods, boasting some of her best citywide margins east and west of the Gowanus canal, while even winning a majority of the vote in the West Village.
That withstanding, it remains crystal clear that The New York Times holds tremendous power over the eventual outcome, moreso than maybe they have ever had in a race of this scale - with an anonymous consultant telling City & State, “The rumor mill is Mara Gay gets to choose who the Congress person is in 10.”
Hence, this is Jones’ last and best chance to rally his campaign to victory. The Times backed him during his initial run for Congress two years ago, and he likely would have been a shoe-in for their endorsement again this year, had he faced Sean Patrick Maloney. Now, the water is murkier.
Jones fits the bill of NYT-endorsed candidate - he is progressive, ambitious, accomplished, and holds tangible experience as a sitting Congressman. As reported by City & State, the Editorial Board “focused on national issues more than local ones,” which should theoretically give Jones a distinct advantage.
However, I’m not sure that will be enough. In a world where Jones is solely facing off with Goldman, Holtzman and Simon, I think the Gray Lady would back the Westchester Congressman. Yet, against Niou and Rivera, two women of color with longstanding ties to the district, and the immigrant communities that help define it, like Sunset Park and the Lower East Side - I believe backing Jones would be one step too far for the Editorial Board, especially given the optics.
Regardless, I think they will offer him gracious words, even if they look elsewhere.
In spite of the fact that the voting bases of Dan Goldman, Jo Anne Simon, and Elizabeth Holtzman rest at the heart of the NYT constituency, I do not expect the Editorial Board to back any of them. For Goldman, a series of gaffes and missteps - coupled with a more conservative posture - as I covered earlier, likely puts him out of contention. Simon, outside of Brooklyn’s Democratic clubs, she has not received much traction, and her NIMBY (not in my backyard) stances on housing won’t endear her to the board. The subject of a recent NYT profile, Holtzman remains the wildcard in the endorsement equation. While I expect The Times to be impressed with her body of work spanning generations, I remain skeptical of her chances, given the NYT typically backs younger candidates for open NYC-based Congressional, City or State seats.
Once again, that leaves us with Yuh-Line Niou and Carlina Rivera.
Of the many political currents orbiting local and federal policy, the biggest differentiators between the candidates may come on Israel, housing, and budget votes. Throughout the campaign, Niou has consistently affirmed her support for the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction), arguing, “it’s a movement that needs to be heard,” despite “not always agree with every single statement that’s made, or all of its demands” - whereas Rivera, like every other candidate in the field, has spoken up in opposition to BDS. Additionally, the extent of the Editorial Board’s focus on housing could aid Rivera’s cause, as she has sought to take up the race’s YIMBY (yes in my backyard) lane, driving a progressive wedge between herself and Niou, who has been criticized for opposing an affordable housing development on Elizabeth Street.
However, a significant variable that may factor into The Times endorsement could be Rivera’s “yes” vote on the much-maligned City budget that cut hundreds of millions from the Department of Education - and how it contrasts to Niou’s many “no” votes in Albany against Andrew Cuomo’s austerity budgets.
Ideologically, Rivera’s “pragmatic progressivism” is more in-lockstep with The New York Times and their readership base than Niou’s unabashed leftism. However, this notion is frequently over-exaggerated. While The Times has endorsed Kathy Hochul, Andrew Cuomo, and Kathryn Garcia - all for executive office, I might add - they have also backed leftists candidates, like DSA-endorsees Tiffany Cabán for Queens DA, Jumaane Williams for Lieutenant Governor, and Jamaal Bowman for Congress. Not to mention, The NYT also enthusiastically supported left-liberal progressives like Zephyr Teachout and Brad Lander, in addition to Congressional primary challengers Mondaire Jones and Adam Bunkeddeko.
Point being, there is no one size fits all rule.
Well, besides that The New York Times will decide who wins the race for New York’s 10th Congressional District.
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