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The Rollercoaster Race for NY10
A deep dive into the Democratic Primary for New York's 10th Congressional District, featuring an in-depth look at the candidates and the communities they are vying to represent.
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.
By now, you all know the story.
New York State’s Congressional map received a facelift by Court-appointed Special Master Jonathan Cervas, who was intent on creating more compact districts while paying little regard for incumbents.
Manhattan’s East and West Side, long divided between Carolyn Maloney in the former and Jerry Nadler in the latter - were merged together for the first time in eighty years, creating an all-Manhattan 12th Congressional District.
Nadler, an indelible part of the Upper West Side’s political fabric, had no interest in running in a district he did not live in. With Maloney also refusing to budge, the two were at a stalemate. Just like that, two of New York City’s longest serving incumbents began stockpiling for an arms race only one would survive.
With the rumble across Central Park finalized - and Nydia Velázquez opting to remain in NY7 - the redrawn 10th district presented a golden opportunity for every ambitious elected official: an open Congressional seat home to a bastion of liberal voters.
Stretching from Union Square to the Gowanus Expressway / Belt Parkway split - the new NY10 is an amalgamation of contrasting New York City neighborhoods. The district is home to many of Manhattan’s most exclusive zip codes, like Greenwich Village, SoHo, and Tribeca, in addition to Brownstone Brooklyn - a proverbial term for the neighborhoods of Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, and Brooklyn Heights at NY10’s geographical center. Such aforementioned neighborhoods are majority-white, college-educated, and higher-income, with a penchant for civic engagement.
Working class enclaves threatened by gentrification, like Sunset Park and the Lower East Side, are the epicenter of the district’s Latino and Asian voters. Crucially, both Manhattan and Brooklyn’s Chinatowns remain linked - as has been the case since 1992, due to the Voting Rights Act.
Ideologically, progressives have a foothold in the East Village, Gowanus, South Slope, Prospect Heights, and Sunset Park, all precincts that reliably backed Maya Wiley in last June’s Mayoral Primary, whereas the district’s higher-income voters skewed towards more moderate, technocratic candidates like Kathryn Garcia. Borough Park, the largest Hasidic neighborhood in New York City, traditionally votes as a bloc to maximize their political power, often opting for the most conservative candidate. Split in two by the Special Master, their political influence is diluted in NY10.
The winner of the race - save for scandal, death, or a ferocious primary challenge - could hold said seat for as long as he or she pleased, all while providing the opportunity to further build name recognition, donor networks, and congressional contacts - all critical in the path to higher office - be it the Governor’s Mansion, City Hall, or the Federal Senate chamber.
A metaphorical golden ticket.
This once in a generation chance spurred some of the biggest names in City (and state) politics to take the plunge. Running amongst a crowded field, in lieu of ranked choice voting, on an accelerated campaign timeline of just three months - has created an election ripe for chaos.
In a way, the field reminds me of a Mayoral race, which, of course, fittingly includes the former Mayor.
Bill de Blasio is now poised to fight for his political future on many of the same Brooklyn streets that propelled his rise to public service over two decades ago. The notion that de Blasio, six months removed from being one of the Nation’s most powerful executives, is set to campaign in the sweltering summer heat at the prospect of being a freshman in the House of Representatives, is intriguing to say the least - and unprecedented in recent history.
The history of post-Mayoral campaigns is bleak. Republicans Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg tried their luck running for President. John Lindsay ran for Senate. Robert F. Wagner Jr, an incredibly popular three-term Mayor who delivered the final death blow to Tammany Hall, tried for a fourth non-consecutive term in 1969. All four lost. David Dinkins, Ed Koch, and Abe Blame never even got the chance.
Eric Adams, who reportedly has his eyes on the White House, should take note.
To find a parallel, one must go back to the Civil War, where Fernando Wood successfully swapped City Hall for the House. Wood, who gained a reputation as a Confederate sympathizer determined to swell the executive power of the Mayoralty to dictatorial levels, is far from the best company.
While de Blasio is attempting to make history, he is also hoping to rewrite his own narrative. That starts with the press.
He will attract a lion’s share of media headlines, ranging from the reflective, yet somewhat sympathetic opining of The New York Times to the flat-out rejection and antagonism of the New York Post. De Blasio, who snubbed local news outlets by officially launching his campaign on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, has long held an uneasy relationship with the City’s press corp. As the ex-Mayor looks to rehabilitate his image, he will need to improve this dynamic.
Theoretically, the presence of Brownstone Brooklyn at the heart of NY10 should have been the triple-prime bedrock for which de Blasio laid his campaign. Undoubtedly, had this district existed at the peak of his electoral powers a decade ago, de Blasio would have coasted into Congress comfortably. However, his polarizing Mayoralty soured many of the upper middle class, college-educated liberals that proved so integral to his rise - from his initial 2001 City Council campaign in the Park Slope-centric 39th district, to his two dominant citywide victories for Mayor and Public Advocate. Poll after poll has highlighted this erosion of support.
What is perhaps most devastating for de Blasio is that this once ardent backing has not evolved into mere indifference, but rather spiteful opposition.
There is a reason why several of New York City’s seminal political figures - like Fiorello LaGuardia, John Lindsay, and Ed Koch - all made the jump from the House to City Hall - and not vice versa. Legislating, while no fools errand, entails a far different set of responsibilities, many of which are more conducive to retaining popularity, especially over time. Every executive decision risks drawing the ire of an interest group, labor union, or base of voters. There is nothing close to a spotless record, and blame is often concentrated towards those at the top.
When coupled with the prevailing sentiment that de Blasio grew disinterested in his day-job throughout his second term - exemplified by his failed Presidential bid and routine tardiness to his own pressers - the goodwill of many has been lost. Time will tell whether de Blasio can get it back, but it may be too soon.
If de Blasio cannot sell to voters that this is the job he wants - and not a placeholder until another opportunity presents itself, all of this will remain moot.
So how can he win?
For starters, despite holding some outstanding campaign debt, de Blasio still has some of the best fundraising contacts in the field while possessing near universal name recognition - both significant assets that are only magnified given the short timeline of this race. For better or worse, he is closely linked with the neighborhoods that will vote en masse in August. Every union leader, elected official, and political organization will take his calls - and as the former Mayor of America’s largest City, he likely still has a few favors to call in.
On policy, he can beat the drum of Universal Pre-K and paid sick leave, which, while landmark efforts at the time, have slowly crept further and further from public consciousness. Vaccine mandates for City employees is also a winning issue, in this district at least.
A famed underdog who came from fifth to first to win the 2013 Democratic Primary, the question remains whether de Blasio still has what it takes to win a closely contested campaign. Nine years ago, de Blasio was on the offensive (particularly against Quinn) - facing scant criticism until he ran away in the polls - while staking out a credible position as the race’s progressive standard-bearer. Now, de Blasio will be on the defensive, the preverbal punching bag assailed from all sides as an easy target. Jones, Niou, Rivera, Holtzman, and Simon will all attempt to cast him as a faux-progressive. The left is no-longer his lane.
I am watching intently for the endorsement of healthcare workers union 1199 SEIU. If the powerhouse union, so integral to de Blasio’s rise, eschews the former-Mayor and backs another candidate, or even stays neutral, it would amount to a devastating blow.
Bill de Blasio’s comeback kid story can just as easily descend into the somber, cautionary tale of New York City’s past liberal wunderkind. While he once carried the City’s progressive torch, many others, some of whom are also running in NY10, have taken up the mantle in recent years.
State Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou, the first Asian-American to represent Manhattan’s Chinatown in Albany, is a darling of many left-liberals and progressives across the City. Armed with an active social media presence coupled with an endearing personality, Niou made a name for herself as one of several female state lawmakers who frequently spoke out against then-Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Despite having never run for Congress before, Niou has been battle tested across multiple campaigns. Her first race, a special election to succeed disgraced ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, was run entirely on the Working Families Party ballot line. While she lost, it was one of the best WFP-line performances for a candidate without backing from the local political establishment.
When she ran again a year later, this time in the Democratic Primary, she won comfortably. Four years later, she easily dispatched a well-funded challenge from Grace Lee (now running again in AD65), before announcing her own primary challenge to Incumbent State Senator Brian Kavanagh at the end of last year.
Granted, running for Assembly or State Senate is not quite the same beast as running for an open Congressional seat where tens of millions of dollars will be spent cumulatively, but it is not insignificant either. Niou was already actively running a campaign - her electoral infrastructure, campaign staff, and fundraising are all there, they just need to be scaled up and redirected.
Here is my quick, lukewarm take: Niou has a better chance winning the open NY10 race than she did in a primary challenge against Brian Kavanagh. Defeating an incumbent is very difficult, especially those like Kavanagh, who are not particularly polarizing and possess secure relationships with area power brokers and organized labor.
Out of all the candidates, Niou has the best chance to win support from both sides of the Brooklyn Bridge. This is her fifth run in Lower Manhattan, and she possesses durable electoral ties to both Chinatown and the Lower East Side. Her status as a young progressive should also endear her to the more left-leaning Brooklyn pockets - like Prospect Heights, Gowanus, Red Hook, and South Slope. Niou will also have an advantage in Sunset Park, as the Latino-heavy west side is reliably progressive, while the Chinese East Side - more Fujianese and less Cantonese than Manhattan’s Chinatown - could prove fertile as well, despite traditional preferences for more moderate candidates.
Speaking of winning, Niou will have to amass small-dollar donations and volunteers to counter the institutional and financial backing behind Jones and de Blasio, while firmly establishing herself as the grassroots candidate.
In her announcement speech, Niou previewed her attack-line against de Blasio, criticizing him for facilitating the construction of a new mega-jail in Manhattan’s Chinatown - as part of the four Borough-based jails plan to close Riker’s Island. The jail’s location, and imminent construction, is a hot-button issue on the Lower East Side, and remains a tailor-made issue for Niou to hammer the former Mayor, helping shore up support with activists, neighborhood organizations, and her Chinatown base.
However, Niou herself is not bulletproof, as she has faced recent criticism for low staff wages as well as her status as a plaintiff in a lawsuit against a Habitat for Humanity-backed affordable housing project slated to replace green space on Elizabeth Street.
This is also a big race for the City’s many left-aligned non-profits. While these organizations help marshal fundraising, infrastructure, and volunteers - opinions are split on whether these efforts actually translate to votes. The Working Families Party, among others, seem destined to back her. A Niou triumph, or defeat, could go a long way in determining the narrative for how such organizations are viewed in the landscape of City electoral politics.
While Niou has firmly positioned herself as the left candidate, courting activists and NGOs, she is not the only person in the race, or even from the Lower East Side, who embraces progressive messaging.
Enter City Council Member Carlina Rivera.
A former leading contender to succeed Corey Johnson as City Council Speaker, Rivera’s campaign to coalesce her colleagues stumbled after Mayor Eric Adams signaled to allies he did not want Rivera, citing her progressive stances on police funding.
In her announcement, Rivera emphasized her ties to the Lower East Side, while touting her efforts to rezone NoHo/SoHo and implement climate resiliency plans (not without controversy) to protect public housing developments along the East River waterfront.
Rivera, born to a single mother from Puerto Rico, is currently the only Hispanic candidate in the race. At a time when the issue of Latino representation - or lack thereof - throughout the City and State is rising to the forefront, Rivera’s identity could play an integral role in shaping the race. Her close relationship with fellow-Puerto Rican progressive, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, could pay significant dividends, given Velázquez’s old NY7 district included roughly 45.52% of the new NY10 district that Rivera is now running in.
Normally, I try to preview a candidate’s broad strategy - paying close attention to demographics, incomes and voting patterns of certain neighborhoods, and what said candidate will need to win. Well, in Carlina Rivera’s announcement press release, she previewed her own strategy, which I have quoted below:
Decisively winning liberal voters in economically and racially diverse neighborhoods, both in and adjacent to Council District 2 as well as in Brooklyn
Uniting Hispanic voters across the district from Sunset Park to the Lower East Side
Winning with residents in NYCHA as well as subsidized and affordable housing cooperatives, particularly along the East River in Manhattan as well as Gowanus and Red Hook in Brooklyn
Contesting high-turnout liberal neighborhoods on the West Side of Manhattan and in Brownstone Brooklyn, knowing a split field and competing constituencies will make it difficult for any one candidate to prevail decisively with these voters.
Overall, this is a very sound strategy and clearly shows that Rivera has a plausible path to victory. Let’s start with the positives:
Rivera should be considered the prohibitive favorite to comfortably win Hispanic voters, across ideological, class and geographic lines. Considering 19.2% of NY10 is Hispanic, a strong showing, coupled with healthy turnout, could go a long way solidifying her base.
Upon her announcement, Rivera included a list of forty-three community endorsers. While many may have scanned looking for the names of prominent elected officials, Rivera has the backing of countless NYCHA tenant association leaders from developments across the Lower East Side waterfront, Red Hook, and Gowanus - a crucial detail that will be integral to her chances of consolidating support from the district’s public housing residents.
Acknowledging that her biggest strength may not be with the vote-rich, majority-white neighborhoods in Brownstone Brooklyn and Manhattan’s West Side, is good self-awareness. Rivera’s team makes a strong case for contesting (i.e trying to keep it close) such neighborhoods - allowing the rest of the candidates to shoe-horn themselves into building a single coalition - while amassing heavy margins elsewhere throughout the district. It is a compelling case, but leaves a lot up to chance.
In a separate section, the memo also outlines how Rivera could make inroads with Borough Park voters, given her relationships on the City Council - likely alluding to Kalman Yeger. Winning over the Hasidic faithful is a tall task, and could require Rivera to stake out more centrist positions, particularly with respect to foreign policy, crime, and Israel - which could compromise her progressive appeal.
Lastly, the first, and most crucial point, bears repeating:
Decisively winning liberal voters in economically and racially diverse neighborhoods, both in and adjacent to Council District 2 as well as in Brooklyn
Could this strategy also be applied, nearly verbatim, to Yuh-Line Niou’s campaign?
Thus, here lies the uncomfortable truth about this race for many across the progressive spectrum. Yuh-Line Niou and Carolina Rivera are on a collision course for a finite amount of left-adjacent votes.
Both Rivera and Niou represent working class constituencies on the Lower East Side, yet hold cache throughout progressive circles, while possessing the raw talent and political acumen necessary to consolidate support in an arms race. Both are two rising stars in the traditionally underrepresented Latino and Asian political communities, which together comprise over forty-three percent of the district’s plurality white electorate.
Crucially, both Rivera and Niou fit the profile of a New York Times endorsed-candidate. Out of my four “Tier I” candidates - Jones, de Blasio, Rivera, and Niou - I believe the latter two have the best chance to win over the Editorial Board.
While individual endorsements are traditionally overrated, an early barometer of momentum will be how local elected officials, select community organizations, district leaders, and other influential power brokers across the Lower East Side, Sunset Park and both Chinatowns, choose between Niou and Rivera.
How this dynamic evolves throughout the primary, and once the ballots are counted, deserves your full attention.
The dark-horse candidate that could shock outside observers and win the entire race is Brooklyn State Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon. A disability civil rights lawyer, Simon made her name in local politics as an ally of reformers against the Brooklyn Democratic machine, then-led by Vito Lopez.
She has represented her electoral base, the 52nd Assembly district, since 2015. AD52 - which encompasses DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights, Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Gowanus, and most of Park Slope and Downtown Brooklyn - is at the heart of NY10 - boasting the highest voter turnout of ANY Assembly District in New York City. Naturally, these voters - due to their propensity to consistently come to the polls - are heavily sought after, especially in a bifurcated August primary race. Here lies Simon’s greatest strength.
Out of all the candidates, Simon has the best chance to win a plurality in the 52nd AD. While she may only have 40% of Bill de Blasio’s name recognition, she probably only has 2% of his electoral baggage - and that’s being generous to De Blasio.
Just last year, Simon ran in an equally crowded field for Brooklyn Borough President, finishing a close second (on the eleventh round of Ranked Choice Voting) behind City Council Member Antonio Reynoso. The race was a microcosm of Simon’s electoral strengths and weaknesses as her dual appeal (akin to Kathryn Garcia) with high-income, Brownstone Brooklyn liberals and white ethnics (across the borough’s southern belt) carried her to a near-victory, but could not offset her pronounced limitations with both Latinos - from Bushwick to Cypress Hills to Sunset Park - and younger progressives in Greenpoint and Williamsburg.
Simon’s struggles with working class voters, people of color, and young progressives give her a slim margin for error. Likely shut out throughout the East Village, Lower East Side, and Sunset Park - Simon will be forced to rely on her base of support in her home Assembly District. However, millions spent by Jones, de Blasio and Goldman, coupled with a potential New York Times endorsement of Niou or Rivera, will collectively dilute Simon’s influence over her vote-rich stronghold.
Even in the Borough President’s race, Simon was bested by the more progressive Reynoso in many Slope precincts. Despite the fact that Reynoso, an Afro-Latino from North Brooklyn, lacked the class, demographic or geographical symmetry with the majority of Park Slope, South Slope, and Windsor Terrace voters - he still exceeded Simon, whose percentages underperformed compared to Kathryn Garcia. Given that Simon fared far better west of the Gowanus canal (in Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens) than she did to the east, coupled with few realistic paths to make up ground elsewhere, gives Simon little choice but to hold onto her base for dear life.
Without City matching funds, it remains to be seen whether Simon can effectively raise enough money to be competitive in Manhattan neighborhoods where she holds a lower profile, but fits the class, demographic and ideological patterns of the electorate, like the Greenwich Village.
Ultimately, the personal stakes for Simon are not as high. Given the bifurcated primary, she will also appear on the June 28th State Assembly primary ballot, before the real-test on August 23rd. If she comes up short in the contest for Washington, a return to Albany will be waiting.
Among the many candidates hoping to make inroads with Simon’s base - attorney Daniel Goldman, the only non-elected official on my list, is hoping for a breakthrough.
Goldman, the chief Democratic House Intelligence Committee lawyer during the first impeachment trial of Donald Trump, has many assets coveted in a congressional candidate. He holds a large online following, a respectable cable news profile, and important congressional contacts from his time working in the House - all of which will enable breakneck fundraising, ensuring a degree of viability. Goldman can appear on MSNBC and immediately tap into a national donor base.
Yet, without longstanding political ties to the district’s neighborhoods, support from House leadership, or buy-in from local power brokers and labor unions - Goldman’s fundraising can only take him so far. Soon, almost all institutional support - from all sides - will be gobbled up by the rest of the field. Will Goldman have anything to show for it?
So far, most of Goldman’s messaging has focused on fighting Donald Trump and standing up to Republicans in Washington. Yet, to stand out in such a crowded race, he will have to widen the scope of his talking points. So far, I haven’t seen the dynamic message that Goldman would need to differentiate himself from this field, and I remain skeptical of his ability to connect with voters outside the more affluent spheres of Lower Manhattan and Brownstone Brooklyn.
Media appearances on cable news can only do so much, especially with Mondaire Jones and Bill de Blasio on the airwaves every other day.
Goldman’s best chance rests with a surprise, Kathryn Garcia-esque endorsement from The New York Times, a late break that upends the race and presents him as a viable, liberal alternative to the frontrunners. More realistically, Goldman is likely hoping for some major Trump-related breaking news between now and primary day (such as a Presidential run), allowing him the chance to effectively craft the narrative that he is best equipped to fight Trump in Washington, given his experience during the first House impeachment.
Yet, in another sign of the anomaly that is the NY10 Congressional race, Goldman is not even the first candidate to be lauded for their performance during contentious Presidential Impeachment hearings.
That honor belongs to Elizabeth Holtzman.
Holtzman, a former Congresswoman, Brooklyn District Attorney, and City Comptroller, has not held public office in nearly thirty years. Now, at age eighty, she is back for one last run, and the chance to exit the political arena on her own terms.
In one of the most fascinating arcs in the history of New York City politics, Holtzman’s career is worthy of a book, let alone its own 6,000 word Substack - filled with twists, turns and captivating what ifs. I’ll try my best to briefly summarize.
A Harvard Law school graduate and former aide to Mayor John Lindsay, Holtzman pulled off a monumental upset in 1972 - becoming the youngest woman ever elected to Congress - defeating fifty-two year incumbent Congressman Emanuel Celler in a heavily-Jewish Central Brooklyn seat. Acclaimed for her sharp questioning throughout the Judiciary committee’s Impeachment hearings on Richard Nixon, Hotzman served three terms before entering the 1980 Democratic Primary for Senate.
Holtzman was pitted against her former boss, ex-Mayor John Lindsay, Queens County DA John Santucci, and presumptive frontrunner Bess Myerson - who was endorsed by the State’s three most powerful Democrats: Mayor Ed Koch, Governor Hugh Carey, and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Nevertheless, she kept pace with Myerson’s self-financing and wealthy associates, spurred by a grassroots base energized by her liberal bona fides - raising $1.2 million across 35,000 individual donors, while amassing over 5,000 volunteers. The underdog Holtzman triumphed once again, winning 41% of the vote (to Myerson’s 30%) on Election Night - with a coalition of feminists, liberals, Jews and Blacks.
Yet, across the political spectrum, an even greater upset was in store. Senator Jacob Javits, one of the New York State’s seminal liberal Republicans, was defeated by conservative challenger Alfonse D’Amato, Supervisor of Hempstead Town in Nassau County. D’Amato, leader of an extensive GOP patronage operation throughout Long Island, motivated white suburbanites to the polls by opposing the SALT tax and the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, while favoring a constitutional ban on abortion.
Hampered by Lou Gehrig’s disease, confronted with the possible end of his illustrious career, Javits still chose to actively campaign on the Liberal party ballot line heading into the November General election. The result proved disastrous for Holtzman.
While Javits’ chances of victory were essentially non-existent, given his declining health and the rightward shift of the Republican Party, he still siphoned off over 650,000 votes (just over 11%) - many of which were from liberal Jews that otherwise would have backed Holtzman.
D’Amato’s close margin of victory - just 81,000 votes (or 1.34%) - is widely seen as the byproduct of a split liberal vote. Javits decision to run changed the course of New York State history rather significantly. Had Holtzman prevailed over forty-years ago, there is a solid chance that she, not Chuck Schumer, would be presiding over the Senate chamber today.
Editor’s Note: Schumer, a State Assemblymember at the time, ran for Holtzman’s vacated House seat, winning easily. D’Amato staved off defeat for nearly two decades, before losing to (you guessed it) Chuck Schumer in 1998. The rest is history.
While Holtzman soon rebounded, becoming Brooklyn’s first female District Attorney, before serving as New York City Comptroller, it was clear to many she still coveted a Senate seat.
She tried again in 1992, but finished a distant fourth in the Democratic Primary behind Attorney General Robert Abrams, former Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro, and Al Sharpton. Despite her disappointing showing, Holtzman, then-Comptroller, seemed destined to remain in public service for a while longer. Yet, the seeds of her downfall were planted during that campaign.
Heading into her 1993 re-election campaign for Comptroller, Holtzman appeared bulletproof. However, down the stretch of her Senate run a year prior, Holtzman took out a $450,000 loan from Fleet Bank.
The loan came back to bite her two fold.
First, the money financed TV spots attacking Geraldine Ferraro, the race’s frontrunner. The ads were bitter and ruthless, amplifying “mafia” whispers surrounding Ferraro, and, while the negative blitz backfired on Holtzman, plunging her into single digits, it did just enough to sink Ferraro - elevating the milk-toast Abrams to face D’Amato, who still won amidst a favorable Democratic cycle. The last-minute ad campaign cost Ferraro dearly, who quickly began plotting her revenge, in conjunction with the infamous Queens machine. The Queens County Organization enlisted little-known Assembly Member Alan Hevesi to challenge Holtzman. With the help of political strategist czar, Hank Morris, Hevesi himself proved capable - effectively courting moderate Jews, ethnic whites, and feminists (the latter aided by Ferraro).
Crucially, the loan Holtzman had taken out was made on security of returns from one of her future fundraisers. Yet, when said fundraiser failed to accumulate even half of the loan’s sum, the financial hole remained. Soon after, Fleet Securities, a corporation closely linked with Fleet Bank, received a fruitful municipal bond contract from (you guessed it) Holtzman’s Comptroller Office, peaking the interest of the Department of Investigation. The DOI report was finished two weeks before the September Primary, but Holtzman did not consent for its public release (since she was the subject of inquiry), arguing that voters would not have enough time to sift through the report. Holtzman’s refusal gave fodder to the press, Hevesi, and Herman Badillo (also running) - and she paid a swift price. What was once a cakewalk became a dead-heat, as Hevesi, Holtzman and Badillo each took approximately a third of the vote, with Hevesi and Holtzman entering a runoff. Only now did Holtzman relent, consenting to the report’s release.
The report was damning, condemning Holtzman for exhibiting “gross negligence,” leading to an exodus of support from her campaign. While some rough and tumble politicians could have weathered such ethical concerns, Holtzman built a brand on her integrity and honesty, which the report assailed. Two weeks later on Election Day, she was crushed by a margin of 2-to-1.
Just like that Elizabeth Holtzman was out of elected office, never to return again, until now.
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In a similar vein to Bill de Blasio, had this race been run in Holtzman’s electoral prime, she would have been a shoe-in. While she will undoubtedly retain name recognition and affinity from some of the district’s older voters, the political landscape has changed significantly to the point where Holtzman will be playing catch-up.
Her pitch to voters should be something like this:
I’ve been doing the work in this district all my life. I am not a carpetbagger like Jones, nor do I have the voter fatigue or baggage of de Blasio. I have more governmental experience than Niou, Rivera, and Simon. I fought Nixon tooth-and-nail and I’ll keep the same energy against Trump.
With democracy at stake, I am running because there is unfinished business in Washington. This is not about personal ambition, but about making a difference.
Holtzman’s pedigree and credentials are a match for NY10’s Brownstone Brooklyn core. While white liberals have been an integral part of Holtzman’s past coalitions, there may not be enough votes to go around, with Jones, de Blasio, Goldman, Niou, and Simon actively courting this constituency.
Simon is running in a similar lane to Holtzman, and I remain skeptical that she would cede a substantial portion of her base to Holtzman, given her current ties to the electorate. Like Simon, Holtzman will struggle to attract voters from the district’s more racially and economically diverse neighborhoods.
Ultimately, unless Holtzman turns back the clock, I think she is a long shot to win. Without a grassroots donation base or a volunteer army - both essential components of past Holtzman wins - she will struggle to keep pace with Jones, de Blasio, Niou and Rivera.
Yet, regardless of the outcome, Elizabeth Holtzman will remain respected.
Will the same be said for Sean Patrick Maloney?
Shortly after the release of the special master’s draft maps, Maloney, chair of the infamous DCCC, publicly announced he was forgoing re-election in NY18, opting to run in the more Westchester-centric, Biden+8 17th district, which now included his home.
However, in a cynical gambit, Maloney failed to inform his Congressional colleague, Mondaire Jones, the sitting congress member in the 17th district who was planning to run for re-election. Tasked with protecting incumbent Democrats as DCCC chair, Maloney opportunistically double-cross Jones, because it would benefit himself.
Facing a brutal primary, Jones was forced to quickly evaluate his options. Either he could stay and face Maloney in the 17th, a district which still included 70% of the areas he previously represented, or look south and challenge fellow-progressive Jamaal Bowman in the 16th.
According to NY Mag, polling indicated that Jones could defeat the centrist Maloney in the 17th, but risked losing the general election in what promises to be a difficult midterm cycle for Democrats. Running against Bowman in the 16th, was reportedly on Jones' mind “all along,” actively encouraged by the “prodding of senior House Democrats, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and forces aligned with Eliot Engel.”
A primary between Bowman and Jones would have been progressives’ worst nightmare. Yet, Jones ultimately decided against it, likely not from the goodness of his heart, but because his staff threatened to quit if he tried and internal polling showed he would nonetheless be defeated.
Thus, upon the release of the finalized maps at the wee hours of Saturday morning, Jones declared for NY10 - to the shock of many observers, given he does not reside even close to the district’s boundaries.
Upon Jones’ entrance into the NY10 primary, I wrote a brief Twitter thread discussing why I believed such a choice was a fatal miscalculation, arguing that Jones would have been better served staying in NY17 and facing off with Maloney. While I am now more bullish on Jones’ chances than I was at the time, the overarching point still stands.
If Jones ran against Maloney, the narrative would undoubtedly be on his side. Given his position as chair of the DCCC, Maloney would be cast as a hypocrite for running against a fellow member rather than risk facing a more competitive general election. Liberal and progressive news outlets, from The Intercept to The New York Times would have lionized Jones as a hero, while casting Maloney as a selfish villain. Across the left-spectrum, volunteers throughout the state would have eagerly backed Jones. Bernie Sanders, AOC, and Elizabeth Warren would all likely endorse him. NY17 would have been the progressive fight of the summer, and Jones would be right at the center.
Even if he was defeated, Jones could have parlayed the national spotlight into future electoral opportunities. Instead, Jones is tasked with running in a district he does not live in, against many formidable opponents who have durable ties to the area.
The move is a brazen gamble that has the potential to pay career-altering dividends, or crash and burn.
So what factors will ultimately define Mondaire Jones' performance?
For starters, Jones has a huge fundraising head start, having already banked $3 million as of the latest filing deadline. Given he is the only “incumbent” running for this seat, the DCCC will ensure his campaign coffers are filled - as the NY Post reported that Jones is “boasting” about having Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s support in the race. Having such a significant financial advantage will allow Jones to go up on TV early, and stay there throughout the duration of the race - a valuable resource that his opponents may not have.
One of first Black gay men to serve in Congress, Jones is also a skilled politician, first ascending to the House via another crowded open primary two years ago, where he easily dispatching better-funded opposition. In Washington, he has advocated for Supreme Court expansion and ending the filibuster, while establishing himself as a charismatic, squad-adjacent lawmaker. Rated one of the most active freshmen in the House, Jones routinely lands on national television, where many consider him to be a future star within the Democratic Party.
In spite of this, Jones’ decision to run here could rankle local power brokers. In the same NY Post article referenced above, Jones was dismissive of Carlina Rivera’s chances to raise the requisite amount of money to remain competitive.
“One Democratic source said Jones’ pitch to the party faithful was ‘so much naïveté and arrogance’ and turned some prominent Democrats off.” (NY Post)
Pumping millions of dollars into a district you do not live in has its limitations, even as an incumbent. Just ask Steven Solarz.
In an attempt to quell such concerns, Jones pointed to the district as his “spiritual home,” saying “since long before the Stonewall Uprising, queer people of color have sought refuge within its borders.” Jones is making a concerted appeal to the districts LGBTQ+ voters, particularly in the West Village. With Brad Hoylman, a fellow LGBT candidate, opting out of the race to run for re-election in the State Senate, Jones theoretically has a clearer path to consolidating support amongst LGBTQ+ Democratic clubs, like Jim Owles, Stonewall, and Lambda Independent Democrats.
Despite his progressive reputation, in such a civically-engaged district, Jones’ residency could prove to be a significant hurdle for voters. In a recent poll, 86% of NY10 voters said they wanted a Congressperson from the district. These attacks will only heighten in advance of primary day. While Jones won the The New York Times endorsement in 2020, I would be stunned if he replicated such a feat. Moving here, for the sole intent to run for re-election, will dog him throughout his entire campaign.
How will Jones build tangible support over the course of three months - in a district he has never even called home until now - when many of his opponents have built relationships, lived, worked, organized, and represented the area for decades?
Looking around, the answer is not so clear. The district lacks a sizable Black population - just 8.5% - and Jones will be at a disadvantage courting other racial minorities, like Latinos (Rivera) and Asians (Niou). Amongst the heavily-contested Brownstone Brooklyn vote, Jones could effectively position himself as the anti-de Blasio candidate - a fundraising tactic so far - in the hopes of coalescing fatigued liberals around his candidacy.
The west side of Lower Manhattan, with no elected official currently in the race, may be Jones’ best opportunity to establish a base and chain together multiple election districts. His vast fundraising advantage will allow him to oversaturate every neighborhood with advertising and literature, inevitably picking up a few extra votes here and there.
Could Jones win the Hasidic vote in Borough Park? Well, his old district in Rockland County included the Hasidic communities of Monsey and New Square, thus giving him a degree of experience with that constituency. Jones may be willing to make deals and sacrifices to appease the Borough Park faithful. Without a candidate of their own, the Borough Park Hasidic bloc - despite being cut in half - retains the power to potentially swing a close election.
How do the City’s largest labor unions view Jones, in light of DCCC backing?
Could the Working Families Party, frequently criticized for opaque endorsement processes, overrule chapter endorsements once more and back Jones, instead of Yuh-Line Niou?
Ultimately, Jones’ best path to victory could mirror the last race for an open New York City Congressional Seat.
Two years ago, longtime South Bronx rep. Jose Serrano announced his retirement, setting up an open primary in NY15. While the demographic and class base of the old NY15 compared to the new NY10, could not be more different - the arch of the campaign may be quite similar.
This race was also quite crowded, with twelve candidates on the ballot, including the likes of: State Assembly Member Michael Blake, former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Council Members Ritchie Torres and Ydanis Rodriguez, (DSA + AOC-backed) housing activist Samelys Lopez, and the Reverend Rubén Díaz Sr.
In particular, the prospect of a vote-split enabling a plurality victory for Rubén Díaz Sr. was of great concern to those familiar with the contours of the race. Díaz, a former State Senator and City Council Member, was frequently compared to Donald Trump for his long history of homophobic and misogynistic comments. While Díaz’s antics had alienated voters throughout his district, he was still poised to be a leading candidate, retaining durable support from his decades in elected office. The question became: which candidate - specifically Torres, Blake, Mark-Viverito, or Lopez - should voters consolidate around to defeat Díaz?
That question was answered rather abruptly.
Progressive think tank Data for Progress released a poll on NY15 less than one month before Election Day. The results encapsulated liberals' greatest fears.
Leading the way, amongst a split field, was Díaz at 22% - with Torres narrowly behind him at 20%. The next closest candidates were Michael Blake and Melissa Mark-Viverito, both hovering around 6%. Samelys Lopez was down at the bottom, with a paltry 2%. Instantaneously, the narrative of the race was turned on its head.
In the eyes of many, NY15 had now become a two-horse race. Supporting Blake, Mark-Viverito, or Lopez - would carry grave risk. Consolidate behind Torres, or risk ending up with Díaz:
“It is vital that progressives understand the importance of ensuring that Díaz Sr. is not elected to Congress, and consider supporting the most viable alternative,” read the poll’s Executive Summary.
The New York Times even published an endorsement article solely highlighting the NY15 race. While the Editorial Board backed Torres, much of the piece did not focus on an affirmative case for him, but rather pointing towards the poll and the case to consolidate support against the threat of Díaz.
“There are several impressive candidates in the race. But coalescing Democratic support around Mr. Torres is especially important because of the presence of Ruben Díaz Sr. on the ballot. Polls show that Mr. Díaz may be poised to win the Democratic Primary… in part the result of an unusually large field of Democrats.”
“An Independent poll from Data for Progress, a liberal think tank, showed Mr. Díaz leading the crowded race with the support of only 22 percent of likely voters. The best way to stop him is by voting for Mr. Torres… [who] is trailing Mr. Díaz only slightly, and has support of 20 percent of likely voters, according to the Data for Progress poll.”
So what’s the big deal? Isn’t it a good thing to consolidate to stop a polarizing candidate like Díaz?
Well, here’s the thing… The Data for Progress poll was not very accurate, and Primary Day results a month later proved it. Lopez, once relegated to being an afterthought at two-percent, instead won fourteen, despite DSA support and momentum being redirected north to Jamaal Bowman. After being dismissed for first polling at six-percent, Michael Blake came in second with 18% of the vote. Most importantly, Díaz, the boogeyman leading the earlier poll, stumbled to a third place finish, with a meager 14%. The person with the most to gain was Ritchie Torres, who benefitted handsomely from consolidation efforts, comfortably winning the election with 32%.
Lopez, who the Data for Progress poll showed toiling at 2%, finished half a percentage point behind Díaz, whom the poll had leading the field. It is worth pondering - if Blake and Torres switched percentages in that poll, would Blake now be in Congress?
While some might say that the poll brought down Diaz’s support, I remain skeptical, given Diaz’s countless warts were well-known at the time. For those already planning to vote for him, a New York Times Op-Ed would not have changed their mind. Rather, the poll simply overestimated his support, not only significantly helping Torres, but actively hurting Blake, Mark-Viverito and Lopez - all of whom were prematurely deemed non-viable.
All this being said, polling a crowded Congressional race is difficult, especially using a text-to-web panel in the South Bronx. However, when one poll is given such outstanding influence over a race’s discourse, combined with pervasive concerns over a fractured vote, outcomes can be skewed.
Getting back to NY10, who is to say history will not repeat itself. Now, before someone aggregates me, I am not comparing Bill de Blasio to Ruben Diaz Sr. What I am comparing is the relationship of both candidates to their voting base, and how the dynamics from NY15 two years ago can inform us this summer.
Given de Blasio’s polarization amongst the NY10 electorate, I think he may face a hard-cap on his support, in a similar vein to Diaz in NY15. While the former Mayor has seen his popularity dip precarious over the past few years, those still with de Blasio are likely in for the long haul, and he’ll start with a concrete base. A higher floor but a lower ceiling, per say.
Yet, if the race eventually narrows, as polling, fundraising and momentum sink some, while elevating others, de Blasio is increasingly vulnerable in a 1v1 matchup - especially to Jones, Niou, or Rivera.
Ironically, in the 2009 Public Advocate’s race - de Blasio’s first Citywide win - Mark Green was poised to finish first in the Democratic primary, but lacked enough votes to clear the 40% threshold. Thus, there was a furious race for second place, as by that point, Green had worn out his welcome with a majority of the City. De Blasio knew that in a 1v1 with Green, he would prevail, and he did just that, trouncing Green by twenty-five points in the runoff.
Now, de Blasio is in Mark Green’s shoes, with everyone else vying to be in de Blasio’s old shoes.
All it takes is some good luck, and one well-timed poll.
As New York City stares at another open Congressional seat, featuring a packed field with an eventual victor unlikely to eclipse even 35% - forcing voters to evaluate how their personal preferences factor into the race at large - ask yourself: is this the best we can do?
We need more Ranked Choice Voting.
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