Initial vote count shows pro-tenant candidates poised for wins

Primary election is mixed bag for real estate with many ballots still unopened

TRD New York /
Jun.June 24, 2020 01:45 PM
Clockwise from top left: Jabari Brisport, Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Julia Salazar (Getty)

Clockwise from top left: Jabari Brisport, Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Julia Salazar (Getty)

As polls closed on Tuesday, progressives across New York City took victory laps — even though primary election winners won’t be determined until a record number of absentee ballots are counted starting July 1.

A number of state legislators favored by real estate had disappointing nights. In a Brooklyn Senate race, Assembly member Tremaine Wright trails public school teacher Jabari Brisport, who is backed by the Democratic Socialists of America, 17,113 to 13,301, after polling-site votes were counted.

In Astoria, Assembly member Aravella Simotas is behind foreclosure-prevention counselor Zohran Mamdani, another DSA endorsee, 4,228 votes to 3,639.

Elsewhere in Queens, six-term Woodside Assembly member Michael DenDekker is lagging progressive challenger Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, who ran on a platform that included canceling rent, passing “good cause” eviction and eliminating rent increases for major capital improvements.

During a press conference Wednesday morning, Gov. Andrew Cuomo downplayed local incumbents’ struggles.

“There’s no doubt that there’s an awareness, there’s an energy that’s up and I think it’s all good,” said Cuomo. “But I’m more focused on November and the general election. If you want to make real change, you have to change the president of the United States.”

However, New York elections have had a profound impact on real estate for decades, including the 2018 races that flipped the Senate to Democratic control and led to an overhaul of the rent-stabilization law last year.

After Tuesday’s count, most of the antagonists of the real estate industry who won seats two years ago are far ahead, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and state Sens. Julia Salazar, Jessica Ramos and Alessandra Biaggi. The results suggest that the progressive wave in 2018 was less an aberration than a fundamental shift in the city’s politics.

In Lower Manhattan, second-term Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou has a lead over her challenger, businesswoman Grace Lee, while in Brooklyn, Assembly member Diana Richardson fended off a challenge from Jesse Hamilton, a former member of the landlord-friendly Independent Democratic Conference in the Senate.

But insurgent candidates promising to decommodify housing did not perform so well everywhere. Tenant activist Marcela Mitaynes in Sunset Park is in second place in a four-way Assembly race led by incumbent Felix Ortiz, who has been in office for a quarter century. In Crown Heights, Assembly member Walter Mosley — who is more open to real estate development than union nurse challenger Phara Souffrant Forrest — has a slim lead.

And in a twist, two candidates who didn’t heed calls to shun real estate donations — which has become a political liability in recent years — performed well. Bronx City Council member Ritchie Torres emerged as the leader in a 12-candidate congressional primary featuring Assembly member Michael Blake, City Council member Ruben Díaz Sr. and DSA-backed Samelys López. In the Queens borough president race, pro-development City Council member Donovan Richards edged out former City Council member Elizabeth Crowley.

Democratic primary wins are considered tantamount to victory in November in all of these deep-blue districts.

The Board of Elections sent out more than 1.8 million absentee ballots across the state, a 16-fold increase from the 2016 presidential primary. It had received 795,000 back as of midday Wednesday.


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