Socialists proved this summer that they can win elections in New York City. But can they pass bills in Albany?
It’s a crucial question for the real estate industry in the wake of several primary wins by Democratic Socialists of America–backed candidates that are tantamount to victory in November.
Socialists will hold only a handful of seats in the 213-member legislature, but more moderate Democrats now figure to give their causes more attention to ward off socialist challenges to their own seats.
For years property interests relied on state Senate Republicans to fend off legislation from liberals. However, the GOP lost power two years ago, and in 2021 the industry will need liberals to keep the socialists at bay — although not everyone sees much difference between them.
“I don’t think the Assembly or Senate is going to fundamentally change this year as a result of Election Day,” said state Sen. Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan and Brooklyn Democrat who chairs his chamber’s housing committee. “The Democratic majority of the Assembly has been very progressive for a very long time.”
Also, the efficacy of a socialist caucus in the Assembly remains to be seen. One DSA insider acknowledged that the organization is better at running elections than legislating. Passing bills will depend on how its office holders navigate power structures and form coalitions with lawmakers.
The winning socialist candidates — Jabari Brisport in a Senate primary and Phara Souffrant Forrest, Zohran Mamdani, and Marcela Mitaynes in Assembly primaries — ran on housing platforms that included raising taxes on the wealthy, passing “good cause” eviction and increasing funding for public housing.
Two other candidates in the city, Jenifer Rajkumar and Emily Gallagher, were not backed by Democratic Socialists of America but campaigned as progressives and defeated incumbent Democratic state legislators.
Moderate incumbents seeking to avoid that fate in 2022 may be more embracing of left-leaning bills next cycle, but observers say that nothing in the legislature happens by default.
“Albany is a complex place,” said Kavanagh. “I’m sure they’re aware there is a lot to learn, and many alliances to make.”
Socialists heading to Albany plan to join the Democratic conference, headed by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. He supported incumbents in their races.
“Heastie has got to be concerned,” said one Albany insider, adding that it remains to be seen whether the newcomers will “follow the rules, make friends with staffers and get some laws passed.”
Many in real estate fear that as the left gains power in Albany, their industry will suffer. Near the top of progressives’ agenda is “good cause” eviction, which would effectively limit rent increases statewide and was considered for inclusion in the rent law that passed last year.
The sweeping measure is “just as much or more” of a threat as it was six months ago, said Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, which represents the owners of about 400,000 rent-stabilized apartments. Martin said that socialists’ wins will have an impact on housing policy, but it is too soon to tell the extent.
“They know how to exert pressure on members who are already concerned about their political futures and aren’t confident about their votes,” said Martin. “And they’ve shown folks how to run elections again.”