Real estate helps moderate crush socialist in City Council race

Industry-funded mailer blasted cancel-rent candidate’s position on Israel

New York /
Feb.February 03, 2021 01:22 PM
Democrat James Gennaro won the City Council election against Moumita Ahmed. (Facebook via Gennaro, Twitter via Ahmed)

Democrat James Gennaro won the City Council election against Moumita Ahmed. (Facebook via Gennaro, Twitter via Ahmed)

 

Democrat James Gennaro trounced Moumita Ahmed, the candidate favored by the Democratic Socialists of America, and six other contenders in a Queens City Council election Tuesday.

The real estate industry independently kicked in cash to help Gennaro, who served in the Council in the 2000s.

Unofficial results from the Board of Elections show that Gennaro won 59 percent of the initial vote, while Ahmed drew only 16 percent in the District 24 special election. Ninety-nine percent of the non-absentee ballots have been tallied, giving the former Council member what is likely an insurmountable lead.

Insiders expect absentee ballots, which have yet to be counted, to favor Ahmed. If those ballots drop Gennaro to under 50 percent, ranked-choice voting would come into play, but the math overwhelmingly points to a Gennaro victory.

A last-minute campaign mailer painted Ahmed’s support of the Boycott Divest and Sanction movement as anti-Semitic — an effective tactic in a district with a substantial Orthodox Jewish population. A group funded by Related Companies chairman Stephen Ross bankrolled the mailer, which also criticized her position in favor of defunding the police.

Socialists aspire to win at least six seats on the 51-member Council this year, enough to form a modest caucus. Most Council races will be decided in June’s Democratic primary.

Ahmed, a community activist who hails from Bangladesh, eschewed developers’ money, although it seems unlikely much would have been offered: She supports the cancelation of rent.

She suffered a setback last month when the Campaign Finance Board invalidated 75 cash donations, making her campaign ineligible for matching funds, The City reported.

Gennaro represented the Queens district, which spans Jamaica Estates to Kew Gardens Hills, until term limits forced him out seven years ago and he took a post in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration. Rory Lancman resigned from the seat last year, also to work in the Cuomo administration, triggering Tuesday’s special election.

Ahmed, who was endorsed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, was the DSA’s preferred candidate but did not get the socialist organization’s endorsement (nor did anyone else in the race).

Moderate candidates, whom the real estate industry prefers, may look to replicate Gennaro’s strategy in upcoming City Council races. But it’s unclear whether his victory is a one-off event or presages an end to the DSA’s streak of success in New York City elections over the past three years.

The group’s strength lies in its ability to turn out armies of door-knocking, phone-banking socialists, who have outhustled traditional Democratic clubs and pulled out more voters than the campaign literature distributed by better-funded candidates.

Ultimately, Ahmed’s progressive positions may have been a stumbling block in a district with so many Orthodox Jewish voters, said David Schwartz, co-founder of Slate Property Group. Voters may have also seen Gennaro’s experience in city and state government as a benefit during a crisis, not a liability.

“Each district is really different and New York City is not monolithic — the DSA won’t win every seat and the establishment won’t win every seat,” said Schwartz. “But Kew Gardens is not Astoria.”




    Correction: Moumita Ahmed did go through the Democratic Socialists of America’s endorsement process. An earlier version of this story said she had not.


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