Socialists sit out race for mayor

Candidates, DSA keep their distance as far left focuses on City Council

Feb.February 18, 2021 12:00 PM

New York City Council member Carlos Menchaca and Sumathy Kumar of the Democratic Socialists of America

Council member Carlos Menchaca is a thorn in real estate’s side: He stopped the Industry City rezoning, rallied opposition to a megaproject in Queens and argues that developers are getting rich while communities are getting crumbs.

A mayoral candidate from Brooklyn, Menchaca seemed destined to hook up with the Democratic Socialists of America. He even told The Real Deal in January that he would join.

“I’m going to do it, because I believe in this fundamental shift in how we think about our government and what it can do to better the lives of people,” he said. “Haven’t sent in the money yet, but I will become a DSA member.”

But days later Menchaca’s spokesperson said he would not, despite his policy positions aligning with the DSA’s.

For candidates, committing to the far-left group risks alienating others. And it wouldn’t pay off in the immediate: DSA doesn’t plan to endorse for mayor.

The socialist group’s New York chapter decided in 2019 to focus on select City Council races this year, rather than put energy into a citywide campaign. Co-chair Sumathy Kumar said local elections are better for the organization to build out its base. However, she said, the DSA is pressuring mayoral candidates on issues.

The organization might not feel it can meaningfully influence a citywide race yet but has shown it “sure as heck can have an impact on a race in western Queens” and other gentrifying neighborhoods, said Neal Kwatra, CEO of political consulting firm Metropolitan Public Strategies. DSA propelled Tiffany Cabán to within 60 votes of becoming Queens district attorney and is now supporting her run for a Queens City Council seat.

Campaign guru Evan Stavisky said the DSA has been smart and strategic about its endorsements. The ideological differences between the Democratic mayoral contenders are thin, he said, and an endorsement from the DSA would set a candidate apart in a way that would be good for some, bad for others.

“The DSA, for some voters, is a very powerful cue,” said Stavisky, a partner at the Parkside Group. “It’s almost like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval for a progressive candidate.”

Some real estate executives have also focused on Council races, through the independent expenditure committee Common Sense NYC. Those contests are where the vast differences between the DSA and the industry on housing policy, police funding and other issues will play out.

“I think that people understand that the City Council can have enormous implications for land use and public safety,” Kumar said. “I think there is a fight to be had between those two visions of what our city could be.”


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