Upset win in Brooklyn election alarms real estate industry

Candidate backed by socialists, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ousts 26-year incumbent

Marcela Mitaynes (Sunset Park via Wikipedia Commons)
Marcela Mitaynes (Sunset Park via Wikipedia Commons)

After the 2018 election led to key victories for progressive Democrats, many in the real estate industry might have wondered whether things could possibly get any worse. It looks like they can.

Democratic Socialists of America–backed candidate Marcela Mitaynes toppled Assembly member Felix Ortiz, who conceded the race Thursday. Although the election results have not yet been certified, the Mitaynes campaign reported that their candidate edged Ortiz by 240 votes.

Her victory surprised observers, not only because Mitaynes unseated an established incumbent, but because Ortiz’s record is progressive.

Ortiz held his Sunset Park seat for 26 years. Mitaynes, a tenant organizer who pushed for last year’s rent law, received endorsements from Bronx and Queens Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Brooklyn state Sen. Julia Salazar.

She supports “good cause” eviction, fully funding public housing and raising taxes on the wealthy.

Ortiz, as assistant speaker of the Assembly, has supported pro-tenant legislation. Serving on both the Rules and Ways and Means committees, Ortiz voted in June for a moderate measure to provide rental assistance, which was opposed by tenant advocates who wanted rent to be canceled.

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Some disagree that the Democratic Socialists of America played a major role in pushing Ortiz out, and instead attribute the upset to a local political grudge. Ortiz was not endorsed by Rep. Nydia Velázquez, a 28-year House veteran whose district overlaps with his. Lobbyist George Arzt attributed her lack of support to Ortiz’s unsuccessful 2017 challenge of New York City Council member Carlos Menchaca, who is Velázquez’s protegé.

“That’s a powerful enemy to make, and Nydia certainly wanted him out,” said Arzt. “In Spanish, they call her the warrior, and that is very true.”

Several other close primary races with leftist challengers will be tallied in the coming days, although many predict that several more incumbents will be ousted. Low-turnout races, which were expected because of the pandemic, typically favor candidates with the more motivated supporters. Incumbents tend to fare better in high-turnout races with many casual voters casting ballots.

Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, which represents small landlords of about 400,000 rent-stabilized units in New York City, tweeted that “it’s isn’t quite Red October yet … but if this keeps up next year’s City Council races will be.”

Even before Ortiz conceded, Martin attributed the success of DSA-backed candidates to its energetic base.

“A Zoom call with 50 supporters is as vital as a check from real estate, or any big lobbying organization, for $10,000,” said Martin. “Because in this world, the difference between a couple of thousand votes is enthusiasm.”