Real estate, construction-backed candidates prevail in City Council primaries

Marjorie Velázquez, Christopher Marte win big; Charles Barron poised for defeat

Charles Barron, Chris Banks, Marjorie Velázquez and Yusef Salaam
Charles Barron, Chris Banks, Marjorie Velázquez and Yusef Salaam (Getty, Chris Banks, Marjorie Velázquez, Yusef Salaam for the People)

The early primary results are in, and many City Council candidates favored by construction and real estate interests are emerging victorious. 

One incumbent cool to the industry, Charles Barron, lost his re-election bid in East New York, according to unofficial results posted by the city’s Board of Elections. The apparent winner, community organizer Chris Banks, ended a 20-year run by Barron and his wife, Assembly member Inez Barron, who traded the Council seat back and forth when the other was term-limited out.

Banks had the backing of the New York City District Council of Carpenters, as well as the Labor Strong Coalition, which includes the 32BJ SEIU, the Hotel Trades Council, DC37, the New York State Nurses Association and the Communications Workers of America. Barron has long fought market-rate housing in his district, most recently demanding and winning the removal of all market-rate units from the Innovative Urban Village project. 

“We’re dancing on sunshine,” said Kevin Elkins, political director for the carpenters’ union, noting that the union helped protect incumbents while ousting Barron and pressuring rookie Council member Kristin Richardson Jordan to drop out of her race in Harlem. 

Jordan’s district also saw an upset as political newcomer Yusef Salaam, one of the Central Park Exonerated Five, beat veteran Harlem politician and former Council member Inez Dickens, who was endorsed by Mayor Eric Adams, and fellow Assembly member Al Taylor.

Pro-housing group Open New York had endorsed Salaam, citing his support of pro-housing zoning reform and good cause eviction. Jordan dropped out of the race last month after it became clear that the primary would be a referendum on her role in killing One45, a 917-unit apartment building that she had criticized as not affordable enough for her constituents. The developer, Bruce Teitelbaum, has since revived his proposal, which will likely come before Salaam next year.

“The votes are in: fighting for abundant housing is good policy AND good politics,” Open New York tweeted on Wednesday. 

Council member Marjorie Velázquez appears to have handily kept her seat in the Bronx’s 13th District. Unions came out in force for Velázquez, who reversed her position and supported a Bruckner Boulevard rezoning after securing a promise from the developer to hire union labor for construction and building services. 

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A super PAC tied to the carpenters spent at least $57,562 on ads supporting Velázquez. A group of unions dubbed the Labor Strong Coalition spent more than $100,000 on ads backing her re-election.

It is not yet clear who Velázquez will face in the general election, as results showed Republican Kristy Marmorato with a narrow lead over George Havranek. That may be a close race, given the success of Republican candidates in the district in recent years: Curtis Sliwa beat Eric Adams there in the 2021 general election, according to City & State, although Velázquez carried 56 percent of the vote against Republican candidate Aleksander Mici in that year’s Council election.

“Obviously Marjorie is our No. 1 priority in the general election,” Elkins said. He noted that the carpenters’ union is also watching Council member Justin Brannan’s re-election bid in Bay Ridge. Brannan will be up against Democrat-turned-Republican Council member Ari Kagan in the general election.

In a loss for real estate, Lower Manhattan incumbent Christopher Marte fended off challenges from moderate candidates Susan Lee and Ursila Jung. Lee and Jung tried to use ranked-choice voting to oust Marte, agreeing to list each other as their second choice, but Marte walked away with more than 63 percent of the vote, according to the early results.

Marte has clashed with developers over the years. He opposed the rezoning of Soho and Noho and signed onto a lawsuit challenging the development of four rental towers in Two Bridges. He also supported a lawsuit seeking to block senior housing on the site of the Elizabeth Street Garden. A state appellate court dismissed that case this week. 

Lobbyist Jeffrey Leb, who has raised millions of dollars from the real estate industry in previous campaigns, spent more than $400,000 through his super PAC on campaign ads for the primary. Various industry professionals donated to his “Future NYC” entity, including the Laboz family, which runs United American Land, Abro Management’s Richard Scharf, Rosewood Realty Group’s Aaron Jungreis and developer Joseph Cayre, according to campaign finance records.  

Leb’s PAC supported nine candidates including incumbent Linda Lee, who appears to have won her contest in eastern Queens, as well as Velázquez and Kalman Yeger, whose district includes parts of Borough Park, Gravesend and Midwood. Yeger ran unopposed in the Democratic primary and leads Heshy Tischler by a small margin in the GOP primary.

Because of ranked-choice voting, some results from the primary may not be available for some time. 

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