Next few months will be ‘challenging’
Jan 29, 2020 | 2386 views | 0 0 comments | 384 384 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It used to be the case in New York City politics that as long as an incumbent was interested in holding on to their job, there was relatively little chance they were going to be challenged by someone within their own party.

If that did happen, it was considered a long-shot bid with little chance of succeeding. People barely took notice.

But that forever changed after Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shocked everyone when she defeated longtime congressman Joseph Crowley, who was so well entrenched in the position that many believed he was the heir apparent to Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Now everyone thinks, “hey, if AOC why not me?”

This year, several state lawmakers will face primary challenges. While most will be unsuccessful, if the past is any indication (remember when State Senator Julia Salazar upset Martin Dilan?) at least one of them has a chance to succeed and upset the status quo in Albany.

In fact, Salazar, who positioned herself to the far left of the Democratic Party, will face a challenger with more conventional political experience in her North Brooklyn district.

Opponent Andy Marte is a former staffer to Vito Lopez, which could help him among people who still have an affinity for the longtime assemblyman and Dem Party boss, but will likely hurt him among voters who don’t forget that he was forced from office under a cloud of sexual misconduct.

In Queens, Justin Potter and Ignazio Terranova are running against State Senator Michael Gianaris.

Potter announced his candidacy last year and joined the Democratic Party specifically to challenge Gianaris in the primary. He says he was motivated by the role Gianaris played in scuttling the deal to bring Amazon to Long Island City.

Terranova is a former official at the Department of Sanitation. Both he and Potter will most certainly lose in the fundraising aspect of the race; both have raised less than $10,000 while the Astoria state senator is sitting on over $200K.

But it is in the Assembly where incumbents will be forced to defend the most seats. In Brooklyn, assembly members Joseph Lentol (Greenpoint/Williamsburg), Felix Ortiz (Red Hook/Sunset Park), Walter Mosley (Fort Greene/Prospect Heights) and Dilan’s son, Erik Martin Dilan (Bushwick/Cypress Hills), all face challengers.

The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has already announced its support of Mosley challenger Phara Souffrant Forrest, who is campaigning on the idea of abolishing rent. Three candidates – Marcela Mitaynes, Katherine Walsh and Genesis Aquino – will run against Ortiz, whose former chief of staff was arrested in August for stealing $80,000 from his boss’ campaign account.

Boris Santos received the DSA nod over Sandy Nurse, as they both look to unseat Dilan. And longtime community activist Emily Gallagher will run against Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, who was first elected to the post way back in 1973. (Editor’s Note: Emily Gallagher is a columnist for this newspaper.)

And several assembly members in Queens also face challengers from within their own party, including Cathy Nolan (Long Island City/Ridgewood), Jeff Aubrey (East Elmhurst/Jackson Heights), Michael DenDekker (Woodside/Corona), Aravella Simotas (Astoria) and Mike Miller (Woodhaven/Glendale).

Mary Jobaida’s campaign against Nolan will be interesting to watch, as the district overlaps with many of the neighborhoods where Ocasio-Cortez won in her defeat of Crowley.

Another interesting race to watch will be the one for Miller’s seat. He is being challenged by Joey de Jesus and Jenifer Rajkumar, who has raised over $200,000 so far, while Miller has less than $40,000.

This also isn’t Rajkumar’s first try at political office. She unsuccessfully ran against Councilwoman Margaret Chin when she lived in lower Manhattan, ultimately blaming the loss on a real estate PAC that threw its support – and considerable money - behind Chin.

But as she told this paper recently, she learned from the experience.

Zohran Mamdani, a 28-year-old housing counselor is running against Simotas, while Nuala O’Doherty Naranjo and Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, the executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, will challenge DenDekker.

And then there is Aubrey.

Remember when we wrote that, in the past, it was highly unusual for an incumbent, especially a Democrat, to face a challenge from within their own party if they were still interested in keeping their post. Well, nobody told that to Hiram Monserrate.

In 2006, when Monserrate was a member of the City Council, he ran against State Senator John Sabini, a highly popular elected official, especially among those with deep roots in the Queens Democratic Party, with 16 years in office.

Monserrate came within 200 votes of pulling off the upset.

Undeterred, he ran again in 2008 and this time people took him seriously. According to insiders, the Democratic Party was afraid of backing Sabini over Monserrate in the heavily Latin American district for fear that Monserrate would win and they would lose influence among a growing voting bloc.

Sabini withdrew from the race to take the job as chair of the New York State Racing & Wagering Board, and Monserrate cruised to victory.

And then Monserrate played a huge role in a parliamentary coup in the legislature that shifted control of the State Senate to Republicans; was found guilty of assaulting his girlfriend in an ugly incident caught on his building’s security camera; was expelled from office; went to jail for 21 months on federal corruption charges and – yadda yadda yadda – he’s now back and running against Aubrey, a 14-term incumbent who was first elected in 1992.

Monserrate refused to go away quietly, and in 2018 he won a district leader post, which shows that despite his troubled past he still has some support in the community among voters.

Aubrey is still very popular and his seat is likely secure, but Monserrate will be a vocal and hardworking challenger and won’t make it easy on him.

In other words, it looks like voters in both Brooklyn and Queens will have a reason to head to the polls this June.
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