De Blasio’s Continued Push for Bedford-Union Armory Proposal + Results of Key NYC Primary Races

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Local News

  • Mayor De Blasio is taking Council Member Laurie Cumbo’s primary win in District 35 as a positive sign for the plan to develop the Bedford-Union Armory. In a push to win support for the current proposal, City Hall is expected to contribute additional funds to expand affordable housing on the site.

  • Critics of Mayor De Blasio’s housing plan have pointed out that in the rezoned area of East New York, the so-called affordable housing being built is more expensive than the asking rents in the area. The City’s homeless population is the highest it has been since the Great Depression.

  • While Mayor De Blasio negotiated paid parental leave for 20,000 non-unionized city workers in 2015, the NYC Department of Education does not offer paid leave to unionized public school teachers, despite the fact that women represent 76 percent of teachers.

  • New York City area Teamsters have declared themselves a sanctuary union in the wake of the deportation of a Long Island member. George Miranda, President of Teamsters Joint Local 16, spoke eloquently of the need for union solidarity in the face of federal efforts to erode immigrant’s rights.

  • A recent poll suggests that a majority of New York voters will support a Constitutional Convention on the November ballot. NYC DSA is hosting a forum on this multi-faceted issue on Monday, Sept. 25th.

  • Mayor De Blasio expressed qualified support for repealing the racist Cabaret Law, a Prohibition-era law that makes it illegal to dance in the vast majority of NYC’s bars and restaurants.

  • Governor Cuomo’s vision to redesign the MTA’s bridges and tunnels in NYC - which includes bridge lights that can be choreographed to music, and electronic tolling, among other things - has given rise to questions about the function and cost of some of those improvements and the governance of the MTA.

Electoral News

Results of Key NYC Primary Races

The New York City Council primaries this year were blisteringly predictable in at least one respect: incumbents dominated a low-turnout election, as they always do. Last election cycle, in 2013, only one candidate in the city (Carlos Menchaca) managed to defeat an incumbent; this year not a single incumbent managed it. In a year with only ten open seats, that meant a comparatively quiet outcome. Some stars rose and some fell last Tuesday, but the balance of power on the Council remained mostly unchanged.

That’s not to say no incumbents got a run for their money. Menchaca in Sunset Park beat back a challenge from the right, defeating Assemblyman Felix Ortiz 49-33; that, together with Williamsburg councilmember Antonio Reynoso’s 65-35 defeat of Tommy Torres, put another nail in the coffin of the once-mighty Brooklyn machine. Incumbent Laurie Cumbo of Crown Heights defeated Ede Fox 58-42 in a race that centered on the Bedford Union Armory development deal, while DSA member Jabari Brisport resoundingly won his Green Party primary in the same district, winning 89% of the vote (31 votes). Fernando Cabrera, a strong contender for worst Democratic member in the city, beat WFP-endorsed challenger Randy Abreu 55-35. All of these results are relatively impressive in a city where defeating an incumbent who controls name recognition, political connections and patronage is nearly impossible.

But the worst-faring incumbent in the city deserves special mention for what his race says about New York’s elections: Central Brooklyn councilman Mathieu Eugene, an incumbent since 2006 who has done little to distinguish himself, faced not one but three challengers from the left–and thus managed to hang on to his seat with a mere 41% of the vote, despite 59% of his constituents’ expressed desire that he lose his job. Few races epitomize the problems of first-past-the-post voting systems better than this absurd outcome.

The real shocker this cycle was incumbent Margaret Chin’s race in Lower Manhattan; this contest attracted very little attention because it was not expected to be competitive, but in the end challenger Christopher Marte won 44% to Chin’s 46%; the election has still not been called since Chin’s margin of 200 votes may be undermined by still-uncounted absentee and affidavit ballots. While Chin is likely to squeak out a win, this race, which centered on development issues, is one those looking to pull off future upsets should take careful notes on.

But the real action this election was in the open seats. Even here incumbent advantage played a role: outgoing councilmembers often manage to place their former staff in their seats, which happened repeatedly this year. Progressive Lower East Side councilmember Rosie Mendez will be replaced by her staffer, Carlina Rivera, who dominated her race with 61% of the vote to 16% from her nearest challenger, Mary Silver. Likewise, Justin Brannan won his primary in South Brooklyn to replace his former boss, Vincent Gentile; Brannan beat out DSA-endorsed candidate Khader El-Yateem 38%-31%, by a margin of 650 votes. Brannan will go on to face Republican John Quaglione in what may be the only competitive general election campaign in the city. Outgoing speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, meanwhile, will be replaced by her staffer, Diana Ayala; Ayala’s very narrow win against Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez (44%-42%, by a margin of about 120 votes) represents a win in the proxy war between Bill de Blasio and Andrew Cuomo, who endorsed Rodriguez.

In more disappointing news, Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj in the Bronx beat out progressive Marjorie Velazquez 39%-34%; the race was decided by 400 votes and the $700,000, including substantial real estate money, Gjonaj brought to bear on it. Another Albany insider seeking greener pastures, Bronx machine pol and State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., won his race handily; his son, Ruben Diaz Jr., won re-election as Bronx Borough President, cementing the family’s hold on the borough. Meanwhile Queens Assemblyman Francisco Moya allowed all New York to breathe a sigh of relief by defeating disgraced former State Senator Hiram Monserrate, who managed to collect 44% of the vote despite having been kicked out of the senate for corruption and convicted of domestic abuse. And speaking of Queens corruption, Queens machine-backed candidate Adrienne Adams won her race to replace Ruben Wills, who was supported by the Queens Democratic Party until recently despite being under indictment for corruption.

The elephant in the room through all this–barely noticeable to those who follow city politics because it’s been so constant for so long–was ridiculously low turnout. The elections last Tuesday, which for all intents and purposes determined how the largest city in the US will be governed for the next four years, turned out 14%, not of voters, but of registered Democrats. A fraction of a fraction of the electorate, a fraction that skews geriatric, decided how this town will be run for the rest of us.

Given that, the results could have been worse. As all eyes turn to the city council speaker’s race coming up in January–the second most powerful office in the city–the Progressive Caucus remains a powerful bloc on the City Council. The next few months will entail a great deal of maneuvering around the speaker’s race, as we learn whether the Progressives will manage to maintain the fragile grip on the speakership they gained in 2013 or whether the post will return to its traditional owners, the outer-borough machines.

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