It’s Election Day in New York next Thursday! But instead of a titanic battle between ideologies–your Mitt Romneys vs. Barack Obamas, if you will–the options on the ballot will be little-noticed state legislative contests between candidates of the same party, often with few policy differences.
However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some exciting races happening. From “Who Gets Arrested for Raping a Grandmother?” to “Assemblywoman Caught Up in Sex Scandal with Two Young Men,” there’s been no shortage of nasty drama and mud slinging as voters head to the polls.
Here’s a breakdown of who’s running and why it might matter who wins. The list below focuses on Democratic races because the few Republican primaries in this staunchly blue city tend to have clear favorites or are taking place in such Democratic territory that the victor is reasonably likely to be irrelevant.
So, without further ado…
Category #1: The End of the Rainbow
Four Republicans crossed the aisle to help pass gay marriage in New York last year, and three of them are running for re-election this year, Senators Mark Grisanti, Steve Saland and Roy McDonald, are all facing primary challengers that have come out on the opposite side of the marriage issue.
Advocates on both sides of the debate have invested heavily in these races, and regardless of the outcome, the results are sure to help set a national narrative about what happens to Republicans who support gay marriage. Can otherwise conservative lawmakers survive the backlash, or will their unorthodoxies topple their political careers? As state legislatures across this country consider passing gay marriage themselves, these three races could impact the discussion.
And with campaign literature like this, these races won’t be short on fireworks.
Category #2: Indictment Excitement
There are a number of elected officials running for re-election with various criminal allegations hanging over their heads. If the more ethically challenged ones win and are eventually convicted of abusing their offices, the results of these races might send a depressing message about the state of the electorate. (They have all maintained their innocence.)
State Senator Shirley Huntley, who was arrested a couple weeks ago on charges that she used member items to line the pockets of her friends and family, is facing a very strong primary challenge from Councilman James Sanders. Even before Ms. Huntley’s legal troubles, Mr. Sanders was mounting a credible primary challenge, as his base in Far Rockaway was drawn into her southeastern Queens district in this year’s redistricting process. Mr. Sanders has also picked up support from a number of unions and the influential Rev. Floyd Flake, making this race seem like it’s his to lose at this point.
Assemblyman William Boyland Jr. currently stands accused of one of the more hilarious acts of alleged official impropriety in recent memory – taking bribes to pay for his legal bills he ran up in a separate bribery case. It’s not clear if Mr. Boyland intends to fight the federal charges again or accept a plea deal, but the indictment–with wiretap evidence–seems pretty damning. Damning enough that he’d have a much harder re-election bid ahead of him if it weren’t for the fact that he’s facing eight (!) challengers who will split the anti-Boyland vote. With such a large field, it’s difficult to get a clear read on this Brownsville and Ocean Hill-based district, but activist Tony Herbert and campaign operative Anthony Jones seems to be running some of the stronger non-Boyland campaigns.
Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera is being investigated by a small army of agencies on whether she may have illegally provided jobs to her boyfriends and used a nonprofit’s funds for personal and political purposes. She faces a field of three opponents, but businessman Mark Gjonaj is running the most serious campaign of the bunch, with over $200,000 in his war chest and substantial investments in advertising and field operations. Ms. Rivera won’t go down without a fight, however, and the Bronx Democratic establishment is pulling out all the stops to ensure she pulls out a victory. Will she be able to survive the barrage of bad headlines that have dogged her for the last few weeks and make it through Election Day?
Category #3: Rage Against the Machine
While Ms. Rivera’s race features a classic establishment vs. insurgent dynamic, it’s hardly the only one. Candidates across every borough except Staten Island are running against the folks who are currently in charge. Nowhere is this dynamic more pronounced than Brooklyn, where scandal-scarred Kings County Democratic boss Vito Lopez is still ostensibly in control and has yet to formally relinquish power. If anti-County candidates succeed, it will weaken the organizations’ ability to convince mayoral contenders and other candidates they are still top dogs in this city.
District Leader Lincoln Restler is considered a rising star in Democratic politics, but before he can continue rising, he’s going to have to win a tough reelection battle. Mr. Restler, a prominent critic of Mr. Lopez, would be cruising to reelection but for the fact his opponent, Chris Olechowski, is destined to receive the majority of the ballots in vote-heavy Hasidic Williamsburg. It seems like all the winds are blowing in Mr. Restler’s favor, but given the bloc of votes against him, this will be a race that plenty of political observers will be following Thursday night.
Senator Martin Dilan may or may not be vulnerable, but given his close alliance with Mr. Lopez and the fact that his senate district overlaps with Mr. Lopez’s assembly seat, his reelection race will serve as a test for the machine in Brooklyn’s new political world. While Mr. Dilan would appear to have the edge, attorney Jason Otaño is mounting a vigorous campaign. If Mr. Otaño can make a strong showing, he could be a strong candidate in the future, at the very least.
Open Seat to replace outgoing Assemblywoman Grace Meng: A crowded field of candidates is vying to replace Ms. Meng–who left the her diverse seat based in Asian-majority Flushing to pursue a congressional campaign. The County’s Democratic Party has backed Ron Kim, a former government aide and political operative, but his electoral prospects are far from clear. Ms. Meng has stayed out of the race and a number of other hopefuls, notably former City Council candidate Yen Chou, are in Mr. Kim’s way. The other entrants in this unpredictable race are; Ethel Chen, Myungsuk Lee and Martha Flores-Vasquez.
Open seat to replace outgoing Assemblyman Rory Lancman: Mr. Lancman lost to Ms. Meng in her congressional race’s Democratic primary and isn’t pursuing reelection. His seat, like Ms. Meng’s, is an Asian-majority district in northeastern Queens, but the field couldn’t be more different as it features just two non-Asian candidates: community board chairman Jerry Iannece and former assembly chief of staff Nily Rozic. Queens Democrats are pushing hard for Mr. Iannece, and he would seem to be favored as a result. However, Ms. Rozic has picked up a number of notable endorsements, including The New York Times and various unions, creating a genuine horse race between the two.
State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, who’s also running for reelection in a Queens district that has been reconfigured to be Asian-majority, shouldn’t really be that vulnerable without any major blunders in office and a reliably Democratic voting record. However, she only won 45 percent of the vote in 2010 against two challengers. With a district that now includes new areas, she’s facing a rematch against one of her 2010 foes, John Messer. Mr. Messer, a businessman and attorney, has his placed his personal wealth in the campaign too, to the tune of $500,000. Ms. Stavisky, with close ties to her senate colleagues and Queens County, has been doing plenty of her own fundraising and running an aggressive campaign, however.
Open seat to replace outgoing Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries: Mr. Jeffries is on his way to become Brooklyn’s next congressman and he’s leaving a vacant Fort Greene and Clinton Hill-based district behind him. Three contenders are hoping to replace him; Walter Mosley, Ola Alabi and Martine Guerrier. Mr. Mosley has the support of Mr. Jeffries, who has a strong base in the district, but Ms. Alabi has been racking up endorsements and doesn’t appear to be someone who can be easily counted out. Ms. Guerrier recently earned the endorsement of The Times and could potentially make an electoral mark of her own come Election Day.
Open seat: Pretty much everyone and their mother has endorsed community board chairman Brad Hoylman to replace retiring Senator Tom Duane in his Midtown-based district, but businessman Tommy Greco is hoping he can make a dent with the help of the storied McManus Club. It wold be a pretty surprising upset for Mr. Greco to pull off a victory, however.
Category #4: Demographic Pressures
Like it or not, voting patterns often correspond with with ethnicity and political candidates often seek to take advantage of this fact. Some incumbents hold on year after year in districts that don’t exactly look like them, while others have seen their districts change beneath their feet since they were first elected. Sometimes it all comes down to the political talents of the incumbents, while in other cases, there just might not be a path to victory anymore.
Assemblyman Steve Cymbrowitz is facing a challenge from Ben Akselrod in a race that could demonstrate electoral power of southeastern Brooklyn’s Russian-speaking community. Mr. Akselrod, who started off with a strong campaign, stumbled a bit lately when he release a campaign mailer that referred to crime going up in the “negrohood,” a mistake that generated local and national coverage. Whoever wins will be one of the more vulnerable Democratic candidates in the city, as the district’s Russian and Orthodox Jews communities are increasingly trending conservative at the ballot box.
In a race that will test demographic realities to their very limit, veteran Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs is hoping she can be successfully reelected again in a district that is only 15% white. She is facing a serious challenge from District Leader Rodneyse Bichotte, who is of Caribbean descent. Ms. Jacobs, a high-ranking member of the State Assembly, is hoping for high turnout in the district’s observant Jewish community.
Assemblyman Mike Miller is running for reelection in a district that contains Woodhaven and is plurality Latino. He faces off against Etienne David Adorno, who seems to be mounting a spirited campaign. If Mr. Miller’s fundraising were just a tad stronger, this might not be a race to watch, but his campaign war chest is fairly weak for an incumbent.
Category #5: Odds & Ends
There are some races to keep your thumb on that might not fit into an overarching narrative, but could still be well-worth watching for various reasons. More details below.
State Senator Adriano Espaillat, who narrowly lost a campaign against veteran Rep. Charlie Rangel earlier this year, is now running for reelection and facing a Rangel-backed challenger in Guillermo Linares. Mr. Linares, who’s been endorsed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and The New York Times, hasn’t been holding his own in fundraising, but Mr. Espaillat has been spending lots of money and would appear to have the edge in this Washington Heights and West Side-based district. Mr. Espaillat is a leading contender for Mr. Rangel’s seat in 2014, but his political career could be nipped in the bud if Mr. Linares is able to pull off an upset.
Open seat: With Mr. Linares’ challenge to Mr. Espaillat, there’s a new vacant Assembly district on the northern tip of Manhattan, and several contenders, including Mr. Linares’ daughter Mayra Linares, are hoping to replace him. The other candidates include Assembly aide Gabriela Rosa and former candidate Ruben Vargas. Ms. Rosa, who is backed by Mr. Espaillat, and Ms. Linares, who is obviously being supported by her father, would appear to be the frontrunners. How much Mr. Espaillat and Mr. Linares can impact this race is unknown, however, as both may be focused on their own rivalry.
Councilman Charles Barron has made headlines in recent years with provocative campaigns for governor and congress, both of which he lost badly. However, Mr. Barron is not ready to exit stage right just yet. Insiders believe Mr, Barron and his wife, Assemblywoman Inez Barron, may intend to switch offices and keep their respective seats in the family when he is term-limited in 2013. First, Ms. Barron will have to succeed in her own re-election bid against Chris Banks.
Moshe and Avraham Tischler, brothers who are 20 and 21 years old respectively, are challenging incumbent Assemblyman Dov Hikind and frontrunner State Senate candidate Simcha Felder for two overlapping Brooklyn seats. While neither is especially likely to win, should they post strong showings, it could be taken as a sign of weakness for the two establishment pols they’re opposing, as well as the Orthodox Jewish political establishment at-large. Mr. Hikind doesn’t have a GOP opponent but Mr. Felder is running against incumbent Republican Senator David Storobin, and he’ll need Democrats on his side in the general election.
Assemblywoman Barbara Clark’s ethical issues aren’t quite enough to land her in the “Indictment Excitement” category, but attorney Clyde Vanel is running an active campaign and is hoping that voter dissatisfaction could lead to an upset in her eastern Queens district.
Veteran Assemblyman Nick Perry shouldn’t necessarily be vulnerable, but his opponent, attorney and community board chairman Terry Hinds, has a relatively strong profile.
Well, there you have it. For those who really want to get into the weeds, there are also a number of competitive court races across the city. Otherwise, this list should be more than enough to keep you busy on Election Day. Politicker, of course, will be up late into the night following the results.