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Democrat Justin Brannan Declares Brooklyn Council Seat Victory in Squeaker

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Brooklyn Councilmember Justin Brannan holds an event at the SOMOS conference in Puerto Rico, Nov. 4, 2021.

Katie Honan/THE CITY

City Councilmember Justin Brannan (D-Brooklyn) declared victory Tuesday in a tight race as mail-in ballot tallies erased his Republican challenger’s narrow lead.

First-time GOP candidate Brian Fox had emerged from Election Day on Nov. 2 with a 255 vote lead over Brannan in the race for the Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights district following in-person balloting. Now Brannan’s apparent victory clears the way for him to pursue his bid to become the Council’s next speaker.

In a statement, Brannan’s campaign said he’d overcome the deficit, thanks to a count of absentee and affidavit ballots that began early Monday. Brannan surpassed Fox by over 400 votes — “larger than the number of ballots remaining to count,” the Democrat’s campaign said.

Fox, who runs a tech staffing company out of his Bay Ridge apartment, had campaigned on grievances about vaccination mandates for city workers and cuts to the NYPD budget. 

Board of Elections workers count absentee ballots in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, Nov. 15, 2021.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The contest was one of several in Brooklyn and Queens where Republicans ran competitively for seats historically held by Democrats — including one, Inna Vernikov in Sheepshead Bay, who won on Election Night. 

Also on Tuesday, Republican Vickie Paladino declared victory in the contest to represent Whitestone in Queens, according to NY1 News — but her opponent, Tony Avella, declined to concede.

Another Democrat running for an open seat, Ari Kagan, also declared victory Tuesday in the absentee ballot tally, defeating Republican Mark Szuszkiewicz, who conceded.

If Paladino’s win is ultimately certified by the Board of Elections, that would bring the total number of Republicans in the 51-member Council to five, up from three.

Brannan is one of several Council members seeking the powerful position of speaker, lobbying fellow lawmakers for support even before the absentee ballots were counted.

“Up against a red wave driven by misinformation, lies, and one of the dirtiest campaigns Southern Brooklyn has ever seen, we prevailed because we refused to be defined by simplistic right or left labels and instead focused on delivering for the hardworking people who call this district home,” Brannan said. 

‘Change is Needed’

A spokesperson for the city Board of Elections said the election results won’t be certified until Nov. 30. The political campaigns closely observed the unofficial vote tallies at a BOE ballot counting hall in Sunset Park.

Brooklyn’s 43rd Council District encompasses Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, ​​Bensonhurst and Bath Beach, and has been in the Democratic hands since 2003.    

During the vote count, Brannan accused Fox of making hundreds of frivolous challenges to validly cast absentee ballots, disenfranchising voters of color. Fox’s campaign manager denied the charge to THE CITY.

Fox also raised the specter of dead Democrats voting after spotting two ballots cast in the name of deceased voters. At least one of the ballots was declared invalid by the Board of Elections, the New York Post reported.

In Fox’s concession, he said that the race deepened his conviction that “change is needed within the City Council if we want to restore the quality of life New Yorkers expect.” 

“Although we came up short in the end, we managed to come within one percentage point of victory, something none of the so-called experts predicted,” Fox said in a statement.   

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