SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Even as Tuesday’s election ballots were still being counted, most of the City Council’s 51 members flew down to Puerto Rico for an annual political conference — with an eye on their own campaigns coming up in just a few months.
In between pool parties and piña coladas, of course.
The short turnaround is thanks to this year’s once-a-decade redistricting process. It means Council members elected in 2021 have a truncated 2-year term before another election in newly-drawn districts — which were formally approved just a few weeks ago.
And even though Gov. Kathy Hochul held on to a win against Rep. Lee Zeldin, Tuesday night’s Republican gains around New York have given the mostly blue City Council members something to ponder under the tropical sun.
Most are expecting challengers for the June primary and November general election given the city’s generous 8-to-1 matching campaign finance program — which makes it easier for candidates without deep pockets or big-money donors to run for office — and a short incumbency.
“The nature of the system makes it attractive to run,” Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine told THE CITY about the city’s campaign funding program, which doled out a record number of matching dollars last year.
The newly-drawn district lines also mean some council members have entirely new neighborhoods in their district with just a few months of outreach for their vote.
“In my new district I want to make sure that I get to know the people there as soon as possible and see what their needs are,” Councilmember Lynn Schulman, whose Forest Hills, Queens district now includes more parts of Richmond Hill, told THE CITY at the annual Somos political conference held in Puerto Rico after Election Day.
The 2021 City Council primaries election broke records in terms of the number of candidates, with some district races having more than a dozen competitors — partially thanks to new ranked choice voting and increased matching funds.
Whether all of those challengers try again next year will bear out in the next few months.
“I think between ranked-choice voting and the fact that the election is so soon, if someone came in a close second [last year] I would assume they’re going to try to run again,” Councilmember Justin Brannan (D-Brooklyn) told THE CITY.
Petitioning for the June 2023 primary kicks off in March.
Despite Hochul’s victory Tuesday, some lawmakers saw shifts in longtime Democratic neighborhoods.
In southern Brooklyn, three Assembly members are poised to lose their seats to Republican challengers.Other electeds had said for years their support in those neighborhoods was dwindling.
“I was literally here [at Somos] a year ago, doing a recount,” Brannan said, referring to his close race in the 2021 general election against Republican Brian Fox. Brannan ultimately won after absentee ballot counting. (Fox ran and lost again this year against Sen. Andrew Gounardes in the 22nd district in Brooklyn. It overlaps with much of Brannan’s council district.
They and other elected officials have warned of tough races for Democrats in their districts and across the city.
Parts of Brooklyn are undergoing a “tectonic shift” in terms of political allegiances, he said. But it’s also playing out elsewhere in the city.
“I don’t think folks understand or realize how prominent the Republicans are becoming in my part of Queens,” Councilmember Linda Lee told THE CITY. She represents neighborhoods in the eastern part of the borough, including Bayside Hills, Little Neck, Bellerose, Fresh Meadows and Queens Village.
Her district, which was relatively unchanged in the new maps, gave broad support in last year’s mayoral race to Republican candidate Curtis Sliwa and also came out strongly in support for Zeldin this week. It’s also next to a longstanding Republican Council district, represented by Vickie Paladino.
“I think [the Democrats] need to definitely strategize, figure out, come together as a party and figure out how we’re going to address it because I’m hoping that people will pay attention to what we’ve been saying for the last few years,” Lee said.
‘What Do We Stand For’
Upper West Side Councilmember Gale Brewer, a longtime elected official who returned to the council after eight years as Manhattan borough president, said the Democratic party should look at some of their local losses and re-assess their outreach and messaging.
“It’s not ‘We don’t like Republicans,’ it’s, ‘What do we stand for?” she told THE CITY.
“I think people are on edge about not just public safety and the economy, what you hear about, but they’re on edge about schools, they’re on edge about jobs… they’re on edge about everything,” she said.
“And so you have to be able to meet them where they’re at. And I think if you don’t do that, then people are going to react.”
For Joe Borelli, the Republican Council’s minority leader from Staten Island’s South Shore, he said the results of the gubernatorial race serve as a “heat map” of where they could potentially pick up more seats. There are currently five registered Republicans in the 51-member body.
“You find the blotches of red and pink and you go there,” he told THE CITY of Republican support across the city.
“We have a lot of positive signs for the Republican Party in the city. And we’re not going to sit on our heels,” he added.