A pair of first-time candidates in Harlem and Brownsville appear to have won Democratic primary races over long-time leaders in those neighborhoods.

Preliminary votes from the city Board of Elections show Chris Banks, a local community organizer and nonprofit worker, is hundreds of votes up over Councilmember Charles Barron, who has represented the area in either the Council or the state legislature for nearly a quarter century. 

Chris Banks Credit: Chris Banks/Facebook

In Harlem’s closely-watched race for the open seat vacated by incumbent Councilmember Kristin Richardson Jordan, first-time candidate Yusef Salaam — who was exonerated alongside the rest of the Central Park Five in 2020 — pulled in nearly double the number of votes garnered by Assemblymember Inez Dickens, who has held city- and state-level seats in Harlem for more than 20 years.

A Dickens campaign official told reporters earlier Tuesday that it appeared she had lost, based on the votes that had already come in. 

The Harlem race, however, has not been officially determined, as Salaam had 50.01% of the vote as of 11:08 p.m. Tuesday night, very close to the more than 50% threshold set by the city BOE for a decisive win. 

Not all votes have yet been counted. All absentee ballots delivered to the BOE on Saturday or later have not been included in Tuesday’s preliminary vote counts. The Board plans to run a ranked-choice tally for the Harlem district next week taking into account voters’ second-place choices, Gothamist reported Tuesday evening.

“I am here because Harlem, you believed in me. Harlem has spoken,” Salaam said at his party Tuesday evening at Harlem Tavern. He said that one of his daughters had asked him about if he lost the election, and he’d told her, “Thank God if we win, and thank God if we lose.”

He went on: “We won ya’ll.” 

His mother, Sharonne Salaam, had told THE CITY earlier in the night that “he’s going to be very positive in the City Council.”

“I think that the things that were done in the past will be changed because he’ll have a new vision for how Harlem should be,” she said.

In Brooklyn, Banks appeared poised to become the Democratic nominee for the Council seat that’s been held by Charles Barron or his wife, Inez Barron, for more than two decades, with 50.64% of the vote and 96.64% of scanners in as of 10:20 p.m. Tuesday night. 

While Barron couldn’t be immediately reached for comment, Banks was already claiming victory. 

“The people held him accountable tonight and we thank them for the opportunity and, we’re moving forward as the Democratic nominee,” he said in a phone call with THE CITY. 

“Charles was out of touch with his district. He took his eye off the district. This is a referendum on his 22 years in office.” 

‘Are We Gonna Be OK?’

In the crowded race for a newly drawn majority-Asian district in South Brooklyn, there were primary races for both the Democratic and Republican parties. Susan Zhuang, the former chief of staff to Assemblymember William Colton definitively clinched the Democratic nomination with 57% of voters, or 1,800 votes as of 10:20 p.m. Republican candidate Ying Tang appeared to have secured the Republican nomination, teeing up a fierce general election fight. 

Credit: Gwynne Hogan/THE CITY

“I raise my children in this community. I want to make sure they are safe,” Zhuang said, speaking from her primary night party at the United Progressive Democratic Club in Bensonhurst. “I want to make sure they have a good education.”

Public safety and crime also played a central role in the campaigns of many candidates in the race and were at the top of many voters’ minds as they headed to the polls. 

“Safety around the neighborhood is my main concern, there’s been a lot more homelessness and crime,” said 26-year-old voter Winnie, who declined to give her last name and who said she ranked Zhuang first. 

Elsewhere, more than a dozen incumbents in contested primaries came out on top in contested Democratic primaries across the city, including Council members Marjorie Velázquez in the northeast Bronx, Julie Won in western Queens and Darlene Mealy in eastern Brooklyn.

Velázquez drew on strong union support to fend off competition from three Democrats challenging her in the primary. Now she faces a tough race in November in the politically mixed district that covers Throggs Neck and the surrounding areas. That will be against either Kristy Marmorato or George Havranek, who were separated by just 56 votes as of 10:25 p.m. in a race where ranked choice preferences appear likely to come into play. 

Like Velasquez, Won fended off a well-organized rematch against challenger Hallie Kim, who had previously ran against her for the seat in 2021. While Won took heat for negotiating a deal over Innovation QNS, a controversial $2 billion development project near Northern Boulevard expected to yield 3,200 apartments, voters gave her a strong win on Tuesday, with more than 60% of the vote. 

“Even when people were like, ‘Don’t worry Julie, you’ll be fine,’ I guarantee I was outside like, ‘Are we gonna be OK?’” Won said during a celebratory speech in Sunnyside. “And we won! Julie won!”

Darlene Mealy, who is seeking a fifth term in the Council, was able to fend off challenges from public housing tenant leader Reginald Bowman and Isis McIntosh-Green, a former chief of staff to her political rival Assembly member Latrice Walker.

In Queens and The Bronx, both incumbent district attorneys — Democrats Melinda Katz and Darcel Clark — easily won their primaries. Katz had faced challengers on both her left and right, but she and Clark, who faced a progressive challenger, Tess Cohen, both won the support of over 70% of voters who turned out. 

The Queens contest drew about 60,000 voters according to the Board of Elections unofficial tally while the Bronx one drew fewer than half that number. 

Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark celebrated her victory at Con Sofrito in Westchester Square on Tuesday night. 

Credit: Jonathan Custodio/THE CITY

“I firmly believe that safety and justice go hand-in-hand and I’m more energized than ever to make sure we continue this work,” she told a crowd of supporters. 

In a primary election where every City Council seat was nominally up for grabs, many voters had ballots with no choices at all for their representative. Only two districts — the newly created one in Brooklyn and Velasquez’s district in The Bronx — had primaries for both parties, and the Harlem race looked likely to be the only district level contest to attract as many as 10,000 voters.

Just over 149,400 total voters turned out in early voting and on primary day, and only two of 51 districts even had primaries for both major parties. The highest turnout Council race, for a rare open seat in Harlem, drew in just 10,800 voters.

In The Bronx, a poll worker at M.S. 101 in Throggs Neck said turnout had been lower than usual, while another poll worker stationed at Zoodohos Peghe Greek Orthodox Church in Pelham Bay told THE CITY that just 69 people had voted there by 8:30pm, 49 of whom were Democrats. 

Outside I.S. 125 in Sunnyside, volunteers from Won and Kim’s dueling campaigns both noted that many people were unaware that an election was taking place.

“Some people were shocked, like, ‘An election? Today?’” said 23-year-old Nellie Martinez, who was volunteering for the Won campaign. “Some people didn’t know, and some people just didn’t care.”

Not all New York voters had anything to vote on, however; in Staten Island, for example, no primary contests took place, for City Council, district attorney or any judge positions.

A number of races in the city’s more politically mixed areas will not be settled until the November election. In Queens, Republican incumbent Vickie Palladino will have to defend her seat against the winner of a Democratic primary race that is still too close to call. In that contest, career Democrat Tony Avella is leading first-time candidate and former Queens prosecutor Christopher Bae by just about 2%, with Avella claiming 38.97% of the votes and Bae at 36.81% with 98.68% of the scanners counted as of 11 p.m. Tuesday night.

That also means the race between the Democrats likely won’t be settled until ranked-choice votes for each candidate are tallied next week.

In Brooklyn, where Republicans managed to flip several seats in the assembly last fall as the Asian electorate has shifted right, specifically over issues like public safety, the stage is set for fierce general election showdowns in several districts in the southern part of the borough. 

Two incumbents — newly declared Republican Ari Kagan and Democrat Justin Brannan — will face off in a newly carved District 47 that bridges parts of Bay Ridge with Coney Island. 

And incumbent councilmember Republican Inna Vernikov faces a Democratic challenge from Amber Adler, an Orthodox Jewish community advocate, featured in the Netflix documentary “My Unorthodox Life.” The two are vying to represent District 48, which spans parts of Manhattan Beach, Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay.