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Primary Day Is Next Week. Here Are Key Contests to Watch in New York City.

Voting in Manhattan, 2018.
Voting in Manhattan, 2018.
NYCStock/Shutterstock

New York’s 2020 primary elections are just a week away, offering a crowded field in an era of social distancing.

More people than ever have requested absentee ballots as they plan to vote remotely. Meanwhile, measures to keep people safely apart at the polls are already underway at early voting sites.

The city’s first pandemic election isn’t lacking for races.

A total of 51 state and federal primary contests are set to take place within the five boroughs on June 23, according to a tally from the city’s Campaign Finance Board. In addition, ballots for some will include a contentious battle for Queens borough president and plenty of contests for state district leader spots.

Eleven Congressional districts are on the primary ballot and many longtime incumbents are fighting to keep their seats, including Reps. Eliot Engel and Yvette Clarke.

Some races feature more than one or two challengers: In The Bronx, 10 Democrats are vying to replace retiring longtime Rep. José Serrano.

And by the nature of New York politics, a Democratic primary win is often all a candidate needs to coast in the general election.

Ahead of primary day, THE CITY rounded up some of the most notable and competitive contests.

Get more information about which candidates will be on your ballot by visiting the NYC Votes voter guide from the CFB or Vote411.org from the League of Women Voters.

You also can find out who will be on your local ballot with this tool from the city Board Of Elections. Plug in your address, then click the button for “Ballot Information.”

House Races

With 11 races and multiple candidates in some, you need an election scorecard to keep the players straight. Here are some of the contests to watch:

South Bronx’ Crowded Contest

Serrano’s decision not to seek re-election put the most left-leaning congressional district in the nation in play, and has drawn the interest of a wash of familiar local names. That includes City Council colleagues Ruben Diaz Sr., Ydanis Rodriguez and Ritchie Torres and former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Assemblymember Michael Blake is also hoping for a win.

Councilmember Rubén Díaz Sr. attends a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Parque de los Niños in Soundview with his son, Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr. (right), and State Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, on Aug. 13, 2019.
Councilmember Rubén Díaz Sr. attends a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Parque de los Niños in Soundview with his son, Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr. (right), and State Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, on Aug. 13, 2019.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Some political newcomers with their eye on the seat are DSA-backed organizer Samelys Lopez, endorsed recently by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; Chivona Newsome, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter NY; and Tomas Ramos, former program director at Bronx River Houses.

Though Torres has led in fundraising and picked up a New York Times endorsement, some observers note the crowded field of progressive candidates and name recognition could help the cause of 77-year-old Diaz, who has been assailed for a history of homophobic remarks.

Engel’s Last Stand?

Engel is in his 16th — and possibly last — term in New York’s 16th District, which straddles The Bronx and Westchester.

Chair of the House’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Engel was initially challenged by a pair of progressive contenders, both former educators: Jamaal Bowman and Andom Ghebreghiorgis.

Ghebreghiorgis later ended his campaign, endorsing Bowman. The consolidation of progressive power led to endorsements from Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, as well as a New York Times nod.

Meanwhile, the last few months have been rough for Engel, politically: In May it was revealed he had spent much of New York’s lockdown outside the state, and he was recently caught on a hot mic saying that if he weren’t being primaried, he “wouldn’t care” about addressing a Bronx news conference. Still, he got an endorsement on Monday from one of the party’s best-known figures: Hillary Clinton.

AOC Faces CNBC

Arguably the biggest name in the local races, first-termer Ocasio-Cortez, whose district spans Queens and The Bronx, is being challenged by a handful of Democrats. Among them: Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, a former CNBC contributor who filed a successful challenge to knock Ocasio-Cortez off of the Working Families Party line.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at the Parkchester station in The Bronx, July 31, 2019.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at the Parkchester station in The Bronx, July 31, 2019.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Clarke’s Trio of Challengers

In Brooklyn, seven-term Rep. Yvette Clarke is facing three challengers who span the Democratic spectrum.

Adem Bunkeddeko, who came within 2,000 votes of unseating Clarke in 2018, is running again. The anti-poverty strategist has embraced ideas from the rising left wing, such as the Green New Deal, and earned his second New York Times endorsement.

Isiah James, an Army veteran and Democratic Socialist, is also facing Clarke. The political newcomer has struggled with fundraising. But he’s earned high-profile endorsements from prominent left leaning groups, including Brand New Congress, which boosted AOC’s bid two years ago.

The race’s wildcard is term-limited Councilmember Chaim Deutsch (D-Brooklyn), a relative conservative who threw himself in the race in January. Deutsch, who is endorsed by the Police Benevolent Association and has positioned himself as an advocate for law enforcement, could pose a threat to Clarke in the district’s southern neighborhoods, which helped carry her 2018 primary victory against Bunkeddeko.

Thorns in Rose’s Side

On Staten Island, two Republican candidates are vying for a chance to go up against freshman Democratic Congressman Max Rose in November.

Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis and former Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney Joseph Caldarera have both aligned themselves with President Donald Trump. But, with supportive tweets from Trump himself and increased name recognition from her 2017 mayoral challenge, the primary race appears to be Malliotakis’ to lose.

State Races

Across Queens and Brooklyn, some incumbents who have been in office for decades are being challenged by political newcomers.

A DSA Contender in Astoria

Assemblymember Aravella Simotas, who represents parts of Long Island City and Astoria, is being challenged by Zohran Mamdani, a leader in the Queens Democratic Socialists of America branch and a housing counselor for the nonprofit immigrant advocacy group Chhaya CDC. He is running on a campaign of establishing universal rent control, defunding the NYPD, and taxing Wall Street to make public transit free.

Double Fight for Nolan

Assemblymember Cathy Nolan, whose district also covers parts of Long Island City, Astoria as well as Sunnyside and Ridgewood, has been in office for 35 years. She is being challenged by two Democrats.

One, Danielle Brecker, a lead organizer for the grassroots political group Empire State Indivisible, is campaigning on taxing the rich to fund healthcare, housing, and education. The other, Mary Jobaida, a co-founder of Bangladeshi Americans for Political Progress, has said that if sent to Albany she would fight to implement universal childcare, curb the influence of the fossil fuel industry, and put term limits in place for elected state officials.

A First Time Challenge for DenDekker

Four challengers are up against Assemblymember Michael DenDekker, who has never faced a primary in his six terms representing Woodside, Jackson Heights and East Elmhurst.

Nuala O’Doherty-Naranjo, a community organizer and former prosecutor, has prioritized criminal justice reforms such as funding supportive social services and scaling back the NYPD’s reach.

Jessica González-Rojas, the former executive director of the National Latina Institute, is campaigning on a platform of universal health care, a rent freeze, and funding public schools and CUNY. Joy Chowdhury, a taxi driver and labor organizer, has made supporting gig economy workers one of his key issues.

Little is known about the fourth challenger, Angel Cruz.

Ortiz’s Brooklyn Battle

Longtime Sunset Park Assemblymember Félix Ortiz, who serves as assistant speaker of the Assembly, faces three challengers — all progressive women raised in the district he’s represented for a quarter century.

Katherine Walsh, an urban planner and former teacher, is running on a campaign focused on environmental justice. Génesis Aquino, a Dominican Republic-born organizer who previously ran for female district leader, has placed immigration issues at the forefront of her campaign.

But the hopeful with the biggest heat is arguably Marcela Mitaynes, who has racked up a series of high-profile endorsements — including from the DSA and Ocasio-Cortez. Mitaynes, who was born in Peru, is a long-time tenant organizer and has pledged to fully fund NYCHA and expand tenant protections if elected.

Hanging over the race for Ortiz: In August 2019, his then-chief of staff was arrested by the FBI and charged with wire fraud, accused of stealing $80,000 from his boss’ campaign.

Lentol Pushes Half-Century Mark

Assemblymember Joe Lentol has represented North Brooklyn in the state legislature for the last 47 years, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.

Now he’s facing his first primary challenger in a decade: Emily Gallagher, a Greenpoint activist and community board member, who launched her upstart Democratic primary campaign for the 50th Assembly District in September, on a platform based on housing guarantees and government reform.

A Two-Borough Race to the Right

Two Republicans are racing to the right of each other to grab the last GOP-held seat in Brooklyn, in an Assembly district that encompasses a piece of Bay Ridge and Staten Island’s East Shore.

Former prosecutor Michael Tannousis is backed by the state Republican party, Donald Trump Jr. and the outgoing incumbent, Malliotakis. Marko Kepi, a Marine veteran and formidable fundraiser, is supported by former pols familiar to the district: ex-Rep. Michael Grimm, and ex-state Sen. Marty Golden. Both candidates have campaigned on reopening the city faster.

Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis.
Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis.
New York State Assembly

City Races

Last year’s Queens district attorney’s race, in which Borough President Melinda Katz edged upstart Tiffany Cabán in a hotly contested recount, emerged as perhaps the most compelling New York City race of 2019. Now, the contest to replace Katz as beep is dominating the local electoral landscape.

Queens Borough President Drama

It’s been a tumultuous few months in the borough president’s race, with changing terrain caused by a series of blurry, pandemic-driven decisions at both the city and state level.

First, the March 24 non-partisan special election was canceled by Mayor Bill de Blasio with two-weeks’ notice, despite more than 2,500 absentee ballots already cast in early voting. Then the contest to replace Katz was postponed to June 23 — the same day the primary to permanently fill the seat was supposed to take place.

The special election was ultimately cancelled in late April, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order officially mandating that the borough president post would be filled with the general election in November.

There were six candidates vying to be the next Queens borough president, but the elimination of the special election knocked former prosecutor James Quinn out of the race.

The five names still on the ballot are Councilmembers Costa Constantinides and Donovan Richards, former Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley, retired NYPD Sergeant Anthony Miranda, and Dao Yin, previously a corporate controller.

Brooklyn Ballot Bumping

The race to replace former City Council member Rafael Espinal — who resigned in January from the Brooklyn seat representing a V-shaped district that runs from Bushwick to East New York — was reduced to just one candidate.

Darma Diaz, the Brooklyn Democratic Party-backed district leader, was the only hopeful to survive a string of alternating city Board of Election and state court rulings regarding the number of petition signatures a candidate needed to remain on the ballot. The issue took a more prominent role this year because in-person collection of signatures was impeded by the coronavirus outbreak.

Councilmember Rafael Espinal
Councilmember Rafael Espinal speaks in Brooklyn during the 2019 public advocate special election.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

In the most recent decision, the state court Appellate Division agreed with the city BOE’s interpretation of a Cuomo executive order that set the minimum number of signatures needed at 270 — much higher than the 135 minimum some of the candidates thought was in place.

That bumped two of the candidates off the ballot: East New York businessman Misba Abdin and law librarian Kimberly Council. Two other candidates were tossed from the ballot over technicalities in late April. Council told THE CITY she sought an appeal with the New York Court of Appeals, but the justices wouldn’t intervene.

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