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Cracks in the Foundation

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eye on the news

Cracks in the Foundation

New York remains a one-party state, but signs of dissent emerge. November 3, 2021
Politics and law
New York

The topline results of the New York City elections conformed to expectations. Eric Adams, a retired NYPD captain, former state senator, and current Brooklyn borough president, handily defeated Curtis Sliwa, the municipal gadfly and founder of the Guardian Angels, to become the city’s second black mayor. Jumaane Williams and Brad Lander, leftists from the defund-the-police wing of the Democratic Party, won their citywide races for public advocate and comptroller, respectively.

Turnout was typically low, with about 23 percent of the electorate casting votes. In the 1950s, 90 percent turnout in municipal elections was customary. Generous public financing of campaigns, early voting, and term limits were all supposed to improve civic engagement and drive turnout up, but to no avail.

Democrats retain overwhelming control of New York from top to bottom, but yesterday’s election showed some thin red cracks forming in the blue bedrock of the city’s political foundation—not enough to threaten the corruption and cronyism that define New York City governance at present, but promising indicators that could one day shatter its underpinning.

Currently, New York’s city council, composed of 51 members, has just three Republicans: two from Staten Island’s ruby-red mid-island and South Shore districts (both of which were retained), and one from Queens, encompassing Ozone Park, Howard Beach, and Breezy Point, the legendary “Irish Riviera.” The returns are still preliminary as of this writing, but it appears that the GOP could double the size of its council delegation to six.

The Queens seat, currently held by term-limited Eric Ulrich, was contested by Joanne Ariola, head of the county Republican Party, and Democrat Felicia Singh. Singh was heavily backed by the city’s progressive core and received support from the UFT and labor powerhouse 1199. She also got the nod from such radical groups as the pro-defund Black Lives Caucus and the anti-Zionist, perversely named Jewish Vote group. Ariola retained the seat for the GOP in a surprise walkover, winning 67 percent of the vote.

Southern Brooklyn’s District 48 includes Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay, home to many Jews and emigres from the former Soviet Union. Somewhat conservative, this district nonetheless has a plurality Democrat registration, and always elects Democrats to the council. But this year, a dark-horse Republican candidate, Ukrainian-born attorney Inna Vernikov, beat the Democratic candidate, Steven Saperstein (who ran for office in 2018 as a Republican) in a landslide. Vernikov raised eyebrows when Donald Trump, Jr. recorded a robocall on her behalf—but “Trump” is not a dirty word in this part of Brooklyn, which contains thousands of units of solid red-brick private housing built by Fred C. Trump in the prewar years, and where nobody would think of changing the name of the “Trump Village” apartment complex on Neptune Avenue.

To the east, in Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst, incumbent Justin Brannan—a former punk-rock singer tipped as a likely speaker candidate in the next city council—narrowly trails Brian Fox, his Republican challenger, though the number of outstanding ballots remaining exceeds the slim margin. It’s exceedingly rare that incumbent council members lose, happening at most once per election cycle, and usually through a primary challenge. Brannan’s antics included tweeting emo song lyrics during the middle of the workday, perhaps turning off enough of his meat-and-potatoes district to make a difference.

In northeastern Queens, bordering on Nassau County, Democrat Tony Avella made a game effort to reclaim his old council seat in District 19. For now, he trails Vickie Paladino in what would be a major upset, though enough absentee ballots remain to make the race a photo finish. Paladino gained notoriety in 2017 when she harangued Mayor Bill de Blasio on the street. Video of the scene went viral. Paladino became a fixture in county politics and now seems to be on her way to the city council.

Voters apparently rejected several significant ballot measures related to the loosening of election procedures. Question 1 would have changed the redistricting process to count prisoners as part of their prior home district rather than as residents of their prisons and would have formally counted illegal aliens for the purpose of redistricting. This measure seems to have been defeated. Question 3 would eliminate the current ten-day voter-registration requirement, opening the door to same-day registration, with no opportunities to verify addresses or identity; Question 4 would permit no-excuse absentee balloting. Both measures are clearly part of the nationwide effort to deform voting-access laws to make elections as insecure as possible, in the name of expanding democracy, but apparently have been rejected by the voters, who don’t mind maintaining some basic rules around who gets to cast a ballot.

Finally, in Buffalo, socialist India Walton, who captured the Democratic line for mayor, appears to have lost to a blank ballot line. Despite bringing heavy-hitter leftist heroes like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jumaane Williams, Elizabeth Warren, and Cynthia Nixon to campaign on her behalf, Walton seems to have lost to a massive write-in campaign for the incumbent mayor and typical big-city machine pol, Byron Brown. Walton’s candidacy received breathless coverage in prestige media outlets, which ate up the narrative of her rise from poverty. But Brown appears poised to retain his office.

In sum, New York’s top political leadership remains Democratic. But some glimmers of change could portend a shake-up—if not tomorrow, then maybe four or eight years from now.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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