Governor Andrew Cuomo had an awful final week of his primary campaign, mired in scandals over a nasty mailer sent out by the New York State Democratic Committee, but it didn’t matter in the long run. He won easily over challenger Cynthia Nixon, capturing 65% if the vote, making him a strong favorite to go onto a third term as governor in the general election in November, where he will face Republican Marc Molinaro — but could also see Cynthia Nixon’s name on the Working Families Party line, as well as former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, a frequent critic of Cuomo, who will be on the ballot on another line. Howie Hawkins is the Green Party candidate.
In a recent poll by the Queens Tribune, registered Democrats in the borough backed Cuomo 60% to 15% for Nixon with 25% undecided. With 98% of Queens precincts reporting Cuomo captured roughly 74% of the vote in the borough to 26% for Nixon.
The surprise of the night was in the Lt. Governor’s race. Cuomo’s running mate and incumbent Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul held off a close challenge from New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams, capturing 53% of the vote, with 98% of precincts reporting. Hochul, a former Congresswoman from the Buffalo-area, has been one of Gov. Cuomo’s most vocal supporters, making appearances throughout the state on his behalf since she took office in 2015.
In the race for Attorney General, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James held off challenges from Prof. Zephyr Teachout, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney and Leecia Eve, winning with just over 40% of the vote. James was endorsed by Gov. Cuomo and the vast majority of elected Democrats, but was not the preferred choice of the city’s major daily newspapers the New York Times and the Daily News, who supported Teachout.
Cuomo, Hochul and James were all bolstered in the final weeks of the campaign by campaign ads from the state Democratic party, presenting them as a united ticket to stand up to President Donald Trump and his administration’s actions.
Traditionally, turnout in primary elections is extremely low. In 2014, 574,350 Democrats voted in the governor’s race between Cuomo and Zephyr Teachout. This year, turnout was nearly three times higher with more than 1.45 million votes cast with 98% of precincts reporting.
The two Queens state Senators who were members of the former Independent Democratic Conference — Jose Peralta (D-Elmhurst) and Tony Avella (D-Bayside) — found themselves on the losing side of primary challenges Thursday night — as six of eight IDC members lost to primary challengers across the state.
John Liu, former city comptroller and city councilman, defeated Avella 53 to 47 in the Northern Queens district that is comprised mostly of College Point, Whitestone, Bayside. In 2014, Liu lost to Avella, challenging the senator because he had recently joined the IDC – a breakaway group of Democrats who worked closely with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Republicans to pass bills in the closely divided legislative body.
This year, Liu began campaigning later than other IDC challengers, choosing to get into the race at the beginning of July. Through the campaign, Liu was laser-focused in tying the lack of progressive legislation like protecting women’s health and education funding to Avella’s decision to bolster Republicans by caucusing with the IDC.
Just recently, on Sept. 7, Liu called for voting reform since New York is one of the few states that do not partake in early voting and because politicians are able to change their party lines and or create separate party affiliations such as the IDC.
“It doesn’t make any sense that here in New York you have to change your party affiliation a year before the next election,” said Liu. “Most of the reason people even want to change their party is because they are excited about a candidate, and campaigns generally don’t start a whole year earlier! New York is dead last in this law. Millions are disenfranchised by confusing deadlines while every other state without an open primary has a more reasonable date for voters to decide how they want to vote. We have to change this.”
Further West in Queens, activist Jessica Ramos knocked off her childhood friend Jose Peralta thanks to a grassroots campaign and endorsements from progressives like City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, winning 55% of the vote.
Ramos, who has lived in District 13 her entire life, told the Queens Tribune back in August that her parents helped Peralta’s campaign when he first ran for state senate back in 2010. She decided to run against him after her fellow neighbors and now constituents expressed their concerns that they didn’t feel their senator had their backs.
When Peralta announced that he would be the seventh member of the IDC in January 2017, he said he made that decision so that he could have a “seat at the table,” which as a result has provided funds for the district and several pieces of legislation passed.
However, Ramos said that wasn’t enough and has since been campaigning on issues such as public transportation, women’s reproductive health, affordable housing, housing reform, funding for public schools, immigration rights and more.
“For a long time, [women] felt like we could trust certain men to have our backs, but then after eight years, they haven’t been able to step up to the plate to protect us. At some point, as a woman, you have to say, ‘I can do it myself, thank you,’” Ramos told the Tribune.
Social media was buzzing following the night’s results, given that every former IDC member loss their races.
Bill Lipton, director of the New York Working Families Party – an organization that not only educated the communities on the IDC, but acted as mentors to all IDC challengers – said in a statement released immediately after the results were in, that “New York politics changed forever.”
“The IDC is dead,” said Lipton. “The center of gravity has shifted, and Andrew Cuomo will face a radically different Albany. For years, Cuomo, the IDC and the Republicans led a government which blocked countless progressive policies. Now, the WFP and a progressive insurgency has ended the IDC, and Cuomo will have to deal with something new for him after November: a Democratic legislature. A new generation of leaders are heading to Albany to fight for a New York that works for the many, not the fortunate few. We look forward to working with them to put a powerful, visionary, and progressive agenda on Cuomo’s desk next year.”
Although Liu and Ramos won the primary race against their opponents, Peralta and Avella could appear in the general election ballot in November because they have already secured spots on minor party lines.
Peralta is on the Independence, Reform and Women’s Equality party lines and Avella is on the Independence and Women’s Equality party lines.
Liu will also face Republican Vicky Paladino, who defeated challenger Simon Minching 57% to 43% in Thursday’s GOP primary.
There were three contested Assembly races on Thursday. In District 39, Catalina Cruz—who previously worked as chief of staff for former Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland—edged out incumbent Assemblywoman Ari Espinal (D-Jackson Heights) and Yonel Sosa, a former chief of staff for state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-Elmhurst). Cruz took 54 percent of the vote, while Espinal earned 43 percent and Sosa received 3 percent.
During the race, Cruz—who was born in Colombia—focused on immigrant rights, education, women’s rights, senior services, healthcare and criminal justice reform, while Espinal touted her record for allocating funding toward immigration, women’s rights, union rights, education, fighting overdevelopment and LGBTQ rights.
In District 33, Assemblyman Brian Barnwell (D-Maspeth) easily fended off Melissa Sklarz, a longtime LGBTQ and civic activist. Barnwell received 65 percent of the vote, while Sklarz took 34 percent. During the campaign, Barnwell said that housing was the top concern in the district, and boasted that his office had solved more than 2,000 constituent concerns in the past two years. Sklarz said that she decided to run following the election of President Donald Trump, and had taken congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise win over U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) as a sign that Queens Democrats are ready for change.
And in the 33rd District, Assemblyman Clyde Vanel (D-Queens Village) bested civic leader Oster Bryan. Vanel won 79 percent of the vote, while Bryan received 20 percent. In his reelection bid, Vanel noted that voters in his district prioritized jobs, and he intends to focus tax and other policies to encourage job creation. The assemblyman said that he also intends to address the “education emergency” in his district, where several schools have closed. Bryan, who had helped with Vanel’s first run against Assemblywoman Barbara Clark, noted that he was running on a reparations platform for an underrepresented African-American community. He believed that the district needs a representative who will be “stubborn” when fighting for the community.
Queens’ other Assembly members did not face primary challengers.