Democratic Party Establishment Shaken by Primary Results

In the June 23 Democratic primary elections, six challengers running on unabashedly progressive, even socialist platforms unseated incumbent Assemblymembers in Brooklyn and Queens.

In Queens, Jessica González-Rojas defeated Michael DenDekker, Jenifer Rajkumar ousted Michael Miller, and Zohran Mamdani won against Aravella Simotas. The Brooklyn winners: Emily Gallagher bested Joseph Lentol (first elected in 1972), Marcela Mitaynes beat 26-year incumbent Felix Ortiz, and Phara Souffrant Forrest will replace Walter Mosley.

Mitaynes is a well-known tenant organizer in Sunset Park and a longtime board member of Tenants PAC. Souffrant Forrest is a nurse and a member of the Crown Heights Tenant Union. In June of last year, they were both arrested blocking the entrance to the Assembly chamber in Albany to protest Speaker Carl Heastie’s refusal to support the bill to prohibit evictions without good cause.

Mamdani, Mitaynes, and Souffrant Forrest were three of the four candidates supported by the New York City chapter of Democratic Socialists of America. The fourth is Jabari Brisport, who won a three-way race for the central Brooklyn state Senate seat being vacated by Velmanette Montgomery. He greatly outpolled Assemblymember Tremaine Wright, who actively opposed stronger rent laws last year, although she ultimately voted for the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019.

All four had close ties to tenant organizations and ran on a housing-is-ahuman- right platform. This four-race sweep by DSA stunned the political establishment, and represented in particular a setback for Heastie, who poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into defending his incumbents.

A prime reason that most members fall into the get-along, go-along mode once they are elected is the expectation that the speaker and his Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee will help them get re-elected. With six of his incumbents ousted, Heastie is undeniably weakened and DACC’s reputation as an all-powerful juggernaut is in shreds.

Whether this becomes a threat to his re-election as speaker next year remains to be seen. But it almost certainly means that the small group of members who are willing to oppose him internally on policy will be noticeably larger — a significant change in the Assembly, where leadership has been much more top-down than in the Senate.

Other progressive candidates won competitive primaries for open seats, including youth organizer Khaleel Anderson of Far Rockaway, who at 24 will be the youngest person elected to the Assembly in history. Progressives can also look to Chantel Jackson and Amanda Septimo in the Bronx, Anna Kelles in Ithaca, and Sarah Clark and Demond Meeks in Rochester as new allies.

Brisport’s election in November, virtually guaranteed as the district is overwhelmingly Democratic, will bring a second democratic socialist to the Senate. He will join Julia Salazar of Brooklyn, who swatted down a challenger from the right.

Several pro-tenant incumbents beat back primary challengers, including Senators Alessandra Biaggi in the Bronx, Michael Gianaris and Jessica Ramos in Queens, and Brad Hoylman and Robert Jackson in Manhattan, as did Assemblymembers Catalina Cruz and Ron Kim in Queens, Yuh-Line Niou in Manhattan, and Diana Richardson in Brooklyn.

Two candidates for open Senate seats won their primaries with a big influx of real-estate money: Laura Ahearn in a close five-way race in eastern Suffolk County, and Elijah Reichlin-Melnick in a Rockland County seat that includes a sliver of Westchester County. Both accepted sizable contributions from the Real Estate Board of New York, and three REBNY front groups spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in independent expenditures on their behalf. Ahearn’s district has been solidly Republican, while the Rockland County seat is reliably Democratic.

Esteban Girón is a member of the Crown Heights Tenant Union and a board member of the Tenants Political Action Committee.