New York Democratic Primary Set for June 23

Federal courts block Cuomo’s efforts to cancel presidential primary

New York State’s primary elections will be held on Tuesday, June 23— with greatly expanded absentee voting and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s attempt to cancel the Democratic presidential primary thwarted by the courts.

In April, responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cuomo issued an executive order allowing all voters to cast ballots by mail. Normally, they must give a specific reason why they can’t show up at the polls in person, such as being out of state or ill. The order mandated county boards of elections to mail applications for an absentee ballot to all registered voters (who should have received those applications by now).

Voters can also download an application in English or Spanish on the state Board of Elections Website (https:// www.elections.ny.gov/VotingAbsentee. html). They must mail the application by June 16 to their county Board of Elections, checking the “temporary illness or physical disability” box. Applications can also be faxed or emailed. In-person applications for an absentee ballot can be hand-delivered to the county elections board until June 22.

Completed absentee ballots must be postmarked by midnight, June 22. Those who miss the vote-by-mail deadline will be able to vote in person on June 23, although it was unclear at press time how many polling sites will be open that day. Some polling sites will be open for early voting between June 13 and June 21.

Cuomo also tried to cancel the Democratic presidential primary, claiming that it would expose voters to the coronavirus and that all candidates except for Joseph Biden had dropped out of the race. Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang contested that; while they have both endorsed Biden, they hoped to win enough delegates to the Democratic convention to have an influence on the party’s platform. On May 19, a federal appeals court ordered the primary held. The governor’s motives were obvious: Turnout in a presidential primary is normally four times what it is when there are only congressional and legislative seats on the ballot, and lowered turnout would likely hurt progressive challengers to incumbent state legislators.

What’s on the June 23 ballot?

In addition to the Democratic presidential primary, there will also be primaries in numerous congressional, state Senate, and Assembly districts, plus a special election for Congress in the 27th District, which stretches from Niagara Falls to Rochester.

The pandemic has put challengers at a disadvantage, as it has deprived them of their most potent weapon against incumbents with more money—the ability to go door-to-door. They now must rely on phone banking and social media.

The New York City Democratic Socialists of America are supporting three challengers to Assembly incumbents in Brooklyn and Queens. Marcela Mitaynes, a former organizer for Neighbors Helping Neighbors and a Tenants PAC board member, is challenging 13-term incumbent Felix Ortiz in the 51st District, in Sunset Park and Red Hook. Phara Souffrant, a member of the Crown Heights Tenant Union, is running against Walter Mosley in the 57th District. In Queens, Zohran Mamdani is opposing Aravella Simotas in Astoria’s 36th District.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is throwing money into defending these incumbents, as he is determined not to allow DSA to gain a toehold in his conference. He has seen how the 2018 primary defeats of six Republican-allied Democratic senators, along with DSA member Julia Salazar’s unseating an incumbent in Bushwick, made the Senate’s new Democratic majority more progressive—a huge factor in tenants winning much stronger rent regulations in 2019.

The DSA is also backing Jabari Brisport, one of three candidates for the Brooklyn Senate seat being vacated by Velmanette Montgomery.

Meanwhile, Salazar is facing a serious challenge from the right by real-estate favorite Andy Marte, who worked for the late Asssemblymember Vito Lopez. Pro-tenant senators Alessandra Biaggi of the Bronx, Michael Gianaris and Jessica Ramos of Queens, and Brad Hoylman and Robert Jackson in Manhattan also have primaries, although their opponents seem relatively weak. (Hoylman’s is best known as an opponent of vaccinations.)

Three strongly pro-tenant Assembly incumbents have serious primary challengers from the right: Ron Kim in Queens, Diana Richardson in Brooklyn, and Yuh-Line Niou in Manhattan. Richardson’s opponent is former state senator Jesse Hamilton, one of the six Independent Democratic Conference turncoats who lost primaries in 2018. Another tenant ally, Catalina Cruz of Jackson Heights, is being challenged by Ramon Ramirez.

Joe Lentol of Brooklyn, the Assembly’s second-longest serving member, has his first primary in many years. Lentol has been pro-tenant and was especially helpful to loft tenants last year, but his sponsorship of a pro-Airbnb bill has cost him some tenant support. Still, as of May 18, Lentol had $184,000 in his campaign treasury, more than eight times as much as his challenger, Emily Gallagher.

In Queens, incumbent Jeffrion Aubry is being challenged by disgraced ex-senator Hiram Monserrate, who was expelled from the Senate in 2010 after being convicted of brutalizing his girlfriend and was later imprisoned for illegally using government funds for election purposes.

Meanwhile, Khaleel Anderson is the most pro-tenant of the five candidates, including real-estate favorite Richard David, running for an open seat in Far Rockaway-Ozone Park.

Several other Queens Assembly incumbents have primaries, as do three in Manhattan, four in the Bronx, and two in Westchester. Manhattan East Side Assemblymember Dan Quart’s challenger is Cameron Koffman, 22, a grandson of developer Samuel LeFrak who has raised more than $500,000 in corporate and real-estate money. Quart is already running for Manhattan District Attorney in 2021, and failed to have the courts rule Koffman ineligible.

In the South Bronx’s 84th District, the state Court of Appeals removed longtime machine Assemblymember Carmen Arroyo from the ballot for petition fraud, making progressive challenger Amanda Septimo the automatic winner.

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