Abigail Savitch-Lew

Posters for three of six Democratic primary candidates on a window in the 9th City Council District

In Harlem, it was legacy that trumped winds of change.

Longtime Harlem pol Bill Perkins won the primary with 49 percent of the vote, a wide margin over challengers Marvin Holland, who received 20 percent, Cordell Cleare, who received 17 percent, and three other Democrats.

After many years on the Council and in the Senate, Bill Perkins ran for the Council again in a special election held in February to replace Inez Dickens. The special election brought out less than 12,000 residents and Perkins won only 34 percent of the vote—giving other candidates hope that they might have a chance to obtain the seat in the September primary and November general election. But Perkins clinched the win early on Tuesday night, obtaining almost half of the roughly 14,000 votes.

This was not for lack of effort by other candidates. Marvin Holland, the Transit Workers Union’s legislative chief, had an impressive operation on Tuesday. There were burly transit union members passing out fliers, as well as teenagers in orange shirts who told City Limits their mother had recruited them to volunteer. Then came the open-backed truck packed with poster-waving volunteers u-turning around and around Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard while blasting over and over a recorded message: “Vote for Marvin Holland!” And finally, at about 5:30 pm, there was a Vote for Holland march down Adam Clayton Powell boulevard from 147th Street of 125th Street, featuring the Marching Cobras, a teenage marching band and dance troupe.

Abigail Savitch-Lew

Marvin Holland Campaign sound truck on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard

April Burrell, a child caretaker working nearby, came with her stroller to watch the troop and told us she’d voted for Holland.

“I wanted to see a new face and new ideas. Perkins was good and he did a lot for the people yes, but more kids are coming up, you need new ideas, something to keep the kids and everyone else interested, and he looked like he has some good ideas, and you have to give somebody a chance,” she said.

Abigail Savitch-Lew

The Marching Cobras with the Holland campaign.

We also met one voter at the Central Park East High School polling site, a new resident, who told us he was voting for Holland because Perkins was part of the “old guard.”

But the five voters at the P.S. 154 polling site who agreed to share their choice with us were all going for Perkins. One voter, who gave his name as Earl, said he was “used to him by now.” As for “Melvin something”—a reference to Marvin Holland, we assume—“I just got his flier,” he said. Three other voters told us something similar: They were familiar with Perkins’ long service to the district, had barely heard of Holland and Cleare, and wanted someone with a track record.

Adrienne King said she’d been pleased with Perkins. Here her describe why she chose him:

Voters, including some who would not share their choice, said issues that motivated them to vote included gentrification, affordable housing, the dilapidation of the transit system, the candidates’ ability to listen, and the need for more youth activities. Some were not sure who was on the ballot for City Council.

Turnout was low compared to the last regular primary in 2013, in which over 18,000 constituents voted. One poll worker speculated that voters might have been deterred by the frequently changing locations of polling sites. At P.S. 154, several voters left the polls saying they hadn’t been able to vote because they’d been moved down the street; this reporter helped one voter locate their new polling site on GoogleMaps.

In November, Perkins will likely face Pierre Gooding, a Reform Party challenger, Republican Jack Royster, and possibly Dianne Mack, who told us in August she was submitting an independent nominating petition.

Update: After publication of this article, we learned that Tyson-Lord Gray, who came in fourth place in the democratic primary, will also be running on the Liberal Party line in the general election.