The Council Races to Watch on Election Day

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William Alatriste for the City Council

From left to right, councilmembers Paul Vallone, Margaret Chin, Mathieu Eugene and Laurie Cumbo. All would be considered front runners in their bids for reelection on Tuesday, but each faces a serious challenger.

 

It’s the day before the general election, so queue the strained sports metaphor: New York City’s government is like an NFL team about to go into its last pre-season game. The roster isn’t official yet, but most if it is set.

We know who the likely starting quarterback is—that leggy kid from the tough streets of Park Slope, Bill de Blasio—although there is always the possibility that a mishap in practice or some incident off the field will change things last minute. Tish James has middle linebacker pretty much sewn up, and we know that Scott Stringer is almost sure to return at safety, although everything can change in a single play. I can’t figure out what the football equivalent of a borough president is, but you get the picture: The names for those five roster spots are all but printed in the opening day program. Most of the other players (the Council candidates) faced very little competition in training camp.

But as is often the case, a few question marks remain before the final roster cut. Although Election Day 2017 holds little suspense, there are a few races where—based on press coverage, voting patterns, campaign finance or just a hunch—the outcome seems in a higher degree of doubt. Here’s a quick look at the Council contests where we’re going to hold off printing someone’s name on the back of a jersey:

District 1 in Manhattan

Incumbent Democrat Margaret Chin is facing a rematch with two of the opponents she bested in the September primary, Aaron Foldenauer (now running as a Liberal) and Christopher Marte (Independence Party), as well as Republican Brian Jung. Marte, who has more money on hand that the incumbent and has received some key endorsements, is the more serious threat to Chin—who also has major endorsements to tout, as well as the Working Families Party line. Development is the overriding issue in the district, with Chin being targeted for supporting development projects like income-targeted senior housing slated for the site currently occupied by a community garden, or for failing to speak out for the comprehensive, community generated Chinatown Working Group plan. Marte, meanwhile, was in the crosshairs last week for running on the line of the Independence Party, which supports some conservative candidates. Marte’s allies dismissed the charge as spurious, saying that Marte hadn’t sought the line, had won it by accident but was glad to have a way to continue his effort to unseat Chin.

Read candidate profiles for this district and watch their video pitches to voters at the Campaign Finance Board’s website.

District 13 in the Bronx

Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj has the Democratic nomination in the race to succeed term-limited Councilmember James Vacca, but two of his September 12 primary opponents are on the general election ballot—John Doyle as a Liberal and Marjorie Velazquez for Working Families. There is also a Republican in the race, John Cerini (who also has the Conservative and Reform lines and received the New York Post endorsement), in a district where—as Bronx districts go—Republicans have a decent presence—meaning they face a 4:1 registration deficit, not a 20:1 gap as is the case elsewhere in the borough. Both Cerini ($95,000) and Velazquez ($83,000) have a decent amount of money on hand, more than the Democratic nominee. Gjonaj has already spent $1.1 million—by far the most ever shelled out for a Council seat—and has had to loan his campaign $275,000. A real-estate broker and landlord by trade, Gjonaj only beat Velazquez by 390 votes in September out of 9,100 cast. Alex Gomez, who identifies as a member of the New Bronx party, is also on the ballot.

Read candidate profiles for this district and watch their video pitches to voters at the Campaign Finance Board’s website.

District 19 in Queens

Amid incredibly low turnout, incumbent Democrat Paul Vallone beat challenger Paul Graziano by a modest 600 votes in the September primary, and now Graziano is trying to close the gap on the Reform Party line. With $62,000 in the bank, Graziano has enough in his pocket to be strong down the stretch –although Vallone has more dough and the power of a name that has been associated with public service in Queens since 1955, when Charles Vallone (father of Speaker Peter Vallone, who is the father of Paul and former Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr.) was appointed to the bench. Graziano, who has served as a consultant to a number of civic groups seeking to use zoning or landmarking to resist development, has made that his opposition to “out-of-scale” construction his top issue. Vallone, meanwhile, has emphasized his success at bringing more city services to the district and his support for seniors. Konstantinos Poulidis, a Republican, is also in this race.

Read candidate profiles for this district and watch their video pitches to voters at the Campaign Finance Board’s website.

District 35 in Brooklyn

In September, incumbent Democrat Laurie Cumbo won a hard-fought primary against Ede Fox—a race in which a plan to develop the Bedford-Union Armory into a mixed-use project was a major issue. While Cumbo has announced her opposition to that project as presently configured (citing concerns about the level of affordable housing offered) her opponents say she was not vocal enough. In the general election, Cumbo faces Republican Christine Parker but the bigger challenge is Jabari Brisport, who is running on the Green line as well as the Socialist line. Brisport is the only Socialist candidate running in the whole city and, at last report, had more money on hand than Cumbo. He’s also been in the press recently for getting arrested at a protest against the Armory plan.

Read candidate profiles for this district and watch their video pitches to voters at the Campaign Finance Board’s website.

District 40 in Brooklyn

Another incumbent faces a stiff challenger here, again from someone he bested—albeit not convincingly—in the primary. Incumbent Mathieu Eugene, who made history as the first Haitian-American elected to public office in New York City when he won his Council seat via special election in 2007, has been targeted by progressives who believe he has been slow to fight gentrification or get affordable housing built in Flatbush and the rest of the district. Reform Party challenger Brian Cunningham has the support of the Amsterdam News, Daily News, Black Lives Caucus, Brooklyn Progressive Action Network, Citizen Action, TenantsPAC and the Working Families Party. Eugene has a lot more money on hand and he and de Blasio endorsed each other three months ago; de Blasio has featured Eugene prominently in several events recently. The two men squared off in a feisty debate on Sunday.

Read candidate profiles for this district and watch their video pitches to voters at the Campaign Finance Board’s website.

District 43 in Brooklyn

The only true swing district in the city, the 43rd has bounced back and forth between the parties for a generation. After decades of Republican rule, Democrat Sal Albanese represented the area in the 1990s and was succeeded by Republican Marty Golden and then Democrat Vincent Gentile, who is now term-limited. It’s the only district in the city where there was a Republican primary on September 12: John Quaglione, a longtime Golden staffer, prevailed in it, but his closest competitor Bob Capano remains in the race on the Reform line. Justin Brannan, a former aide to Gentile and de Blasio, won a crowded and contentious Democratic primary. Indications are this is a district where de Blasio is pretty unpopular, but what affect his will have on turnout is anybody’s guess. Brannan did received the Daily News’ nod, but Quaglione got the Post’s. Angel Medina is on the ballot from the Women’s Equality Party.

Read candidate profiles for this district and watch their video pitches to voters at the Campaign Finance Board’s website.

District 44 in Brooklyn

This is the district where incumbent Councilmember David Greenfield timed his retirement announcement in such a way that his hand-picked successor, Kalman Yeger—a political aide to Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.—secured the Democratic nomination without a primary. He’s also running as a conservative. But Yeger’s sliding into the Democratic slot didn’t stop a rival Borough Park faction headed by the charismatic Assemblyman Dov Hikind from putting up a strong independent campaign headlined by Dov’s son, Yoni, running on the Our Neighborhood line. Even as Council races go, this one seems devoid of policy discussion or ideological difference and will be driven by personality and loyalty. It’s not even clear that Yeger’s enormous financial advantage (at last report he had $134,379 on hand while Hikind was slightly in the red) will matter, though Sen. Chuck Schumer’s endorsement of Yeger on Sunday might. It’s hard for any outsider to predict the outcome—except to say that the third candidate in the race, Harold Tischler of the School Choice party, will have a very hard time breaking into the top two.

Read candidate profiles for this district and watch their video pitches to voters at the Campaign Finance Board’s website.

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Let’s state the obvious: Every Council race is important, and none are over until the voters have spoken and the polls are closed at 9 p.m. on Election Day. But it seems like these seven contests are the most competitive, and they will help shape the Council that deals with whoever is mayor for the next four years—in particular through the winners’ role in selecting the next Council speaker.

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