Jumaane Williams, who became the city’s number-two official in February with less than a third of the vote in a crowded special election, rolled up a commanding majority in Tuesday’s general election, claiming 78 percent of the vote against Republican/Conservative Staten Island Councilmember Joseph Borelli (20 percent) and Libertarian Devin Balkind (2 percent).
Just over 720,000 of the city’s 4.7 million registered voters participated in that contest—the only citywide race on 2019’s ballot. That works out to about 15 percent turnout, and is 300,000 more voters than came out for the February special elections. By modern standards, that is not a bad showing for an “off year.”
All five ballot questions for changes to the city’s charter carried with more than 70 percent of the vote. (See the Board of Elections’ unofficial results here.)
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who won a squeaker of a Democratic primary in June over runner-up Tiffany Caban, cruised to a 75 percent to 24 percent victory over Republican Joseph Murray. District Attorneys Darcel Clark in the Bronx and Michael McMahon in Staten Island, both running unopposed, were re-elected—though 774 people wrote in opponents to McMahon and 633 to Clark.
In the lone City Council race of the evening, Democrat Farah Louis retained the 45th district post to which she’d been elected in a May special election after Williams resigned that seat to become public advocate. She had 93 percent of the vote against Libertarian David Fite and Liberal Anthony Beckford.
Democrat Margarita Lopez-Torres was uncontested in her bid for Brooklyn surrogate judge. In a slew of other judicial elections, Democrats prevailed in contested races for 17 seats and faced no opposition in winning 17 others. Assemblywoman Michelle Titus won a judgeship in Queens.
In the only judicial nail-biter of the night, Republican/Conservative Bob Helbock appears to have defeated Democrat Edwin Winnie Martin 49 percent to 47 percent in a Staten Island district court race marred by efforts to get Martin and Independence candidate Shawn Malachovsky thrown off the ballot.
Matthew Blum was the only other person not endorsed or cross-endorsed by the Dems to win a seat; he was elected without opposition to Richmond County’s civil court.
What it means
The success of the five ballot measures will translate into changes in the timing of land-use considerations and the budgeting process. There will be strengthened police oversight, giving the Civilian Complaint Review Board broader subpoena power and the right to pursue cops who lie when they are investigated, among other changes.
The charter revisions also empower other city officials relative to the mayor: The Council will get to name members to the Conflict of Interest Board and directly appoint people to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, and will have advice-and-consent power over the appointment of the Corporation Counsel. The Public Advocate and Borough Presidents will have independent budgets.
The shift to ranked-choice voting is the most significant change, and sets up a challenge not just for the city’s Board of Election – which will have to implement the more complicated system in time for what is expected to be a busy 2021 election season – but also for elected officials, the campaign finance board, good government groups, the media and others with a duty to educate the public about how the new system will work.
One of the big takeaways from the 2019 charter-revision process, however, is that serious problems with the city’s land-use process were not addressed. Whether that means the status quo is the best New York can do or the 2021 local elections will encompass a debate about better methods for addressing density, equity and resiliency, remains to be seen.
The end of the 2019 elections means the 2020 election year has officially begun, although in reality it’s been underway for months, if not longer.
Katz’s victory sets up a special election for Queens Borough President—a race that several hopefuls, anticipating Katz would win the DA seat, have already begun running. That election will occur within 45 days of Katz assuming her new post.
The presidential primary season begins February 3 with the Iowa caucuses, followed by the New Hampshire primary on February 11 and contests in Nevada (February 22) and South Carolina (February 29). If the Democratic field hasn’t narrowed to two—or just one—by then, it almost certainly will after the March 3 “Super Tuesday” primaries in 14 states. Should there still be a race by that point, the New York primary on April 28—the day Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island also vote—will be where the nomination is decided.
Where New York State is certain to see real contests is in the Congressional races. Swing districts on Long Island and north of the city—as well as rookie Rep. Max Rose’s seat in Staten Island—will be in play in November, but the city will see action earlier, in the June primary. A crowded Democratic field has assembled to replace retiring Rep. Jose Serrano in the Bronx, and several long-time House incumbents (Carolyn Maloney, Yvette Clarke, Eliot Engel and Jerrold Nadler) face primary challengers. First-termer and national figure Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez faces several rivals, but it is not yet clear how seriously she is at risk.
On the state side, while Democratic control of the state Senate is unlikely to evaporate, Democrats in many Long Island and upstate districts will face stiff Republican challenges. With Donald Trump at the top of the GOP ticket in November, the dynamic is not especially positive for Republicans, but state party leaders are fashioning a case that recent progressive wins in Albany—particularly on criminal justice reform and environmental policy—have swung too far left for suburban homeowners.