Unofficial numbers released Sunday by the New York City Board of Elections (BOE) show just 44,611 people participated in early voting, held across nine days in every borough but Staten Island. The polls close at 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Adi Talwar

The polling station at the Christopher Columbus High School. At 10:10 am, workers there said it had four people voting and had received three affidavits.

Foot traffic was light outside of the Jackie Robinson Recreation Center at 9:30 a.m. on primary day, but Yusef Salaam, one of three candidates for an open City Council seat in Harlem’s 9th District, said he was “really excited” about a post-work evening rush.

At least it wasn’t raining, he added.

Salaam, a Democrat and member of the exonerated Central Park Five—five men wrongfully accused of raping a jogger as teenagers in 1989—is running as a self-proclaimed political outsider in one of a handful of high-stakes council races in an otherwise sleepy election cycle, following the withdrawal of incumbent Kristen Richardson Jordan.

Salaam’s opponents are State Assembly Members Al Taylor and Inez E. Dickens, the latter of whom received Mayor Eric Adams’ endorsement.

Jessica Weigmann, who has lived in District 9 for five years, cast her vote for Salaam at the recreation center Tuesday, saying that she cares about reproductive rights and environmental infrastructure like electric vehicle chargers. “I don’t really know a lot about him but he would be a fresh start for this area,” she said. 

“Inez Dickens, for me, feels like part of the Harlem machine and I’m not quite sure what she represents other than her own interests,” Weigmann continued. “I know she’s a landlord.” 

Weigmann also mourned the demise of a residential development known as One45 proposed for the district, which Jordan strongly opposed on the basis of inadequate affordable housing and which developer Bruce Teitelbaum subsequently used for a truck depot—though a plan with more housing has since been revived. 

“I know she was trying to get more affordable housing and I’m for it but I feel like she just destroyed it,” she said. 

Salaam told City Limits Tuesday that he would like to see the project completed: “What’s next is that we need to build that but we need to make it deeply affordable.”  

But not every potential constituent was as engaged as Weigmann. One of Salaam’s volunteers offered a flier to a passerby who looked up in confusion. “That’s today?” she asked. “It doesn’t matter who you vote for,” she added, before walking away. 

District 9 Council candidate Yusef Salaam near the voting site at the Jackie Robinson Recreation Center.

Thin participation 

Unofficial numbers released Sunday by the New York City Board of Elections (BOE) show just 44,611 people participated in early voting, held across nine days in every borough but Staten Island. 

This represents about 1.6 percent of approximately 2.8 million voters who, according to the BOE, are eligible to participate in the primary. Total voting check-ins had reached 110,175 by 3 p.m. on Tuesday, with polls open until 9 p.m. 

By contrast, primary day last June 28, which featured races for governor, lieutenant governor, State Assembly and some judicial posts, had seen 279,622 check-ins by 3 p.m., with active races in all five boroughs. 

Some polling sites got off to slower starts than others Tuesday. Pelham Parkway Community Center and Christopher Columbus High School in District 13 in the Northeast Bronx, which is hosting both Republican and Democratic primaries, had each seen fewer than 10 voters in the 10 o’clock hour, according to poll workers. 

By contrast, PS 122 on Ditmars Boulevard in District 22, which covers part of Western Queens, had seen 67 voters by 9 a.m. There, incumbent Democrat Tiffany Cabán is facing a long-shot challenge from Charles A. Castro, a former NYPD sergeant

“This election has been one of the smoothest elections so far,” said site coordinator Jessica Colon, emphasizing that there had been no problems with the machines or lack of staff.

Housing on the brain in Bed-Stuy 

Primary day lead-up has been more subdued this month than it was in 2021, which featured a mayoral race and saw the majority of City Council members term-limited out of office. 

During early voting that year, 191,197 people participated. Excluding Staten Island votes—which aren’t in play this year—that’s still about 329 percent greater early voting turnout than 2023.

This time around, fewer than half of the body’s 51 incumbent members are facing primaries. Matt Stein, who lives in Bed-Stuy, was able to participate in one of them. He cast his ballot at P.S. 309 amid a trickle of District 41 voters Tuesday morning, noting that he feels an ingrained duty to vote. 

The incumbent in that district’s three-way primary, Council Member Darlene Mealy, has been criticized for absenteeism

“I think in terms of the actual City Council member I want them to actually attend,” Stein told City Limits. “Because I know at least in my district the person currently hasn’t been showing up to meetings and that is not something I want out of an elected official.”

Mealy’s challengers include Isis McIntosh Green, a former chief of staff to Assembly Member Latrice Walker backed by the progressive Working Families Party, and Reginald Bowman, a New York City Housing Authority tenant leader. 

Dylan Wack, who described himself as left-leaning, voted for Green at P.S. 309 on Tuesday. He urged her to boost the budget for education if elected, since “the future of New York is in the school district.” 

At nearby P.S. 005, also in Mealy’s district, voter Nina said affordable housing needs to be prioritized, though she did not say who she planned to vote for. 

“The way that rents in Bed-Stuy have changed even just during the pandemic is crazy,” she said. “If you’re looking for an apartment right now, rents around here are around $3,000 which is wrong. People in New York deserve a place to live.”

Jeanmarie Evelly

Fliers for candidates running in the new 43rd District in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

Brand new district in South Brooklyn 

Another notable Brooklyn primary is taking place in the new District 43, where three Democrats and two Republicans are vying to represent Bensonhurst, New Utrecht and part of Sunset Park. The district was created as part of redistricting last year in an effort to provide greater political representation to the areas’ Asian American communities

Around lunchtime Tuesday at St. Dominic’s Church on Bay Ridge Parkway, campaign workers were making overtures for the attention of passersby, outnumbering voters heading into the poll site. 

“This is extremely slow,” said Tommy, who declined to share his last name. He was there in support of Wai Yee Chan, a former staffer of Councilmember Justin Brannan, who represents the district in its current form and has endorsed her for the new seat. 

Tommy said he’s been active in Brooklyn politics for 40 years and has watched civic engagement dwindle through the decades, something he attributed to the decline of local political clubs, though the voters who did show up Tuesday seemed enthusiastic. 

“It’s a great thing for the Chinese community who have immigrated here and are living the American dream,” he added. “This is a chance to get real representation in the City Council.”

Adi Talwar

FDNY union members canvassing for Councilmember Marjorie Velazquez at the Pelham Parkway subway station.

A budget vote leaves bitter taste

Outside of P.S. 112 in Long Island City, Queens, Tuesday, Chong Bertillon distributed fliers for Democratic candidate Hailie Kim, who is challenging incumbent Julie Won from the left. 

Bertillon was critical of Won for voting in favor of the 2022 city budget—which included increased police spending—comparing her disfavorably to left-leaning candidates like Cabán in Astoria, who voted against it: “She should have stuck with her voters’ convictions.” 

Joel Perez, who was handing out Won campaign fliers nearby and wearing a Won t-shirt, said he was also disappointed by her budget vote, but had taken the one-day gig regardless. 

“You’ve got to put that political idea aside to get paid,” he said.