Navigating the NYC Primary Ballot 2017

Sep 8, 2017

WBGO's Bob Hennelly says incumbent NYC councilwoman Margaret Chin has a challenge ahead to keep her seat in District 1
Credit Bob Hennelly / WBGO

Ang Santos:  So Bob, in New York City, which is overwhelmingly Democratic, doesn't the primary carry the weight of the General election?

Bob Hennelly:  Absolutely, with the exception of Staten Island and some pockets in Brooklyn, it’s a sea of blue. And once the candidate gets wins in the primary they can start measuring the drapes for their new offices or old office if they are an incumbent.

AS:  Even though Mayor de Blasio is expected to win handily why is he blitzing the airwaves with commercials? 

BH:  He does have Democratic opponents; four-time City Councilman Sal Albanese and school teacher, Bob Gangi, a respected police accountability community activist and two others. But what he doesn’t want to have is what happened to his arch nemesis Governor Andrew Cuomo who in his primary was embarrassed when Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham Law school professor and relative unknown, ran to Cuomo’s left and got over 30  percent of the vote even though  he spent a boatload more money. That's still haunting Governor Cuomo even as his name is being floated for a Presidential bid. Now, in the fall the Mayor will face Republican Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, and retired NYPD detective Bo Dietl.

AS:  Voters will also be electing the City Comptroller and Public Advocate. Any action there?

BH:  Incumbent City Comptroller Scott Stringer has no primary challenger but Public Advocate Letitia James   is facing a challenge from Columbia University History Professor David Eisenbach whose running in a ticket with Sal Albanese. Eisenbach is focusing on the well-publicized problem small businesses are having in a city where rents of all kinds keep gong up. You have seen all that stuff about empty store fronts in the newspapers.

AS:  Also up are the five Borough Presidents. First, what do they do, and is there any competition for those jobs? 

BH:  They are a big deal when it comes to land use which is increasingly the driving issue throughout the city where international investors and developers are putting a real pressure on working class neighborhoods. The Borough Presidents also are critical with making sure neighborhoods get the attention they need from the huge bureaucracy that is the City of New York. Out of the five it looks like only Bronx Borough President Reuben Diaz faces a contest.

AS:  Let’s switch over to the City Council. All 51 seats are up, but how many are really competitive?

BH:  Perhaps more than at any other time in living memory we do have a lot of competitive races thanks to term limits. And in a dozen the incumbent races the incumbent faces serious competition. On the flip side, there are 18 districts where the incumbent faces no challenger and so they are pretty much guaranteed re-election. But there are some hot spots. Manhattan particularly. In Manhattan you have District 1 in Lower Manhattan where incumbent Margaret Chin faces several opponents. Next door there is District 2. Council woman Rosie Mendez is retiring. That is a hot bed of political activity, a lot of contests going on there.  District 4 on the Upper Eastside, Central Park South, Stuyvesant Town, in that area you have Councilman Daniel Garodnick leaving so that is packed with challengers. Similarly, up in Harlem you have District 9. You have the incumbent Bill Perkins, who came from the legislature, the state legislature, and now is in a five-way race.  Up in the Bronx you have Jimmy Vacca’s seat, he’s leaving, that is over by City Island. That’s a race with five challengers. You really have a a kind of political activity here because of the public financing law, which is the thing analysts point out that is a system that is unique to New York City really, where for a six to one match, if you raise money in small donations from the general public, you are rewarded with money from the city treasury. So, it is really possible to mount a campaign. But we still see the power of incumbency where a lot of individuals are going to be returned to office without having to make much of an effort. 

AS:  I understand that there is one Council race where a former Council member, who was convicted on corruption charges and on charges related to assaulting his girlfriend is trying to make a comeback. 

BH:  That is District 21 and that is the seat held by  Juiissa Ferreras-Copeland. She’s leaving office. That’s EastElmhurstJackson Heights, Flushing Meadows, over in Queens. And the person you are referring to is former State Senator Hiram Monserrate, who had also been a former City Council member. He was convicted on corruption charges—convicted on charges related to domestic violence and he is facing Assemblyman Francis Moya. And that’s a heavy contest everybody is getting in on the side of Moya in the realm of elected officialdom. So, that is something everyone is going to be focused on. Anything can happen here because the turnout is expected to be anemic. And I am talking about under 30 percent of registered Democrats are likely to turnout. And so you have individuals who are going to step up and make this effort even in a nine-way race and with a fraction of that vote can end up serving in that seat for eight years.”  

AS:  Are there any other races of note?

BH:  All the District Attorneys are up in the five boroughs, five counties. In the Brooklyn District Attorney race we have quite a dynamic contest. You have a situation where Ken Thompson died in office and Eric Gonzales, who was also working in that office was picked to be acting. He’s in a, let’s see, one, two, three, four five-way race and we even have Cicil Court Judges, which is usually a low profile contest. The regular organization led by frank Seddio is being challenged. They have several Civil Court Judges that would normal just be on the ballot and have no opposition. This year it looks like there is a serious contest with a unified slate that is trying to take on the political organization.

AS:  Looks like an interesting primary ballot on September 12. Polls are open from 6 am until 9 pm.  Bob Hennelly, thanks for joining us on the WBGO Journal.