After a long and bizarre primary day in Southeast Queens’ 10th Senate District, Councilman James Sanders pulled off an emphatic upset, defeating incumbent Sen. Shirley Huntley by over 1,500 votes.
Outside his election night party at Krystal Hall in Richmond Hill, Sanders sat in the passenger seat of his SUV, choosing not to enter the party until he received confirmation that he had won by a comfortable margin. When he received the good news, Sanders summoned his last ounce of energy to make his entrance.
The crowd, which had waited around patiently from before 9 p.m. until the final results were announced around 11:30 p.m., erupted with applause as Sanders made his way into the room.
Flanked by his entire staff, who, with expressions of exhaustion and elation, wrapped each other in bear hugs, Sanders drank a well-earned glass of water and launched into a victory speech that began with him effortlessly naming all of the many members on his campaign and staff who assisted him on his path to senator-elect.
As his eyes welled with tears, Sanders said that he was proud of his underdog campaign. Referring to his humble background, Sanders declared, “We never lost the dream — an American dream. A dream that said that a sharecropper’s son, that a domestic’s son, could be a councilperson and could also be a state senator in the Empire State. To the sharecroppers, to the domestics, this is yours.”
Despite’s Huntley’s arrest almost three weeks ago, the outcome of the race was surprising considering the high re-election rate of incumbents and Huntley’s established base of support in the district. At the beginning of the day, Sanders said that he was “coming for Rochdale,” meaning the neighborhood of Rochdale Village, Huntley’s home turf. That strategy may have won him the election.
Several members of Sanders’ campaign staff expressed surprise in defeating Huntley’s “machine” with a young, energetic staff that helped get out the vote.
Steve Behar, Sanders’ campaign manager and an attorney who has run unsuccessfully as a candidate for Assembly and City Council, said he had watched the campaign grow from a grassroots operation with little money to an effective group.
“I still don’t believe it,” he said. “We were so outgunned. [Huntley] had the county machine behind her, much more money, almost every elected official in Southeast Queens and the rest of the county were behind her. We had the help and support of a bunch of young gentleman and ladies from the Rockaways in their teens and twenties and it became David [versus] Goliath.”
Sanders said he hoped to reach out to Huntley in the morning and that he planned on holding community meetings in the coming months to hear the concerns of his new constituents. With no Republican opponent, Sanders’ primary victory effectively makes him the senator-elect.
However, when asked what would be his first initiative, Sanders, at the end of his tether after a long day said, “The first order of business is to get some sleep.”
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