Campaigns & Elections

Who’s running in the 2021 borough president primaries?

There’s fierce competition to serve in the roles often considered political steppingstones.

Borough president candidates

Borough president candidates Bri Elledge; Submitted; NYC Council; Boylan Campaign; NYC Council

For an elected office that’s often described as “largely powerless,” there sure are a lot of people lining up to run for borough president. New York City will have six borough president primaries this month – a Democratic primary in each of the five boroughs, plus a Republican primary in Staten Island. Only Queens Borough President Donovan Richards is running as an incumbent, as each of the other borough presidents is term-limited. One term-limited borough president’s promising mayoral run is a good indication of the self-promoting role the borough presidency sometimes serves, even if it is a mostly ceremonial position that controls a tiny fraction of the city’s budget and wields some influence over land use proposals. As City & State wrote last year, the real power of the borough presidency lies in its bully pulpit.

But that bully pulpit can be influential, and this year’s candidates hope to use it promote their borough’s needs – be it equitable health care access or a lack of affordable housing. While the city’s Democratic mayoral primary may be dominating the election conversation, the borough president primaries can’t be ignored.


Democratic primary

Incumbent: Ruben Diaz Jr., who is term-limited

Candidates: City Council Member Fernando Cabrera, Assembly Member Nathalia Fernández, City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, state Sen. Luis Sepúlveda and retired NYPD Lt. Samuel Ravelo.

Public and private fundraising total:Cabrera: $1,217,996*, Gibson: $777,756*, Fernández: $516,262*, Sepúlveda: $295,520 *, Ravelo: $259,452*

* indicates receipt of public matching funds

Key endorsements: The Northwest Bronx Democrats endorsed Cabrera and the New York City Police Benevolent Association ranked Cabrera first in ranked-choice voting;state Sens. Gustavo Rivera and Julia Salazar and Transport Workers Union Local 100 have endorsed Fernández;Rep. Ritchie Torres and the United Federation of Teachers have endorsed Gibson; andthe Police Benevolent Association ranked Ravelo as its second choice.

The story: The end of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.’s term – and retirement from politics – could pave the way for the borough to get its first female borough president (Council Member Vanessa Gibson or Assembly Member Nathalia Fernández). First on the ballot of the five-person race is Fernando Cabrera, the socially conservative, longtime Bronx council member, who has occupied the establishment lane of the race and far outraised his opponents. But Gibson and Fernández have built their own momentum, with the former piling up union endorsements and the latter winning the support of progressive state lawmakers. A poll by Benenson Strategy Group suggests the four Latino candidates may splinter Latino voters, opening a lane for Gibson, the only non-Latino candidate. The poll in question had Gibson in the lead and Fernández in second, though ranked choice voting makes this year’s primaries hard to predict.


Democratic primary

Incumbent: Eric Adams, who is term-limited and running for mayor of New York City

Candidates: City Council Members Robert Cornegy Jr., Antonio Reynoso and Mathieu Eugene; Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon, former hospital executive Khari Edwards, Democratic State Committee person Anthony T. Jones, the Rev. Kimberly Council, District Council 37 Local 205 Daycare Workers Union President Robert Ramos, public school teacher Robert Elstein, Community Board 17 member Pearlene Fields, Bishop Lamor Miller Whitehead, housing advocate Trisha Ocona.

Public and private fundraising total: Simon: $1,506,484*, Cornegy: $1,424,381*, Reynoso: $1,283,995*, Edwards: $822,944*, Council: $544,871*, Miller-Whitehead: $240,742, Eugene: $60,643, Jones: $55,003, Ocona: $28,663, Elstein: $6,282, Ramos: $5,938, Fields: $4,236

* indicates receipt of public matching funds
Key endorsements: Former Brooklyn Democratic Party chair Frank Seddio and the TWU Local 100 have endorsed Cornegy; Rep. Nydia Velázquez and the Working Families Party have endorsed Reynoso;Rep. Jerry Nadler and the UFT have endorsed Simon; Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel and District Council 37 have endorsed Edwards;Terrence Floyd, brother of George Floyd, has endorsed Miller-Whitehead; and political action committee Democracy for America has endorsed Ramos.

The story: A dozen candidates are on the ballot to replace Eric Adams, and it’s no wonder why. The office commonly thought of as a political stepping stone seems to have served mayoral front-runner Adams pretty well. The Brooklyn Democratic Party has not officially endorsed in the race, though Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr. has won support from a handful of district leaders and several local Democratic clubs. The other elected officials in the race largely comprise the top tier candidates, though Khari Edwards and Kim Council each post impressive fundraising numbers. In the Benenson Group’s poll of the borough, however, Cornegy and progressive Council Member Antonio Reynoso finished neck and neck, followed by longtime Brooklyn political fixture Jo Anne Simon in third.


Democratic primary

Incumbent: Gale Brewer, who is term-limited and running for City Council in District 6

Candidates: Former state deputy secretary for Economic Development and Housing Lindsey Boylanformer Community Board 7 Chair Elizabeth Caputo, state Sen. Brad Hoylman, Council Member Ben Kallos, Council Member Mark Levine, Community Education Council 3 President Kimberly Watkins and Guillermo A. Perez.

Public and private fundraising total: Levine: $1,790,349*, Hoylman: $1,752,060*, Kallos: $1,675,343*, Caputo: $727,514*, Boylan: $663,808*, Watkins: $40,025

* indicates receipt of public matching funds
Key endorsements: Manhattan Democratic Party Chair Keith Wright and the UFT have endorsed Hoylman; Rep. Carolyn Maloney and Communications Workers of America Locals 1101, 1102, 1106 and 1109 have endorsed Kallos; Rep. Adriano Espaillat and 32BJ SEIU have endorsed Levine; and the Grand Street Democrats have endorsed Boylan.

The story: The race to replace the popular sitting Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has become a fierce one, with Mark Levine and Ben Kallos – City Council colleagues – and state Sen. Brad Hoylman each raising upwards of $1.5 million for the seat. That trio has accumulated the bulk of influential endorsements and as a result, makes up the top tier of the race; Levine has been called a “front-runner” for beep since 2019, and his profile has only grown during the COVID-19 pandemic as chair of the council’s health committee. Still, the non-lawmaker candidates can also boast impressive fundraising numbers and decent name recognition. Former government official Lindsey Boylan was the first to accuse Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment late last year and has become a de facto leader of Albany’s reckoning on the issue.


Democratic primary

Incumbent: Donovan Richards, first elected in a special election in 2020 and running for reelection

Candidates: Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, former City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley and City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer

Public and private fundraising total: Crowley: $1,224,556*, Van Bramer: $1,044,241*, Richards: $744,082*

* indicates receipt of public matching funds

Key endorsements: Rep. Greg Meeks and the UFT have endorsed Richards; TWU Local 100 has endorsed Crowley; and state Sen. Jessica Ramos and mayoral candidate Dianne Morales have endorsed Van Bramer.

The story: Queens Borough President Donovan Richards heads into his reelection race with the incumbent’s advantage, even if he’s only been at borough hall for less than a year. Carrying a slate of labor endorsements and the backing of much of the Queens Democratic establishment, Richards faces a rematch from Elizabeth Crowley, who lost to him by 7 percentage points in the 2020 primary. Crowley goes into this rematch with the largest campaign warchest, while Van Bramer carries the support of Queens progressives.

Staten Island

Republican primary

Incumbent: James Oddo, who is term-limited

Candidates: Council Member Steven Matteo, former Community Board 1 Chair Leticia Remauro, business owner Jhong Uhk Kim and former Rep. Vito Fossella.

Public and private fundraising total: Matteo: $838,421*, Remauro: $572,688*, Kim: $80,000, Fossella: $59,460

* indicates receipt of public matching funds

Key endorsements: The Staten Island Republican Party and Assembly Member Michael Reilly have endorsed Matteo; and former NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik and the New York League of Conservation Voters have endorsed Remauro.

The story: Staten Island, the only borough with a Republican beep, is also the only borough to have a Republican primary this year. Four people are on the ballot to replace James Oddo, but it may be Council Member Steven Matteo's race to lose, having won the support of the Staten Island GOP and maintained a sizable fundraising lead. Leticia Remauro, however, has raised nearly half a million dollars and is also running on the Conservative Party line, meaning she’ll still have a shot at the seat in November even if she loses the Republican primary. Former Congress member and City Council Member Vito Fossella, a late entry to the race, hasn’t made much of a mark on the campaign trail and is out-fundraised by political newcomer Jhong Uhk Kim.

Democratic primary

Candidates: Attorney Cesar Vargas, labor leader Radhakrishna Mohan, real estate developer Mark Murphy, activist and business owner Lorie Honor and Brandon Stradford, community liaison to City Council Member Debi Rose. 

Public and private fundraising total: Honor: $433,460*, Murphy: $414,041*, Mohan: $175,889*, Vargas: $129,227*, Stradford: $119,450*

* indicates receipt of public matching funds
Key endorsements: Stonewall Democrats and New York Immigration Coalition have endorsed Vargas; the Staten Island Democratic Party has endorsed Murphy; Rep. Carolyn Maloney and the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club have endorsed Honor; and Tenants Political Action Committee has endorsed Stradford.

The story: Democrats face somewhat long odds to win a borough-wide race in Staten Island, but that hasn’t stopped a slate of borough president hopefuls from lining up to try this year. The last Democratic borough president, Ralph Lamberti, left office in 1989. Mark Murphy, son of the late former Rep. John Murphy, is running with the backing of the Staten Island Democratic Party, though Lorie Honor has pulled in more money and impressive endorsements of her own.