Five things to watch in New York’s 2017 primary elections

Five things to watch in New York’s 2017 primary elections

Five things to watch in New York’s 2017 primary elections
September 12, 2017

Many of the contests in the Tuesday primary elections are lackluster affairs. But a few of the races are too close to call, and there are plenty of broader questions that we’ll only know the answers to once the returns come in. Here are five of the biggest things City & State will be watching for on Tuesday night.

There’s winning, and then there’s winning

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has a commanding lead in fundraising and in the polls, so what’s likely to be more interesting than whether he wins is his eventual margin of victory.

The mayor faces four rivals in Tuesday’s primary – Sal Albanese, Robert Gangi, Richard Bashner and Michael Tolkin. But the Democratic field is far less competitive than it was four years ago, when de Blasio, then the city’s public advocate, battled former City Comptroller Bill Thompson, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, City Comptroller John Liu, former Rep. Anthony Weiner and a few long-shot candidates, including Albanese, a former member of the New York City Council. With Michael Bloomberg leaving office due to term limits, no candidate enjoyed the advantages of incumbency.  

RELATED: Key 2017 New York City Council primaries by district

In 2013, de Blasio came from behind to win the Democratic primary while garnering 282,344 votes. His 40.8 percent share was just enough to avoid a runoff with Thompson, who won 26 percent of the vote, and de Blasio went on to beat Republican Joseph Lhota. In the general election de Blasio was considered the favorite, and he ultimately needed fewer than 200,000 votes to win.

This year de Blasio entered the mayoral campaign with the upper hand. He has raised nearly $5 million, compared to a little over $200,000 for Albanese, his chief Democratic rival this year. A July NY1/Baruch College poll that included candidates from several parties had de Blasio at 43 percent, with Republican Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis at 11 percent, independent Bo Dietl with 6 percent and Albanese with 4 percent. Close to a third of those surveyed were undecided, which leaves some room for Albanese or the other Democrats to gain ground.

De Blasio’s little-known rivals are unlikely to spur high turnout, but the mayor is likely to garner a larger share of the votes this time around. Will he exceed 50 percent? Will he match his 280,000-vote mark from 2013? Will Albanese, the only candidate to share a debate stage with de Blasio this year, perform better than in 2013, when he got less than 1 percent?

And in a city with a population of 8.5 million, what will the numbers say about de Blasio’s mandate?

Cuomo vs. de Blasio

No election is complete without a skirmish or two between de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. This cycle, the governor made a point of declining to endorse de Blasio, then offered varying explanations for staying on the sidelines.

But Cuomo and de Blasio have each made a number of endorsements in other races, so why not settle this kerfuffle based on how well each one’s preferred slate performs?

De Blasio has endorsed City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Assemblyman and New York City Council candidate Francisco Moya, and New York City Council members Bill Perkins, Antonio Reynoso, Mathieu Eugene, Debi Rose and Diana Ayala, as well as Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

Cuomo is also backing a number of New York City Council candidates, including Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez, who’s running against the de Blasio-backed Ayala. The two candidates endorsed by both Cuomo and de Blasio are Moya and Rose. Cuomo also is supporting Council members Peter Koo, Paul Vallone, Elizabeth Crowley and Ben Kallos, plus two more council candidates running for open seats – Bronx Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj and Adrienne Adams, a community board chairwoman who is seeking to succeed disgraced former Councilman Ruben Wills.  

Staying home

No, we’re not talking about the average New Yorker who won’t bother to make it to the polls on Tuesday. We’re talking about the group of state lawmakers who won’t have to make weekly trips up to Albany if they can just manage to win local office.

Among them are a group of New York City Council candidates, with state Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. joining Assembly members Rodriguez, Gjonaj and Moya. In one of the campaign season's more notable races, Moya is facing another former state lawmaker in Hiram Monserrate, who’s seeking a return to public office following a string of legal troubles. Diaz is likely the frontrunner in his Bronx district, and Rodriguez and Gjonaj have a decent shot at winning on Tuesday, while the Moya-Monserrate race may be the most competitive of the bunch.

Outside of New York City, a few more races could open up additional vacancies in Albany. State Sen. George Latimer, a Democrat, is running for Westchester County executive, while state Sen. Phil Boyle, a Republican, is vying for the Suffolk County sheriff’s post. Both Latimer’s Hudson Valley seat and Boyle’s Long Island seat have been viewed as potential swing districts in recent years, and newly empty seats could inject more uncertainty into the battle for control of Albany’s upper house next year.

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Can I buy a council seat?

Gjonaj made headlines this week for spending a whopping $716,469, a record sum for a New York City Council campaign. Of course, money doesn’t always translate to a victory, as the last record-holder, Kevin Kim, discovered with his failed bid in 2009.

This year the track record is already mixed for the highest spending council candidates. In second place is New York City Councilman David Greenfield, who has spent $373,364, and in third is Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, has spent $358,063, but both dropped out unexpectedly.

The next two biggest spenders – Councilman Corey Johnson, with $297,937 spent, and Councilman Mark Levine with $294,090 – are seen as frontrunners for the council speaker post next year, and have been lavishing funds on their colleagues. Councilman Brad Lander, who doesn’t have a primary rival, is next with $292,761. And another big spender is Ronnie Cho, an Obama administration alum who has spent $222,498 but has seen a chief rival, Carlina Rivera, snatch up big endorsements.

Inequality in the New York City Council

When Ferreras-Copeland dropped out, it was the latest blow for those seeking to elect more women to the New York City Council. Currently there are just 13 females serving in the council, which is down from as high as 18 since 2000. By one estimate, that number could drop even further to 12 in 2018.

Departing the council this year are Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and members Rosie Mendez, Annabel Palma, Ferreras-Copeland and Darlene Mealy. In Mark-Viverito’s seat, Diana Ayala is facing Assemblyman Rodriguez in one of this year’s tossups. In the Mendez seat, Carlina Rivera has garnered establishment support, but is not guaranteed victory. Ferreras-Copeland will be succeeded by either Moya or Monserrate, while several other seats could go either way.

Part of the equation is simply recruiting more women to run. "Numerous studies have shown that when women run for office, they win elections at nearly equal rates with men," a recent report by the City Council's Women's Caucus finds. "However, men are 40% more likely than women to consider running for office in the first place."

Jon Lentz
is City & State’s editor-in-chief.