Previewing the 2016 New York congressional primaries race by race

Previewing the 2016 New York congressional primaries race by race

Previewing the 2016 New York congressional primaries race by race
June 20, 2016

On June 28, tens of thousands of New York voters will head to the polls – and many more likely won’t even know there is a congressional primary taking place. Due to a lack of political will to streamline the process, the state is holding three different primaries this year: the presidential primary that took place in April, this month’s congressional primaries and the state legislative primaries scheduled for September.

For those New Yorkers who live in districts with competitive primaries and are registered as a member of the appropriate party – as well as party officials, campaign staffers and the many political diehards among our readers – here’s a quick guide to help you navigate through the races in play next week.


David Calone, Anna Throne-Holst

This Suffolk County congressional district is as purple as it gets in New York. In 2012, Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop won re-election by nearly 14,000 votes. In 2014, he lost to Republican Lee Zeldin by more than 15,000 votes. But 298,533 votes were cast in 2012, while only 176,719 people voted in 2014, for a 40 percent drop in turnout. Indeed, in a presidential election year more voters participate, which tends to benefit Democrats – and that means the winner of this Democratic primary has a decent shot against Zeldin. Both Throne-Holst, the former Southampton town supervisor, and Calone, a venture capitalist and former federal prosecutor, have raised more than $1 million, though Calone loaned his campaign $250,000. The two have clashed in debates over job creation and environmental issues, but both have focused on making the case that they will be stronger against Zeldin in November.  


Jonathan Clarke, Jon Kaiman, Anna Kaplan, Steve Stern, Tom Suozzi

Democratic Rep. Steve Israel’s decision earlier this year not to run for re-election after more than a decade in office sets the stage for another potentially competitive race on Long Island. The district, which includes parts of Nassau and Suffolk counties and a few neighborhoods in Queens, has a slight Democratic enrollment advantage, and Israel was comfortably re-elected each cycle. Republicans hope state Sen. Jack Martins steals the seat back (more on Martins below). In the crowded Democratic race, the biggest name statewide is Tom Suozzi, the former Nassau County executive who made a failed bid for governor in 2006. The rest of the field includes attorney Jonathan Clarke; Jon Kaiman, a former North Hempstead supervisor and former chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority; North Hempstead Town Board member Anna Kaplan; and Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern, who was endorsed by Israel and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. Stern has raised just over half a million dollars so far, exceeding Suozzi’s $451,306.


Jack Martins, Philip Pidot

State Sen. Jack Martins, a rising star in Long Island politics, is the only Republican currently on the ballot in the race to replace retiring Rep. Steve Israel. While Martins is the party-backed candidate, Philip Pidot’s campaign continues to wage a legal battle to get back into the GOP primary race. Pidot fell 16 signatures short of the minimum needed on petitions, and his legal efforts have been unsuccessful so far. Martins or Pidot will face the winner of a crowded Democratic field, and the general election battle could be one of the closer races in the fall.


Gregory Meeks, Ali Mirza

Veteran U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks is facing a challenge from Ali Mirza, a Pakistani-American who has for years organized interfaith activities and promoted religious and ethnic tolerance. Mirza, who also served in Nassau County government, faces an uphill battle against Meeks, who has deep ties in the Democratic Party and who has represented parts of Queens since his election to the Assembly in 1992. Meeks also benefits from state Sen. James Sanders’ decision to drop out of the primary.


Nydia Velazquez, Yungman Lee, Jeffrey Kurzon

U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez is facing two long-shot challengers as she seeks a 13th term. Yungman Lee is a banker from the Manhattan portion of the district, which also includes larger parts of Brooklyn and Queens, and he has attacked Velazquez for not doing enough for Asian-American constituents. Jeffrey Kurzon, a Manhattan attorney, is focused on campaign finance reform and reducing the influence of money in Congress.


Jerrold Nadler, Oliver Rosenberg

In the wake of U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler’s vote for the Iran nuclear deal, entrepreneur Oliver Rosenberg, who describes himself as a tireless advocate against anti-Semitism, mounted a challenge. The issue has dominated the low-profile race, but there have been other twists and turns, such as Rosenberg claiming Nadler bribed him to drop out. Rosenberg has positioned himself as an outsider and touts his work establishing a congregation for gay Jews. Nadler, one of the most liberal members of Congress, has faced little opposition since he was first elected in 1992.


Carolyn Maloney, Pete Lindner

Seeking a 13th term, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney is in a primary battle with an outsider challenging her from the left. Pete Lindner says he would use his background in technology and statistical analysis to bring more data-driven solutions to the U.S. Capitol. Meanwhile, Maloney continues to talk about the specific issues impacting her district, like securing funding for the Second Avenue Subway, and touts her record as a fighter for women’s health, gun safety and the Zadroga Act.


Adam Clayton Powell, Keith Wright, Suzan Johnson Cook, Mike Gallagher, Adriano Espaillat, Guillermo Linares, Clyde Williams, Sam Sloan, Yohanny Caceres

Rep. Charles Rangel is stepping down after decades of representing Harlem in Congress. Rangel’s bitter foe, state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, mounted strong challenges the past two cycles and is hoping the third time’s the charm in a district experiencing demographic change. Espaillat faces two other big-name rivals: Assemblyman Keith Wright, Rangel’s preferred successor, and Adam Clayton Powell IV, the son of Rangel’s predecessor. Add in another six candidates  – and the fact that the winner is all but guaranteed victory in the Democratic district this fall – and this is June’s must-watch contest.

Beyond redrawn lines that added part of the Bronx in the last round of redistricting, racial lines will be a key factor. Espaillat won endorsements from a number of local elected officials who are fellow Hispanics, but will have to contend with Assemblyman Guillermo Linares, another Dominican-American. Wright leads in fundraising and has strong establishment support, but other African-American candidates – Powell, former Democratic National Committee Political Director Clyde Williams, pastor Suzan Johnson Cook – could impact the primary contest.


Jose Serrano, Leonel Baez

Since taking office in 1990, U.S. Rep. José Serrano has had virtually no opposition in his re-election bids. This year, he has a challenger in Leonel Baez, but it would be inaccurate to categorize this as a truly competitive race. Baez has raised no money and garnered virtually no attention from the media in his bid. Former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión Jr. had reportedly considered a challenge, too, but he is not on the ballot.


Phil Oliva, Kenneth Del Vecchio

At one point at least six Republicans wanted to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who is in his second term. However, only two Republicans ended up on the primary ballot: Phil Oliva, a political communications consultant and a top aide to Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, and Kenneth Del Vecchio, an independent filmmaker, author and former judge. While the two have similar fundraising totals, Oliva has the backing of local Republican officials. The Hudson Valley district has been a swing seat, but higher turnout could make it hard for the eventual GOP nominee to knock out the incumbent this fall.


Zephyr Teachout, Will Yandik

Zephyr Teachout burst onto New York’s political scene in 2014, when she mounted a surprisingly strong challenge to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and won about a third of the vote in the Democratic primary. Now, with Republican Rep. Chris Gibson stepping down after two terms representing all or part of 11 counties in the mid-Hudson region, Teachout is making another run for elected office.

Teachout, a law professor at Fordham University, will face Will Yandik, a Livingston deputy supervisor in Columbia County. Yandik has tried to differentiate himself from Teachout by highlighting his deep roots in the community while balancing his support for gun control with an emphasis on gun rights. Teachout hasn’t been slowed, leading the fundraising with $530,732 – more than double Yandik’s haul – garnering more high-profile endorsements, and running ahead by 30 percentage points in a recent Time Warner Cable News/Siena College poll. The winner will face either John Faso, the former Assembly minority leader, or businessman Andrew Heaney. 


John Faso, Andrew Heaney

There’s a battle for the 19th Congressional District within both parties. On the GOP side, John Faso, a lawyer who once served as Assembly minority leader, is facing businessman Andrew Heaney for the mid-Hudson seat that is being vacated by another fellow Republican, Rep. Chris Gibson. The race has also been one of the more contentious in the state, featuring insults, attack ads and allegations of illegal behavior.

Faso, who is seeking a comeback after his failed gubernatorial bid in 2006, has touted the support of the Republican, Conservative, Reform and Independence parties as well as Robert Bishop, a third candidate who is on the ballot but dropped out of the race and endorsed Faso in May.

In a high-spending contest, Heaney leads Faso in fundraising, pulling in $1.23 million compared with Faso’s $1.08 million. But a recent Time Warner Cable News/Siena College poll found that Faso has a 22-point lead over Heaney, due in part to his significantly better favorability ratings. The winner will face either law professor Zephyr Teachout or Livingston Deputy Supervisor Will Yandik.


Claudia Tenney, Steven Wells, George Phillips

The decision by Rep. Richard Hanna, annually listed as one of the most liberal Republican members of Congress, not to run for re-election has led to a three-way GOP primary for the seat, which stretches from Binghamton to Oswego and encompasses Rome and Utica. Each candidate is from a different part of the district.

Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, who is seeking the seat for a second time after she lost in a primary against Hanna in 2014, is from the Rome and Utica area. George Phillips is a history teacher in Broome County in the Southern Tier. And businessman Steve Wells, who leads the fundraising with $362,064, is from the suburbs of Syracuse. The winner will face Democrat Kim Myers, the minority leader of the Broome County Legislature.


Steve Williams, Eric Kingson, Colleen Deacon

In this swing district, Democrats have won in the last two presidential elections (2008 and 2012), while Republicans have won the last three midterm races (2006, 2010, 2014). If history is any indication, the winner of this Democratic primary has a good chance against GOP Rep. John Katko in November.

Deacon is a Syracuse native and has worked for U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand for the past six years. She has the backing of the Onondaga County Democrats – and Onondaga County has the biggest bloc of Democrats in the district. Eric Kingson, a professor of social work at Syracuse University, is considered the most progressive candidate in the race and has been endorsed by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. Steve Williams is a lawyer and former U.S. Navy JAG officer who has focused his campaign on bringing jobs back to upstate New York.

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