Campaigns & Elections

Here are the New York Democratic lawmakers facing 2022 primary challenges

The left is once again coming after incumbent members of the state Senate and Assembly.

State Senate Housing Chair Brian Kavanagh is one of many incumbent legislators facing primary challenges from the political left next June.

State Senate Housing Chair Brian Kavanagh is one of many incumbent legislators facing primary challenges from the political left next June. lev radin/Shutterstock

Democratic voters have until June 28 to decide who they want to represent them as the party nominee for the state Senate and Assembly. Longtime incumbents are hoping for another term in office, but a growing list of primary challengers are looking to take them down. That all depends on many electoral factors. Name recognition and endorsements from local powerbrokers are two examples. Money is another.

Campaign filings released mid-January reveal more than just which candidates have the most money to spend. We get to know the names and addresses of donors and how much they might be giving to one person versus another. The disclosures highlight whether candidates are banking their chances on a few key supporters or a larger political base. A willingness to take money from special interests like real estate is particularly controversial in a party that has moved increasingly to the political left in recent years. 

A growing list of Democratic legislators facing primary challenges next year. That number is all but certain to grow in the coming weeks, but the primary fields are solidifying fast. Insurgent candidates’ ultimate success, however, will depend on the ongoing redistricting process for legislative districts, which is set to conclude early next year.

Here is a rundown of incumbent Democratic state lawmakers facing 2022 primary challenges as of Jan. 20.

State Sen. Brian Kavanagh

First elected: 2017

District: Parts of lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn waterfront

Reported cash on hand: $192,785

Challengers: Yuh-Line Niou and Vittoria Fariello

The incumbent chair of the state Senate Housing Committee will be facing an even tougher challenge than before. Illapa Sairitupac and Alana Sivin were planning to challenge Kavanagh from the left, but have both dropped out to endorse Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou, who is now in the race. Kavanagh is already about as left as they come in the state Senate, but Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou is hoping she can still outflank him on progressive style if not necessarily legislative substance. Also in the race is Vittoria Fariello, a trial lawyer and Democratic district leader, who appears to be focusing more on issues with a relatively moderate ideological bent. Niou is keeping pace with Kavanagh’s fundraising, reporting $141,081 on hand, while Fariello lags behind with $27,488.

State Sen. Kevin Parker

First elected: 2002

District: Parts of Park Slope and Flatbush in Brooklyn.

Reported cash on hand: $43,291 as of July 2021

Challengers: David Alexis, Samantha Adler

For-hire vehicle driver organizer David Alexis is the latest democratic socialist to believe that he can topple Parker. The political left has criticized the chair of the state Senate Committee on Energy and Telecommunications for taking too many political donations from fossil fuel interests, but he has also been a champion of their favorite carbon tax proposal. The DSA-backed Alexis could theoretically win by appealing to the left and fellow West Indian immigrants like himself, but Parker showed last year how he can move fast in beating back a primary challenge. Samantha Adler, a program manager at the nonprofit New York Peace Institute, is also getting into the race. Parker hasn’t yet submitted his latest campaign finance filing, but Alexis has $78,987 on hand, and Adler has $9,635.

State Sen. Luis Sepúlveda

First elected: 2018

District: Parts of the South Bronx, Parkchester, and Hunts Point

Reported cash on hand: $121,305

Challengers: Ian Harris

Prosecutors have dropped domestic violence charges against the incumbent legislator, but his political problems are hardly over following his lackluster performance in the Democratic primary this year for Bronx borough president. Methodist preacher Ian Harris might benefit as he campaigns on a platform that includes support for free college and increased funding for public housing and local schools. He hasn’t yet reported fundraising numbers for January. While Sepúlveda’s fundraising may be a bit misleading – $100,000 of that is a personal loan to his own committee. 

State Sen. Simcha Felder of Brooklyn

First elected: 2012

District: Parts of Brooklyn including Borough Park

Reported cash on hand: $403,300

Challenger: Kaegan Mays-Williams

Felder’s district was seemingly drawn specifically for an Orthodox Jewish candidate like himself, and he already survived a 2018 primary challenge from Blake Morris, who argued that the Democrat Felder shouldn’t have been working with Republicans to keep them in power. Mays-Williams will try something new, as a Black woman lawyer and first time candidate who works at Everytown for Gun Safety. She got some press in 2019 when, as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan, she prosecuted Anna Sorokin, who swindled people out of money posing as a German heiress. Mays-Williams has some ground to make up with fundraising, reporting $104,956 on hand.

Assembly Member Tom Abinanti

First elected: 2010

District: Parts of Westchester County, including Tarrytown

Reported cash on hand: $81,110

Challenger: MaryJane Shimsky 

Abinanti has had his differences with colleagues and activists further to the political left on issues such as a COVID-19 relief fund for undocumented people. That could help Shimsky, the current majority leader of the Westchester County Board of Legislators, in the upcoming campaign. She plans on attacking Abinanti on that issue as well as Good Cause Eviction and his past comments on vaccines. Abinanti beat a primary challenger last year by a comfortable margin and said in a text that “politics will have to wait until next year” as COVID-19 cases surge statewide. 

Assembly Member Michael Benedetto

First elected: 2004

District: Pelham Bay and other parts of the Bronx

Reported cash on hand: $43,733

Challenger: Matthew Cruz, Jonathan Soto, Algernon Quattlebaum

The changing demographics of the Bronx could help a growing list of challengers oust the longtime Education Committee chair. Community Board 10 District Manager Matthew Cruz has ties to the district and has gotten some press attention for pushing hard to keep local meetings on Zoom despite the legal risks. He’s reported to have $26,807 on hand. Jonathan Soto, a former campaign aide to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who has previously eyed the seat, is reportedly following the AOC playbook for beating an establishment guy this time around. He has $29,069 in his account.The campaign website of Algernon Quattlebaum, a veteran and former restaurateur, states that he will make an issue of New York State’s “disastrous bail reform law,” in the upcoming campaign. He reported having just $2,326 at the July 2021 filing.

Assembly Member Kevin Cahill

First elected: 1992

District: Hudson Valley including Kingston and New Paltz

Reported cash on hand: $39,142

Challenger: Sarahana Shrestha

The longtime chair of the Assembly Insurance Committee, is the first incumbent outside New York City to face a challenge backed by the Democratic Socialists of America. The Hudson Valley chapter announced their official endorsement of Shrestha, a first-generation Nepali-American activist whose website touts support for lefty causes like the New York Health Act, Good Cause Eviction and a Green New Deal. She has outraised Cahill, reporting $53,745 on hand as of January. Cahill, who has sponsored stalled legislation that would implement a state-level tax on carbon emissions, has a record as a left-leaning lawmaker, but an indeterminate number of progressive constituents evidently feel he is too moderate for their tastes.

Assembly Member Erik Dilan

First elected: 2014

District: Parts of North Brooklyn including Bushwick and Cypress Hills

Reported cash on hand: $123,649

Challenger: Samy Nemir-Olivares

Dilan almost got primaried by an opponent backed by the Democratic Socialists of America in 2020, but Boris Santos ended up dropping out of the race in February. This cycle, Samy Nemir-Olivares will be hoping to unseat Dilan with a DSA-backed challenge from the left. Dilan’s father, Martin Malavé Dilan, was unseated from the state Senate in 2018 by DSA-backed state Sen. Julia Salazar, so many progressives see the 54th Assembly District, which includes much of Salazar’s district, as a pick-up opportunity for the nascent socialist caucus in Albany. Nemir-Olivares is a Democratic district leader for the neighboring 53rd Assembly District and a queer, LGBTQ activist who works at Lambda Legal. He has reported $54,825 on hand. But Dilan has deep roots in the community, having served in the City Council for 12 years before winning the Assembly seat. 

Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz

First elected: 1994

District: Riverdale and other parts of the northwest Bronx.

Reported cash on hand: $331,136

Challenger: George Diaz and Jessica Altagracia Woolford 

Dinowitz easily defeated George Diaz, a former City Council aide, 63% to 36% in a two-way race in 2020. He’s running again, and reported having just $1,069 on hand. But Woolford, a former press secretary to U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, is hoping to run a progressive campaign based on generational change similar to the ones that led state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi and Rep. Jamaal Bowman to victory in the district. Her fundraising is a long way off from the well-funded Dinowitz as well, having reported $27,435 on hand. Both Diaz and Woolford are Latino, and will also be hoping to capitalize on the district’s increasing Hispanic population.

Assembly Member Deborah Glick

First elected: 1990

District: Parts of Downtown Manhattan including Greenwich Village

Reported cash on hand: $100,438

Challenger: Ryder Kessler

Lower Manhattan is home to a lot of political energy in 2022. The latest example is Kessler, a tech entrepreneur turned political operative who plans to primary the longtime Assembly member, who became the first openly gay person elected to the state Leguslature in 1990. Kessler, like Glick, is gay, in this district that contains the Stonewall Inn, but the challenger says the incumbent is stuck in the past on issues like sex work decriminalization. He has also criticized the chair of the Higher Education committee’s comments on population control as a response to climate change. Kessler reports having $68,985 on hand after one month of fundraising.

Assembly Member John McDonald III

First elected: 2012

District: Parts of Albany, Troy and Cohoes in the Capital Region

Reported cash on hand: $99,944

Challenger: Sam Fein

County Legislator Sam Fein has once again announced a primary challenge against the pharmacist legislator McDonald, who beat him by double digits in the Democratic primary last year. Voters might think differently this time around on issues like single payer health care, especially if the Working Families Party endorses Fein again. And if Fein loses in the primary, he can always try his luck in the general election again despite the risk of coming in third behind the conservative. Fein hasn’t yet reported fundraising numbers for January, but had just $8,727 in November..

Assembly Member Cathy Nolan

First elected: 1984

District: Long Island City and parts of Astoria and central Queens.

Reported cash on hand: $6,984

Challenger: Mary Jobaida, Huge Ma

There was a time – not that long ago really – when the longtime Western Queens legislator was the person taking on the powerful Democratic establishment. Those days are gone now with Nolan – who has told supporters she is running for reelection – facing another competitive primary. Activist Mary Jobaida announced over the summer that she will challenge Nolan again next June after coming in second in the 2020 Democratic primary for the same seat. “Vax Daddy” Huge Ma, who gained fame by creating a website to help people make appointments for their shots, has also gotten into the race though redistricting will determine the final line-up of candidates. Ma has a big lead over Nolan when it comes to fundraising, reporting $67,876 on hand. Jobaida hasn’t yet reported her January fundraising, but had $8,863 as of July 2021. 

Assembly Member José Rivera

First elected: 2000, after a previous stint in the Assembly

District: Parts of the western Bronx including Arthur Avenue.

Reported cash on hand: $70,788

Challenger: Shanequa Charles

The 20-year veteran of the Assembly won his last primary in a landslide, but Shanequa Charles is hoping she has better luck on a platform that includes support for making public transit free. Rivera is no stranger to politics, but he might not be able to count on Democratic leaders to save him this time considering all that trouble he got into last December for recording and releasing footage from the Democratic conference’s secretive meetings. Charles hasn’t yet released a campaign finance filing, while Rivera’s campaign has not reported raising a single dollar since Oct. 2020. 

Incumbents who faced a primary challenge – who do not face any now.

Assembly Member David Weprin

First elected: 2010

District: Parts of Richmond Hill, Jamaica Hills, Holliswood in Queens

Reported cash on hand: $188,941

Former challenger: Shaniyat Chowdhury

This weird and wild district is likely to change in redistricting, but there’s sure to be a major political divide. Chowdhury is a 29-year-old democratic socialist who fell to Rep. Gregory Meeks 76%-24% in the 2020 Democratic primary, his one attempt at running for office, while Weprin is a longstanding fixture who ran on probably the most conservative platform in the 2021 Democratic comptroller primary – where he finished fifth. Chowdhury ended up ditching his candidacy soon after it started. 

This article has been corrected to reflect the results of the 2020 primary in Assembly District 37. 

NEXT STORY: Is there still a universe where Tom Suozzi stands a chance against Gov. Kathy Hochul in the 2022 primary?

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