New York State

New York’s political turncoats

The long, proud history of politicians switching parties.

Now former Democratic New York City Council Member Ari Kagan has crossed partisan lines to join the GOP.

Now former Democratic New York City Council Member Ari Kagan has crossed partisan lines to join the GOP. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

Over 200 years ago, Benedict Arnold set such a precedent for being a traitor that it became his namesake. Today’s figures in politics and government might not engage in the same level of betrayal, but we do still have the occasional side-switcher, especially when it comes to political parties. 

Monday, City Council Member Ari Kagan pulled a Benedict Arnold as he officially announced that he was leaving the Democratic Party and joining the Republican Party. “What am I doing in the Democratic Party?” he apparently pondered before he made the switch.

In light of the news, here are some of New York’s other political turncoats.

Former Republicans who are now Democrats:

Eric Adams

The mayor, a former Brooklyn borough president, has been through a political change or two over the years. This includes an abandoned 1994 congressional run as a Democrat where he received backing from the Nation of Islam, then he was as a registered Republican from 1995 to 2002 before going back to the Dems several years before he won a state Senate seat in 2006.

Julie Menin

A new millennium brought what could be called a partisan identity crisis to the newly elected member of the City Council. She became a registered Democrat in Nov. 2002 and then joined the Independence Party a few months later. She became a Republican a few weeks later and then switched back to the Dems – seemingly for good – in July 2003, according to the New York Post. 

Peter Koo 

The former, unofficial, “Mayor of Flushing” ditched the GOP in 2012 just as the party’s hopes for political relevance began going down the drain in New York City. Given how easy reelection was for Koo after that, it looks like he had a lot to gain by sticking with the Dems for good.

Michael Bloomberg

There was a time, nearly two decades ago, when becoming a Republican made sense for a billionaire New York City mayoral hopeful in need of a ballot line. It also made sense when he ditched the GOP to go independent a few years later to win reelection in an increasingly liberal city. Switching to Democrat didn’t get him elected president in 2020, but at least Bloomberg looks like he is comfortable with his adopted team. 

John Brooks

The former Republican accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination when he successfully challenged corruption-plagued GOP state Sen. Michael Venditto in 2016. You could say that he got ahead of the political curve that has turned Long Island increasingly blue in recent years.

Julia Salazar

The Brooklyn state senator is one of the most outspoken self-described Marxists in state politics, a notable turnaround for the former Republican who just a few years ago blasted liberal professors on conservative firebrand Glenn Beck’s TV show. We’ll see if her current ideology sticks for the long haul.

Mike Spano

The Yonkers mayor won a seat in the Assembly as a 20-something Republican in 1992. Life in the chamber became a lot easier after he moved across the aisle in 2007 to join the Democratic majority. Winning a third term as a Democratic mayor means he can finally say most of his political life has been spent with the Democrats.

Ogden Reid

The mid-century liberal represented parts of Westchester County in the U.S. House of Representatives for five terms as a Republican. He then went Democrat in 1972 because of his  dislike of President Richard Nixon. While he only survived in Congress through 1974, at least he got to serve long enough to see Tricky Dick go first.

John Lindsay

Decades before Bloomberg, another former Republican mayor ran for the 1972 Democratic nomination for president. Lindsay fell short, and failed to get the Democratic nod for U.S. Senate in 1980. But Lindsay did reach the national stage as a regular guest host of “Good Morning America.”

J. Edward Meyer III

Meyer is the only person on this list to serve in two states’ legislatures. He was first elected to the New York Assembly in 1970 as a Republican but then switched sides in 1973 and served an additional term. Once the 21 century came around, he popped up in elected office once more as a six-term state senator in Connecticut. 

Pedro Espada Jr.

He technically remained a Democrat throughout his (shall we say tumultuous?) political career, but no one will ever accuse the former Bronx lawmaker and convicted felon of being a loyal member of the party. He unsuccessfully ran for office on the Liberal Party line in 1996 and failed as a Republican candidate in 2002. That legislative coup he helped launch in 2009 to give the GOP control of the state Senate wiped out whatever goodwill he still had in his own party. For some reason, Democrats ended his career by backing a primary challenge against him.

Former Democrats who are now Republicans:

Ari Kagan

New York City Council Member Kagan currently represents the 47th district in South Brooklyn, which had a strong Republican showing in this year’s election. Newly drawn City Council election maps would’ve likely pitted Kagan against neighboring Council Member Justin Brannan in a 2023 primary battle for the Democratic ticket, but now as a Republican, Kagan could be looking to capitalize on the South Brooklyn red wave. According to Kagan, however, the switch is due to a discrepancy in ideology, as he sees the Democrats moving too far left. “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party,” he claimed “The Democratic Party left me”. 

Alec Brook-Krasny

After eight and half years in the Assembly as a Democrat, the first Russian-born legislator retired early, in 2015, to make more money in the private sector. He was charged in aiding an opioid scheme, but was acquitted, and worked to make a comeback in elected office. First as a Democrat – losing in a 2021 City Council primary to Kagan – then, as a Republican – winning back his Assembly seat by defeating Mathylde Frontus. Southern Brooklyn is voting more Republican, and its elected officials are noticing.

Inna Vernikov

The newly-inaugurated Republican member of the City Council says she became a registered Democrat in the past to maximize her political voice in the superblue city. Membership in the reinvigorated GOP minority conference means plenty of people will be hearing the diehard Trumpist and vaccine mandate opponent for years to come. 

Joseph Robach

The former GOP state senator came to the state Capitol nearly three decades ago as a Democratic assemblyman. He switched parties in 2002 and won election to the state Senate, a move that would add an extra vote and a jocular touch to the GOP conference in the years ahead.

Vito Fossella

The former Staten Island congressman comes from Democratic family, but he nonetheless registered as a Republican before first winning a New York City Council seat in 1994. He eventually became the only GOP member of the city’s congressional delegation before losing his seat following a drunken driving conviction and an extramarital affair. Such setbacks didn’t stop him from winning a 2021 election as Staten Island borough president.  

Herman Badillo

The former Democratic congressman from the Bronx ran for mayor as a Republican in 2001. His mayoral hopes were dashed in the GOP primary by fellow party switcher Michael Bloomberg, whose deep pockets ensured that Badillo’s political career as a Republican didn’t last long.

Olga Méndez

The first Puerto Rican woman to serve in the state Legislature felt the Democrats were taking her for granted after 13 terms in the state Senate. She made the point by heading over to the GOP in 2002, but voters threw her out of office the next time they had a chance.

Curtis Sliwa

The Reform Party lost its ballot access in 2018 after Sliwa led a hostile takeover of the party. Sliwa registered as a Republican in order to run for New York City mayor. You could say that the Guardian Angels founder did about as well as he might’ve hoped in his losing campaign against Adams. That includes showing voters his studio full of cats before getting hit by a taxi.

Teddy Roosevelt

If a New York City boy can move west for a while and become a cowboy, then he can surely go from being a Republican president in 1908 to becoming a Bull Moose progressive insurgent four years later. The move cost the GOP the White House, but at least Teddy didn’t go Democrat.