The energy level at The Brooklyn Firefly could only be described as “intergalactic.”
An hour after polls closed, Democratic City Council Member Justin Brannan entered what quickly became his election night victory party at the Bay Ridge restaurant to the booming bass of the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep till Brooklyn” and thunderous applause. Republican City Council Member Ari Kagan had just conceded the race, as Brannan led 58-41 with nearly 98% of scanners reporting. Shouts of “we won!” were already ringing out among the eager bunch of politicos and supporters at the restaurant long before Brannan showed up.
“Tonight was a victory for love over hate, for hope over fear, for truth over lies,” Brannan said in his victory speech, surrounded by elected officials including City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, state Sen. Andrew Gounardes and New York City Comptroller Brad Lander.
Brannan’s race against Kagan, a fellow incumbent, was expected to be one of the most competitive this year, but he currently leads Kagan by a more comfortable margin than he saw in his last election.
A few blocks away, Kagan delivered his concession speech to a quiet crowd, promising a continued presence in the district. “I love this job, I love public service and I’m not going anywhere,” he said to applause from his gathered supporters. Kagan added that the district had been “gerrymandered to the point of absurdity” and decried outside spending against him in the race.
Brooklyn GOP Chair Richard Barsamian also indicated that Kagan may run again. “It’s not in the numbers tonight, but the good news is Ari Kagan is going to rest for a couple of days, but he’s not going anywhere,” Barsamian said.
The contest between the two current colleagues in southern Brooklyn has been one of the fiercest – and at times nastiest – races this year, with attacks spanning candidates’ positions on the migrant crisis, budget votes, even the Israel-Hamas War.
“Tonight, I think we're all going to remember those who stood with us without question or equivocation,” Brannan said in his victory speech. “We’re certainly not going to forget those who tried to bring us down in some of the toughest moments of this campaign.”
That line may have been aimed at Brooklyn Democratic Party Chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, who had repeatedly criticized Brannan publicly. A month ago, she unexpectedly called out Brannan over the lack of migrant shelters in Bay Ridge. It was a bizarre move from the leader of the county Democratic party to make. Just last week, Bichotte Hermelyn released a statement in her capacity as chair of the county party about revived allegations of bullying and harassment against Brannan by a former co-worker, drawing criticism from other lawmakers and district leaders who accused her of undermining a Democrat in a competitive seat.
The Bay Ridge section of Brannan’s current district and the Coney Island section of Kagan’s current district were combined into the new 47th City Council district during last year’s redistricting process. Democratic voter enrollment far outpaces Republican enrollment in the new district, but Republican mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa still outperformed Eric Adams in these neighborhoods in the 2021 mayoral race. Brannan won both of his previous races by close margins, and with Kagan’s status as a fellow incumbent – plus recent shifts to the right in southern Brooklyn – some expected the race to be much closer than it ended up being.
Accustomed to close races, Brannan received the enthusiastic backing – and financial support – of major labor unions and fellow elected officials. “It’s just getting out there and knocking on doors and making phone calls and hitting the streets,” he told City & State last month. “The alchemy that we normally do for campaigns is the same thing we're doing now.”
But Kagan wasn’t absent on the campaign trail. Gounardes attributed Brannan’s victory not to a lack of effort on Kagan’s part, but to voters appreciating that Brannan can deliver to the district. (Brannan occupies one of the council’s more powerful positions as chair of the Committee on Finance.) “He was campaigning, he had his people campaigning. They were throwing mud, they would do all the things they usually do,” Gounardes said of Kagan’s campaign. “I think voters here recognized that Justin brought a quarter of a billion dollars back into this neighborhood for parks and playgrounds and schools and services.”
Last year, several incumbent Democrats in southern Brooklyn were ousted in upsets by Republicans – a shift right that the Republican Party attributed in part to its messaging on crime resonating with voters. Brannan’s victory shouldn’t have southern Brooklyn Democrats sitting back and relaxing, though, Gounardes said. “We still have a lot of work to do across the board to make sure that we are competing in every single neighborhood,” he said. “So we'll take tonight’s victory, and tomorrow get back on our horse and keep working.”
Additional reporting by Rebecca C. Lewis.