Campaigns & Elections

Heastie visits incumbents facing left-wing primary challenges

In recent weeks, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has hosted in-district events with Assembly Members Didi Barrett, Michael Benedetto and Stefani Zinerman – who are all fighting off primary challenges backed by the WFP or DSA.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (center-left) and Assembly Member Michael Benedetto (center-right) hold an oversized novelty check at an event to announce investments in Co-Op City.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (center-left) and Assembly Member Michael Benedetto (center-right) hold an oversized novelty check at an event to announce investments in Co-Op City. Carl Heastie’s office

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is making a trip from his home district in the Bronx down to Brooklyn this evening. Specifically, he’ll be in the district of Assembly Member Stefani Zinerman to announce a $6 million investment in a new wellness center in Bedford-Stuyvesant. She also happens to be facing a left-wing challenge in a little over a month. Zinerman is the third incumbent facing such a challenge whom Heastie has appeared alongside in the past three weeks.

On Thursday, Heastie was slightly closer to home in the Bronx district of Assembly Member Michael Benedetto to tout a $51 million investment into Co-Op City, a large Mitchell-Lama development in Benedetto’s district. He was pictured with a grinning Benedetto holding up a big novelty check to commemorate the spending allocation. And last week, the speaker appeared with Assembly Member Didi Barrett in the Hudson Valley to celebrate $2 million included in the budget to help close a landfill in the Town of New Lebanon. “We want New Lebanon to know they’re not forgotten,” Heastie said at an April 24 press conference.

All three legislators currently face challenges from progressive insurgent candidates endorsed by the Working Families Party or Democratic Socialists of America, with primary day set for June 25. So far, they are the only lawmakers that Heastie has visited in-district to talk about hyper-specific funding priorities. 

Incumbents rejected the idea that Heastie was visiting them to boost their campaigns. 

“Heastie knows the value of good middle class communities and their value to NYC,” Benedetto told City & State in a text. When asked whether he thought his upcoming primary against Jonathan Soto, who is backed by both the WFP and DSA, played any role in Heastie’s decision, Benedetto said “not at all.” Soto, who is running against Benedetto with the backing of DSA, said he wasn’t surprised by Heastie’s visit. “It’s expected for the Speaker to show up in Co-Op City for a member of his conference, as I expect to show up in Albany as his neighboring colleague in 2025,” Soto said in a text. He also criticized the investment for only covering “a fraction of Co-Op City’s capital improvement needs.”

Lupe Todd-Medina, a spokesperson for Zinerman’s campaign, downplayed any connection between the speaker’s visit and Zinerman’s upcoming primary against Eon Huntley, who is backed by DSA. She said Heastie is “supporting a colleague who has been working on this initiative,” referring to the wellness center receiving funding. “He knows it’s personal and wants to celebrate victory with her.” Todd-Medina called reelection an “employee review” and said that unveiling a funding victory with the speaker is “like the points you get for solving the extra credit math equation.” (In addition to serving as a spokesperson for the Zinerman campaign, Todd-Medina is a member of City & State’s advisory board.)

District visits from Heastie are not unusual, but the timing this year is a little different than usual. The speaker takes a well-publicized statewide tour of New York every year, visiting the districts of his members in all 62 counties to discuss various investments and get to better know his members’ homes. But typically, that tour doesn’t kick off until the summer, after the legislative session ends. In 2022, Heastie started that tour in mid-July, well after that year’s June 28 Democratic primaries. According to a review of his press releases and schedules from that year, he did not publicize any specific district visits to tout legislative or budget victories with members prior to the primary election.

A spokesperson for Heastie did not return a request for comment about his recent district visits. But insurgent candidates said that his recent appearances at official government events with incumbents is a sign. “The fact that Speaker Heastie is meeting repeatedly with Assembly Member Barrett indicates that they both view my campaign as a formidable challenge,” said Claire Cousin, who is challenging Barrett in the Hudson Valley with the backing of WFP. Cousin said in a text message that Barrett is relying on “support from people like Heastie” to remain in office. A spokesperson for Barrett could not be reached for comment.

Huntley agreed that Heastie’s appearance with his opponent is evidence of the strength of the insurgent campaign. “It’s not a coincidence that the Speaker is visiting only the districts of people with progressive challengers,” Huntley said in a statement. “It’s clear that the Democratic establishment sees our campaign as a real threat to their power.”