Albany Agenda

The biggest proxy fights in Tuesday's Democratic primaries

Politicians who aren’t on the ballot are getting in on the action, picking sides in key congressional and state legislative races.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (right) attended a rally in the South Bronx to mobilize voters in support of Rep. Jamaal Bowman (left) on June 22, 2024.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (right) attended a rally in the South Bronx to mobilize voters in support of Rep. Jamaal Bowman (left) on June 22, 2024. David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

With primary day just around the corner, New Yorkers are focused on deciding who should be the next Democrat to represent them. Many races are pitting different factions of the Democratic Party against each other, like progressives versus centrists or moderates against socialists. Then you have machine politics in places like Queens or the Bronx, where local party leaders have singled out their favorites. 

Sometimes it’s impossible, impractical or politically unseemly to campaign against someone whose version of politics you don’t agree with in a state or congressional race. That’s where proxies come in. In this primary election, politicians who aren’t even on the ballot are getting in on the action, picking sides in important races.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vs. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders

The 16th Congressional District Democratic primary between Rep. Jamaal Bowman and Westchester County Executive George Latimer has gotten national attention from progressives and supporters of Israel, along with intense scrutiny from Democrats and members of the media. Both candidates have received a number of high-profile endorsements. Now Clinton and Sanders, foes from the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, have each weighed in on opposite sides of the race. Clinton formally endorsed Latimer this month, while Sanders trekked to the Bronx to help support Bowman last weekend.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries vs. state Sen. Jabari Brisport

Jeffries has made one thing clear over the years: he is no fan of socialists. Brisport, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, represents a state Senate district in the heart of Jeffries’ congressional district. The two Brooklyn lawmakers are aligning behind different candidates in the Democratic primary for Assembly District 56, which pits Assembly Member Stephanie Zinerman against challenger Eon Huntley. Brisport is campaigning hard for Huntley, who has been endorsed by the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. Jeffries endorsed Zinerman, who has been part of Bedford-Stuyvesant Democratic politics for years.

Rep. Adriano Espaillat vs. Manhattan Democratic Party Chair Keith Wright 

Espaillat beat Wright in an open primary to win his seat in Congress, but Wright kept his position as borough party boss, a role he has held since 2009. Since then, the two have fought for influence in Manhattan politics, with Espaillat frequently endorsing candidates opposed to Wright’s Manhattan machine. While Espaillat gave Wright the courtesy of staying out of the Assembly District 70 primary, where Wright’s own son Jordan is the frontrunner, he and his “Squadriano” are still causing trouble for the Manhattan leader. This month, Espaillat endorsed Xavier Santiago, who is challenging Assembly Member Eddie Gibbs, a close Wright ally, in the Democratic primary for Assembly District 68.

State Sen. James Skoufis vs. Socialists

Skoufis, who represents a purplish Hudson Valley state Senate district, is rarely associated with progressives or their policies. He’s been an outspoken critic of congestion pricing and the housing policies backed by Gov. Kathy Hochul or his more left-leaning colleagues. This cycle, he’s doing more than just talking about how much he dislikes progressive politics. He’s throwing his weight behind a former staffer, Gabi Madden, who is challenging Assembly Member Sarahana Shrestha, a democratic socialist. Shrestha currently represents Assembly District 103, which covers Ulster County, a portion of which Skoufis used to represent. As progressive candidates attempt to broaden their ranks in state office upstate, Skoufis is doing his part to chip away at their coalition in his own backyard.