Espaillat-backed Xavier Santiago fails to unseat Eddie Gibbs

With a lead of 9 points, Gibbs was victorious in the East Harlem Assembly primary.

Xavier Santiago addresses supporters.

Xavier Santiago addresses supporters. Eliot Force

Incumbent Assembly Member Eddie Gibbs came out ahead of first-time challenger Xavier Santiago in the Assembly District 68 primary Tuesday night, despite Santiago’s high-profile endorsements. 

With nearly 99% of scanners reported on election night, Gibbs led Santiago by 9 points. The incumbent held around 42.5% of the votes, while Santiago pulled about 33.5%. The difference came down to almost 500 votes in the low-turnout race. 

A somber yet resilient Santiago arrived with his family at his election night event in La Fonda, a Puerto Rican-owned bar and restaurant in East Harlem, around 9:30. He spoke to his supporters individually before giving a concession speech to the couple dozen people who had gathered for the event. 

“We ran an upright, truthful and dignified campaign,” said Santiago. “We left it all in the field.” 

The victories of Gibbs over Santiago and incumbent Landon Dais over Leonardo Coello in the Assembly District 77 primary represent a continued challenge to Rep. Adriano Espaillat’s efforts to elect his chosen candidates to seats in East Harlem and the Bronx at various levels of government. Between 2021 and 2022, Espaillat successfully backed six candidates who were elected to City Council and Assembly districts which overlapped or bordered his own congressional district. Later in 2022, however, two of Espaillat’s picks for Assembly lost, and the trend seems to have carried over into the current election. 

Espaillat wasn’t present to watch the returns at Santiago’s party. But Santiago was joined by his campaign staff, members of the community and other members of Community Board 11, which he leads. Eli Valentin, a consultant to Santiago’s campaign, said that Santiago should be proud of what he accomplished and the coalition of supporters he had been able to assemble. Santiago was endorsed by City Council members, Assembly members and most notably Reps. Espaillat and Jerry Nadler, a rare feat for primary challengers. 

“Espaillat saw good leadership, as did Jerry Nadler,” said Santiago. “Espaillat knows I’m about coalition building, and that’s what this community deserves.”

Gibbs’ victory marks the beginning of his second full term in the Assembly. “I am deeply honored and grateful for the trust placed in me to continue serving as Assemblymember,” he said in a statement to City & State.

“We congratulate Eddie Gibbs for winning. It was a hard fought race,” said Valentin. “Hopefully East Harlem gets what it deserves.” 

Santiago said he expects a meaningful partnership between Community Board 11 and Gibbs’ office in the future.

Correction: This article has been corrected to note that “La Fonda” is a Puerto Rican-owned restaurant, and it has been updated to more accurately represent Espaillat’s efforts to get other candidates elected – including candidates who aren’t Dominican American. It has also been updated with comment from Gibbs.

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