Progressive state lawmakers prevail in primaries, while progressive insurgents struggle

The WFP and DSA succeeded in protecting their incumbents, but largely failed to unseat more moderate lawmakers.

Assembly candidate Claire Valdez defeated Assembly Member Juan Ardila and candidate Johanna Carmona in a Queens Democratic primary.

Assembly candidate Claire Valdez defeated Assembly Member Juan Ardila and candidate Johanna Carmona in a Queens Democratic primary. Rebecca C. Lewis

Progressives suffered a major blow with the defeat of Rep. Jamaal Bowman in Westchester and the Bronx, but election night was far from a wash for left-wing candidates across the state. While the Democratic Socialists of America and the progressive Working Families Party did not have quite the success of past years, they still managed to protect incumbents from moderate challenges and slightly grow the number of socialist and progressive lawmakers headed to Albany.

The biggest victory of the night for the DSA came in Western Queens, where Claire Valdez, a union organizer, easily defeated both Johanna Carmona, who had the backing of Queens Democratic Party, and incumbent Assembly Member Juan Ardila, who was effectively a non-entity in the race following allegations of sexual misconduct and widespread calls for his resignation. Valdez’s victory came in Assembly District 37, a section of Queens that is just east of Astoria – the place where Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez staked her claim with her first win in 2018, which has since become the heart of the democratic socialist movement in New York.

A small portion of Assembly District 37 is represented by socialist state Sen. Kristen Gonzalez, but most of it is represented by state Sen. Michael Gianaris – a progressive, but not a socialist. Ardila won the district in 2022, running as a progressive to replace retiring Assembly Member Cathy Nolan, a moderate Democrat. Ardila did not run with the DSA endorsement, nor did he associate himself with the socialist movement. Although several progressives ran to represent the area in the New York City Council in 2021, none at the time campaigned as socialists either. For DSA, Valdez’s victory represents a real victory that slightly expands its influence deeper into Queens.

“It’s not my victory, it’s our victory,” Valdez told City & State at her victory party in Sunnyside. “I’m so proud of this movement.” She said she had not yet spoken with other members of the DSA slate who did not fare as well as her, like Eon Huntley in Central Brooklyn and Jonathan Soto in the Bronx. Both attempted to unseat moderate incumbents, who ultimately held onto their seats. Valdez said she would be making some calls later in the evening. “These campaigns are part of a very long fight for, like, worker justice, for housing justice, to make health care a human right,” Valdez said of the losses of her fellow DSA slate members and Bowman. “And the fight continues.”

Bowman’s loss to Westchester County Executive George Latimer was easily the most high-profile progressive loss of the evening. The DSA also notably fell short in its insurgent races, the kind that they saw great success winning in 2020. Assembly Member Stefani Zinerman narrowly held off Huntley, while Assembly Member Michael Benedetto easily bested Soto. In the Hudson Valley, the WFP-backed Claire Cousin failed to defeat incumbent Assembly Member Didi Barrett. And in the crowded race on Manhattan’s West Side for the 69th Assembly District, the WFP-endorsed Eli Northrup fell well short of the winning Micah Lasher. “I am aware that for some of our interns, our campaign was a place where you could be both a proud progressive and a proud Zionist,” Lasher said at his victory party, referencing anti-Zionist sentiments that have pervaded leftwing rhetoric since the start of Israel’s war in Gaza.

Some observers saw the results, particularly Bowman’s defeat, as evidence that Democratic voters prefer moderates over left-wing candidates. “Democratic voters made clear that Democratic voters are staking a moderate position,” state Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs said on NY1 following Latimer’s victory. The pro-Israel Solidarity PAC, which has been likened to a state-level version of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, celebrated the success of candidates it supported like Lasher, Benedetto and Barrett over pro-Palestine progressives. “Primary voters had a choice between common sense Democrats and socialist extremists,” said the group’s treasurer Sara Forman in a statement. “They acted in their best interest and chose the local policy-passing pragmatists over the foreign policy posers.”

But those assessments only tell half the story. While few progressive insurgents succeeded in unseating more moderate incumbents, both the DSA and the WFP were able to protect their state-level incumbents against moderate challengers, of which there were many this year.

Assembly Member Sarahana Shrestha handily defeated Gabi Madden to hold onto the Hudson Valley seat she first won in 2022. Assembly Member Emily Gallagher similarly held onto her Brooklyn seat despite a challenge from Anathea Simpkins in Brooklyn. The two victories cemented positions of the once-insurgent socialists. “There were many who said that these primaries would bring about the diminishing of socialists in office at the state level,” said Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani at Valdez’s event in Queens. “And what we’ve seen today is that not only have we sustained the number that we already had, but then in fact that number is expanding.”

With Valdez’s success, the DSA gained a new socialist in office, growing the group’s ranks and influence in Albany. Progressives also gained another new member upstate with the victory of Gabriella Romero in a crowded primary to replace Assembly Member Pat Fahy in an Albany-area district. Romero boasted the support of the WFP and a slew of other progressive groups and elected officials, and she ultimately bested Fahy’s own hand-picked successor. “We couldn’t be more thrilled to celebrate victories in tonight’s State Senate and Assembly races,” WFP co-directors Ana Maria Archila and Jasmine Gripper said in a statement.

One of the most surprising election results came in Assembly District 40, where progressive Assembly Member Ron Kim managed to hold onto his seat in the face of a strong and well-funded challenge from Yi Andy Chen. Kim nearly lost both his primary and general elections in 2022, making him a particularly vulnerable incumbent. But Kim ran hard to the center over the course of the race, distancing himself from his more progressive colleagues – a decision that seemed to have paid off. “I want to continue to emphasize that I'm not just a progressive, you know, I'm also working with anyone that's willing to focus on building solutions,” Kim told City & State at his victory party.

– with reporting by Annie McDonough