Despite predictions that the tragedy of September 11 would depress voter turnout, New Yorkers went to the polls last week in numbers not seen in a decade, and produced some surprising results.
In Queens, there has been a mini-revolution: Democratic primary voters selected their first black borough president, their first Hispanic City Council member, and the first Asian American to sit on the council. And in Brooklyn, where the Democratic county machine pulled out the stops for its favored candidates, those on the outs with the leadership won much of the day.
On primary day, Board of Elections officials were predicting a low voter turnout, offering estimates as low as a quarter million voters. But the unofficial count now stands at roughly 740,000, nearly twice the number that voted in the mayoral primary four years ago. The last time New Yorkers turned out in similar numbers was in 1989, when approximately 900,000 people came out to vote in the first David Dinkins mayoral primary.
“We had a historic turnout in District 20, higher than in the last 20 years,” said John Liu, a manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers who won the Flushing seat. “I think people were deeply affected by the tragedy two weeks ago. It reenergized people’s belief in our system.”
“Four years ago, an average of 10,000 people came out to vote in this district, whereas this year the number jumped to 17,000,” said Charles Stopper, a spokesman for Felipe Luciano, a television producer, who ran for the East Harlem-Bronx seat in District 8 still held by Philip Reed.
The results also bespoke a shift in the power of the county machines, with the Queens party growing stronger and the Brooklyn party seeming to wane.
For Jeannette Gadson, the Brooklyn deputy borough president running to replace her boss Howard Golden, defeat came from State Senator Marty Markowitz, who won 40 percent of the vote. Gadson earned 33 percent, and Brooklyn Heights councilman Ken Fisher 27 percent.
In the City Council races, efforts by the outgoing members to create family dynasties had mixed results. Peter Vallone Jr., an attorney and son of the City Council Speaker, won handily in District 22 in Astoria, while in District 40 in Brooklyn, Yvette Clarke beat seven others to replace her mother, Una, in the Flatbush seat.
Donald Wooten, son of East New York-Brownsville councilwoman Priscilla Wooten, placed third out of seven candidates running for the 42nd District. Charles Barron, a former Black Panther turned leadership trainer endorsed by Al Sharpton and former mayor David Dinkins, led with 4389 votes, followed by former New York Knick Gregory Jackson with 4149 votes, according to unofficial tallies published last week.
Outgoing Councilman Ken Fisher will be replaced in the Greenpoint-Williamsburg-Brooklyn Heights area by David Yassky, a Brooklyn Law School professor who ran a close campaign against longtime district leader and Brooklyn attorney, Steve Cohn. In Park Slope, Bill de Blasio, a campaign manager for Hillary Clinton, won in a field of six candidates, with 32 percent of the vote.
James Davis, a cop and minister running for the 35th District in Crown Heights, beat the machine favorite by more than 1000 votes, a painful defeat for Letitia James and the man who drafted her to run, Clarence Norman, head of the Kings County Democratic Party.
“The era of the machine anointing candidates is over,” observed Yassky. “Because of campaign finance reform, it’s possible to run an aggressive, issues-based campaign and win.”
Having a powerful organization seemed to help Queens candidates, such as Liu, who was endorsed by outgoing borough president Claire Shulman, and Helen Marshall, an Elmhurst councilwoman. If he wins in November, Liu will become the first Asian American in a citywide office. Hiram Monserrate, a district leader, won in District 21 in Corona, and may be the first Queens Hispanic on the Council.
In the race for Bronx borough president, Adolfo Carrion won with 40 percent of the vote, beating back a challenge from State Senator Pedro Espada, who garnered 37 percent of the vote. June Eisland received 23 percent of the vote. In Council District 11, the Riverdale section of the Bronx, Oliver Koppell, former state attorney general, won with 59 percent of the vote. In the South Bronx, the incumbent, Pedro Espada, son of the state senator, lost to José Serrano in the race for the District 17 seat, the only incumbent to lose in the primary.
In Manhattan’s District 1, which includes the Lower East Side and Chinatown, attorney Alan Gerson bested a field of seven candidates to win 21 percent of the vote, thwarting a push for Chinese American representation.
In Queens, Jairam Thakral, chief financial officer at SUNY Stony Brook, had hoped to become the first South Asian to sit on the City Council. Thakral, 65, lost the race to David Weprin. He believes the tragedy of two weeks ago affected turnout, and not for the better. “I think a lot of South Asians didn’t come out to vote, and I think people didn’t vote for me because of my name,” he said. When asked if he felt bitter, Thakral said no. “I love this city. I’m going to work hard and prove to the voters that I think I’m a good man and I want to serve the public and the community. I will run again.”