Scandals, Upsets and ‘Firsts’ in Council Races

While the mayoral primaries took top billing in the media, plenty of City Council races, and a district attorney one, also garnered the attention of the ethnic and community media. (Photo by Maite Junco/Voices of NY)

While the mayoral primaries took top billing in the media, plenty of City Council races and a district attorney one, also garnered the attention of the ethnic and community media. (Photo by Maite Junco/Voices of NY)

The mayoral race may have taken center stage in coverage of the 2013 primaries but fights for City Council seats and other local positions saw candidates battling to replace embroiled incumbents and newcomers taking the throne from longtime representatives.

The ethnic and community press reported on local victories important to their readers and celebrated candidates that made history as the first in their community to win a public office seat. With no City Council seat having more than one Republican nominee, the primary wins and losses highlighted below are all from the Democratic side.

Antonio Reynoso beat out former Assemblyman Vito Lopez to represent City Council District 34. (Photo via El Diario-La Prensa)

Antonio Reynoso (Photo via El Diario-La Prensa)

First, there were the scandals. Allegations of sexual harassment against young female staff members pushed former State Assemblyman Vito Lopez to resign from his seat in May but that didn’t stop him from running for City Council District, which represents Bushwick and East Williamsburg in Brooklyn. Once a feared political powerhouse, the 71-year-old was crushed by Dominican-American newcomer Antonio Reynoso, 30. Reynoso had been profiled by El Diario-La Prensa as one of several up-and-coming young Latinos vying for City Council seats. He won with 49.2 percent to Lopez’s 37.2 percent.

Maritza Davila (Photo via El Diario-La Prensa)

Maritza Davila (Photo via El Diario-La Prensa)

But the scandal did not completely end Lopez’s tentacles in Brooklyn’s politics. The Assembly District 53 seat he left vacant went to the candidate he endorsed, Maritza Davila, who topped her rival Jason Otaño (also profiled by El Diario-La Prensa when he ran for the state senate seat last year) 51.9 percent to 31.6 in District 53. In an article from June, Brooklyn Bureau quoted her as saying, “I have never known any other legislator that has ever delivered any services to their district like Assemblyman Lopez.” With no Republican rival, Davila has essentially won the seat.

Rafael Espinal will represent City Council District 37. (Photo via El Diario-La Prensa)

Rafael Espinal (Photo via El Diario-La Prensa)

In what seems like the six degrees of Vito Lopez, his presence also loomed over the City Council District 37 race, representing Cypress Hills and Highland Park in Brooklyn. Four candidates ran to fill the seat vacated by the term-limited Erik Dilan, who has been described as an ally of Lopez. State Assemblyman Rafael Espinal, former chief of staff to Dilan, prevailed with 46 percent to runner-up Kimberly Council at 31.5 percent. Espinal will have no Republican contesting him come November.

Ben Kallos (Photo by Heather Martino)

Ben Kallos (Photo by Heather Martino)

Micah Kellner also lost under circumstances akin to Lopez. Accused by former staff members of sexual harassment, the assemblyman of the Upper East Side’s District 76 ran for City Council District 5 and lost 39.4 percent to Ben Kallos’ 45.7 percent. Kallos, whose “grandparents fled anti-Semitism in Russia and Hungary” according to his website, was once the chief of staff to former Assemblyman Jonathan Bing and had been considered a long shot to beat Kellner. Kallos will face Republican candidate Paul Garland.

Continuing the thread of scandals, the Malcolm Smith bribery scheme resulted in hopefuls vying for seats vacated by former Assemblyman Nelson Castro, of District 86 in the West Bronx, and by Councilman Dan Halloran of District 19 in Queens, representing Bayside, College Point and Whitestone, both of whom were ensnared in the far-reaching scandal. The Democratic primary saw seven candidates running after Castro’s seat. At less than 4 percent between the top three – Victor Pichardo (22.7 percent), Hector Ramirez (21.3 percent) and Yudelka Tapia (19 percent) – the race remains too close to call. The same is true for Halloran’s seat, where Paul Vallone is atop a still too-close-too-call race with 31.1 percent versus Austin Shafran’s 29.5 percent.

Double victory: Incumbent Councilwoman Annabel Palma (l.) won her District 18 seat. Maria del Carmen Arroyo (r.) won in District 17. Pictured here on primary day. (Photo by Steven Trader via Mott Haven Herald)

Incumbent Councilwoman Annabel Palma (l.) won her District 18 seat. Maria del Carmen Arroyo (r.) won again in District 17. Pictured here on primary day. (Photo by Steven Trader via Mott Haven Herald)

More scandal on the ballots, this time in Bronx and involving celebrities, sort of. In District 17 in the South Bronx (Hunts Point, Melrose, Port Morris), incumbent Maria del Carmen Arroyo’s campaign submitted forged signatures from names like Derek Jeter and Kate Moss but, as Mott Haven Herald reports, it didn’t deter voters who gave her an easy victory over newcomer Julio Pabon 68.3 percent to 31.7 percent.

Carlos Menchaca

Carlos Menchaca (Photo by Pamela Granda)

Turning over to stories of “firsts,” newcomer Carlos Menchaca has perhaps the most impressive win in that regard. He became the first Mexican-American elected to public office in the city and the first openly gay official in Brooklyn. He will represent City Council District 38, which includes Red Hook, Sunset Park and Windsor Terrace in Brooklyn, after beating three-term incumbent Sara Gonzalez. Running on a platform of helping the working class and immigrant communities, Menchaca had two reasons to celebrate the day after: in addition to his victory, the progressive candidate turned 33 Wednesday.

Ritchie Torres will represent City Council District 15 in the Bronx. (Photo by Humberto Arellano via El Diario-La Prensa)

Ritchie Torres (Photo by Humberto Arellano via El Diario-La Prensa)

In a round-up of three LGBT primary wins, Gay City News reported on Ritchie Torres and Corey Johnson, newcomers who won in the West Bronx and Midtown Manhattan respectively, in addition to Menchaca. Profiled by El Diario-La Prensa, Torres is only 24 years old and has worked as a tenant organizer for six years. Like Menchaca, Torres also has his own “first,” according to Norwood News:

Torres becomes the first openly gay candidate to win a Democratic primary in any major Bronx political race. He’s poised to become the borough’s first gay elected official.

Corey Johnson (Photo by Donna Aceto via Gay City News)

Corey Johnson (Photo by Donna Aceto via Gay City News)

Torres beat out runner-up Joel R. Rivera, 36.1 percent to 21.1 percent. The two will face each other again in November, as Rivera is also running as a Republican in the general elections.

Meanwhile Johnson, an LGBT activist and Community Board 4 chairman, will go head-to-head against Republican candidate Richard Stewart in November for Christine Quinn’s District 3 seat in Manhattan’s Chelsea, Flatiron and West Village neighborhoods. According to DNAinfo, “Johnson, who is openly gay, will continue the district’s tradition as a so-called ‘gay seat.'” He easily beat Yetta Kurland – also openly gay and who ran unsuccessfully against Quinn four years ago – 62.6 percent to 37.4 percent.

Other notable results appearing in the community and ethnic press:

Assemblywoman Vanessa Gibson topped a six-candidate field – all vying for Helen Foster’s City Council District 16 seat in the southwestern Bronx – with 43.4 percent of the vote to runner-up Pedro Alvarez’s 16.8 percent. Bronx Bureau states that “for the first time since 1978, a person outside the Foster family political dynasty will represent” the district. The publication adds that the crowded field included a bevy of immigrant candidates:

A diverse field of six candidates ran against Gibson: Bola Omotosho, a Nigerian community leader and doctor; Naaimat Muhammed, the Muslim daughter of Ghanaian immigrants; Carlos Sierra, a Dominican immigrant who ran against Foster in 2009; Pedro Alvarez, a successful businessman and Dominican immigrant; Daryl Johnson, a housing-rights advocate; and Carlton Berkeley, a former NYPD officer. Gibson will face Republican candidate Banjamin Eggleston in the general election.

Laurie Cumbo (right) (Photo by Kyle Ligman via The Nabe)

Laurie Cumbo (right) (Photo by Kyle Ligman via The Nabe)

The Nabe covered District 35 (representing Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, Prospect Heights) newcomer Laurie Cumbo who won with 35.4 percent to second place candidate Ede Fox’s 26 percent. As Cumbo told the publication, her decision to step into politics developed from her work as director of Fort Greene’s Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts. With no Republican candidate, Cumbo has secured the City Council seat vacated by Letitia James, who will face fellow Democrat Daniel Squadron in the October 1 runoff election for public advocate.

Sheepshead Bay looks at Chaim Deutsch’s close win in Brooklyn’s District 48 (Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach, Sheepshead Bay). The founder of the Flatbush Shomrim (Jewish neighborhood patrol) beat out Ari Kagan, an activist and senior journalist at the Russian publication Vecherniy New York, with 33.9 percent to 30.6 percent. Sheepshead Bay notes:

Deutsch stood ringed by a multi-cultural group of supporters, hailing largely from the Orthodox Jewish community, as well as from the Asian and Muslim communities. He touted his ability to bring together a diverse coalition to overcome the demographic challenges that arose from redistricting, which turned the 48th Councilmanic District into a “Super-Russian District.”

Haitian Times reports that incumbent Mathieu Eugene fended off three candidates to continue serving District 40 in Brooklyn’s Ditmas Park, Prospect Lefferts Gardens and Prospect Park South. He faces no Republican nominee.

City councilman Mathieu Eugene, who became the first person of Haitian decent elected to public office in New York City, staved off a serious challenge to his seat by beating Sandra Thomas 48 percent to 37.5 percent.

Mark Levine (Photo via Facebook)

Mark Levine (Photo via Facebook)

Mark Levine held off nine rivals to secure Manhattan’s District 7 seat, representing Harlem’s Hamilton Heights and Morningside Heights. He won with 41.2 percent while runner-up Joyce Johnson received 17.7 percent of the vote. Earlier in the season, racial tensions marred the campaigns when former candidate Thomas Lopez-Pierre called Levine a “White/Jewish candidate” and of trying “to sneak into office like a thief in the night” in emails.

Winners aside, hopes of the Filipino community to have one of their own for the first time in City Council did not come to fruition as candidate Ed Santos came in third to incumbent Melissa Mark-Viverito in District 8, covering East Harlem and the South Bronx. In office since 2006, she won with 35.6 percent of the vote to Ralina Cardona’s 18.2 percent and Santos’ 16.1 percent. Mark-Viverito and Cardona will face each other again in the general election.

Kenneth Thompson (Photo via video from Bill DesJardins on YouTube)

Kenneth Thompson (Photo via video from Bill DesJardins on YouTube)

Finally, also of note was the major upset in the Brooklyn district attorney race. After 23 years, Charles Hynes was uprooted by former federal prosecutor Kenneth Thompson in a race Brooklyn Bureau described as “framed by questions about wrongful convictions on the DA’s watch and his handling of sexual abuse allegations involving the Hasidic community.” The Jewish press has covered Hynes and his lengthy relations with the community. An article appearing in The Jewish Week finds his “defeat welcomed by Jewish activists against abuse.” In a scathing piece against Hynes, co-published on Voices of NY recently, a BlackandBrownNews.com opinion piece asked, and answered, “Does DA Hynes Deserve to Be Re-elected? I Think Not.”

Thompson will not only become the first black DA in Brooklyn, he is also the first candidate in over a century to unseat an incumbent DA in the borough, according to Capital New York.

The results cited above are unofficial numbers as of September 11, provided by the New York Times via The Associated Press.

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  1. Pingback: Primary Aftermaths, NYPD Spying, BK Culture and More (RoundUp) | The BQ Brew

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