Decision 2020: A Good Night, But Not a Great One, for Livable Streets

Friends the livable streets movement fared extremely well — and an unrepentant homophobe was soundly defeated — in Tuesday's primary election balloting across the city.

Photo: Lorie Shaull
Photo: Lorie Shaull

Friends, the livable streets movement fared extremely well — and an unrepentant homophobe was soundly defeated —in Tuesday’s primary election balloting across the city.

As preliminary results roll in, this much is certain — though all of this could change:

  • Jessica González-Rojas appears to be the victor in a five-person race to retire pro-car Assembly Member Michael DenDekker in his Jackson Heights and Corona district. González-Rojas, endorsed by the influential livable streets political action committee StreetsPAC, earned 40.4 percent of the vote compared to DenDekker’s 22.8 percent.
  • In the Bronx, Council Member Ruben Diaz Sr., an unrepentant homophobe, went down in a spectacular defeat in the primary to replace retiring long time Rep. Jose Serrano. Council Member Ritchie Torres received 30.5 percent of the vote in a crowded Democratic field. In an interview earlier this month, Torres told Streetsblog that New Yorkers can no longer remain captive to car culture. “There needs to be a federal redistribution of resources from the automobile to sustainable alternatives.”

After cautioning that not all the votes were counted, StreetsPAC Executive Director Eric McClure said it was a good night for the group.

“It’s clear from the results thus far that voters care deeply about making streets safer and improving transit service,” he said. “One need only look at the wide victory margins of the first-time incumbents whom we supported in 2018 and again on Tuesday – Julia Salazar, Alessandra Biaggi, Catalina Cruz and Robert Jackson – to see that these are winning political issues.”

Of course, not all of the news was good for safe streets and sustainable transportation activists:

  • Rep. Yvette Clarke appear to cruise to victory for the seat representing Brooklyn’s Crown Heights, Park Slope, Brownsville, East Flatbush, Midwood, and Sheepshead Bay. The preliminary vote showed Clarke, a longtime House member with a spotty record on street safety issues, with 62.3 percent to challenger Adem Bunkeddeko’s 17.9 percent. Bunkeddeko had come much closer to unseating Clarke in 2018, but political insiders said that the result in this election might change dramatically as tens of thousands of absentee ballots are counted. It is said that the majority of those ballots are from the portion of the district where Bunkeddeko actually beat Clarke last time around. In a recent interview, Clarke appears to have softened her pro car views of the past: “While roads are meant for cars, we have seen in many cities across the country that closing some roads in favor of walking pavilions can benefit everyone. This creates less pollution, increases the walkability and attractiveness of your city, and disincentivizes driving due to the associated uptick in congestion.”
  • Queens Rep. Grace Meng appears to have beaten two challengers in Flushing, Forest Hills and Bayside with 61 percent of the vote.
  • Incumbent State Senator Diane Savino defeated Rajiv Gowda in Staten Island and southern Brooklyn, with 73.3 percent to Gowda’s 26.7. Gowda was endorsed by StreetsPAC, which praised him for a commitment to “fighting for a pedestrian and bicycle path on the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge.” Savino was recently in these pages for advocating reductions in tolls that would encourage driving, not reduce it.
  • Noted bike-hating Assembly Member Cathy Nolan defeated StreetsPAC-endorsed Mary Jobaida in Queens (Long Island City, Astoria, Ridgewood, Sunnyside, and Woodside) garnering 52.5 percent of the vote over Jobaida’s 33 percent. Last year, Nolan suggested a cycling ban in industrial parts of Queens.
  • Longtime Assembly Member Joe Lentol cruised to victory in the Greenpoint and Williamsburg seat that he has held since the Nixon administration. Lentol collected 57.7 percent of votes over StreetsPAC-backed challenger Emily Gallagher, who got 42.3 percent. StreetsPAC had sniffed at Lentol, saying only that the veteran lawmaker (and marijuana legalization advocate) “has been willing to work to listen to” advocates. The group strongly endorsed Gallagher, who may indeed close the gap when all the absentee ballots are counted.
  • Incumbent Assembly Member Felix Ortiz took advantage of a multi-candidate race to ease out an apparent victory with 38.7 percent in Brooklyn’s Red Hook, Sunset Park, and parts of Park Slope and Bay Ridge. StreetsPAC endorsed challenger Katherine Walsh, an urban planner who supported safe streets initiatives. Ortiz will forever be remembered for pushing a bill that criminalized walking.

The defeat of DenDekker should cheer safe street advocates. In 2015, after a hit-and-run driver killed 17-year-old Ovidio Jaramillo on deadly Northern Boulevard, DenDekker blamed the victim and embraced a campaign calling for a $25 fine on “distracted pedestrians.” The former pol said “the idea of the bill is not to fine per se pedestrians but to change behavior. Pedestrians need to be aware of their surroundings.” The victim-blaming bill went nowhere.

González-Rojas said she wants to break car culture by installing a 14th-Street-style busway on Northern Boulevard between 114th Street and Queens Plaza.

In other races:

  • Council Member Donovan Richards appears to have won the crowded Queens Borough President race with 36.8 percent of votes tallied, defeating Elizabeth Crowley and StreetsPAC-backed Council Member Costa Constantinides. In March, Richards demanded a busway on Archer Avenue in Jamaica.
  • In Astoria, Democratic Socialist Zohran Mamdani leads incumbent Assembly Member Aravella Simotas with 53.7 percent of the vote. In Feb., he told Streetsblog that transit should be free, saying “it would fundamentally alter economic inequality in the city.”
  • Incumbent and StreetsPAC-endorsed State Senator Julia Salazar leads with 84.2 percent over challenger Andy Marte — her first defense of the Bushwick, Cypress Hills, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Browsnville, and East New York seat.
  • In Manhattan/Bronx, incumbent State Senator Robert Jackson appears to be a clear victor over challenger Tirso Pina, collecting 78.1 percent of Tuesday’s vote. Jackson received an endorsement from StreetsPAC.

— with Gersh Kuntzman

The election results come amid the coronavirus pandemic, with widespread expansion of absentee voting. Some official winners will not be announced until several days, as Tuesday’s election results do not include absentee votes. The results reported by Streetsblog are based on numbers announced by the Associated Press.