UPDATED: DECISION 2020: Absentee Ballots Yield Tide of Fresh-Faced Progressives

Plenty of friends of safe streets in a new crop of winners.

Newcomers include (from left) Khaleel Anderson, Phara Souffrant Forrest, Zohran Mamdani and Jabari Brisport.
Newcomers include (from left) Khaleel Anderson, Phara Souffrant Forrest, Zohran Mamdani and Jabari Brisport.

A tsunami of pandemic-induced absentee voting — and an appealing slate of progressive, pro-transportation candidates — has upended New York City politics.

A month after the June 23 primary election, freshly tallied results from the absentee balloting show that a tide of newcomers will be assuming office in January — including several who are friends of the safe-streets movement or who had the backing of the pro-safe streets political-action committee StreetsPAC.

This week, after protracted Board of Election vote counts, several candidates who had been leading on Election Day ended up in the loss column: 

  • Phara Souffrant Forrest, a nurse and tenant organizer with progressive transit positions, bested Brooklyn Assembly Member Walter Moseley in his Crown Heights district.
  • Zohran Mamdani, who told Streetsblog during the campaign that transit fares should be free, defeated Assembly Member Aravella Simotas of Astoria.
  • Jabari Brisport, a StreetsPAC endorsee, declared victory in the race for the State Senate seat in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which became an open seat, thanks to the retirement of Velmanette Montgomery. (His rival, Assembly Member Tremaine Wright, has not yet conceded.)

Moseley and Simotas had the StreetsPAC endorsement. Each winning candidate had the support of the local Democratic Socialist of America chapter — which is turning out to be an organizing powerhouse in local electoral politics. 

“It’s clear that a progressive wave has hit New York City,” said StreetsPAC Executive Director Eric McClure, citing the victories of StreetsPAC endorsees such as Khaleel Anderson, a young pro-bus activist who won the primary for an open Assembly seat in the the Rockaways, as well as Brisport’s apparent victory.

The newly minted winners joined two other recent upset winners, both in Brooklyn: 

  • Emily Gallagher, another StreetsPAC endorsee, who ousted Assembly Member Joe Lentol of Greenpoint-Williamsburg, who took office during the Nixon administration.
  • Marcela Mitaynes, also a Democratic Socialist, who beat 26-year veteran Felix Ortiz of Bay Ridge-Sunset Park. 

Given the heavily Democratic orientation of these districts, each candidate will likely win in November.

The string of upsets may indicate a hunger for fresh faces and ethnic succession — a desire for emerging communities to have a place at the table — as much as any leftward trend, according to some analysts, who noted that younger Black, Latinx and female candidates did well.

“Everyone seems primed to interpret these upsets through the prism of ideology. There is a clear ideological thrust motivating these victorious challengers, where incumbents have been defeated,” said Bruce Gyory, an adjunct professor of political science at SUNY Albany. “But New York political history provides a cautionary admonition: Just as with the early reformers in the 1960s and the anti-war candidates of the early 1970s, it may turn out that the motivation of the voters — as opposed to the candidates themselves — were demographic trends. Trends where the emerging aspirations along race, ethnicity, gender and generation are the tide for sweeping out incumbents and winning open seats.”

Sweep out incumbents they did. Moseley, Simotas, Lentol, and Ortiz were not the only office-holders to lose their recent primaries. 

  • Last month, Assembly Member Michael DenDekker of Jackson Heights/Corona — a pro-car pol who in 2015 embraced a campaign of victim-blaming after a hit-and-run driver killed a 17-year-old pedestrian in his district — was defeated by Jessica González-Rojas, a StreetsPAC endorsee.
  • Assemblyman Michael Miller, a moderate Democrat who represents Woodhaven, lost to civil-rights lawyer Jenifer Rajkumar.

“Marcela represented a break from politics as usual,” said Mitaynes campaign manager, Alex Pellitteri. “Her candidacy … went beyond talking about progressive legislation like the New York Health Act, a housing guarantee or a green new deal; we spoke about how our economy inherently favors the wealthy 1 percent and we must create a new system that works for everyone. Ultimately, this isn’t about winning one election, this is about building a movement for a better world.”

This story was updated to reflect Brisport’s apparent victory.