The last time Bronx voters were represented by a Republican on the city council, Mayor Ed Koch was still asking voters “How am I doing,” Ronald Reagan was president, and hip-hop music was primarily a local phenomenon.
The idea that voters in the Bronx, one of the most deeply Democratic counties in the country, could send a Republican representative to the City Council would be nothing short of a “national embarrassment,” Rep. Ritchie Torres said during ‘a recent rally for the Democratic Party. holder, Marjorie Velázquez.
On Wednesday, this political ignominy came to fruition.
With less than a thousand votes to spare, conservative Republican candidate Kristy Marmorato was declared winner by the Associated Press of the city’s tightest city council race, about 15 hours after polls closed.
Ms. Marmorato had argued with Ms. Velázquez over crime and her support for a rezoning that would bring affordable housing to the District 13 neighborhood in the northeast Bronx. The region had shown signs of shifting to the right: in 2021, the Republican candidate for mayor, Curtis Sliwa, gained more votes in the district as Democrat Eric Adams.
Sensing a rare opportunity to flip a seat, the Bronx Republican Party went all-in on the competition. The party sent 20,000 SMS messages to its base; made 40,000 automated calls in English, Albanian and Arabic; and made 10,000 live calls.
“We threw everything at her, including the kitchen sink,” said Michael Rendino, chairman of the Bronx Republican Party and also Ms. Marmorato’s brother. “This is a wake-up call for the Democratic Party.”
Ms. Velázquez’s defeat still sends shivers through the city’s Democratic establishment and gives hope to Republicans. Both parties are closely watching a few off-year suburban contests in New York. as indicators for 2024while a half-dozen key congressional races in the state could tip the balance of power in the House of Representatives.
But for the most part, the potential rightward shift driven by shifting ethnic demographics did not materialize in New York, where all 51 City Council seats were up for re-election due to a once-every-year redistricting process. ten years.
In a neighboring district, Susan Zhuang, a moderate Democrat, defeated Ying Tan, a Republican, in a district created to recognize the growth in the city’s Asian-American population.
The story was different on Long Island, where Republicans routed Democrats. Their dominance recalled the 1970s, when suburban towns were a Republican stronghold, and suggested that concerns about crime, cost of living and the state’s ongoing migrant crisis could do long-term damage to Democrats’ image in an otherwise hospitable state, where the right to abortion is generally considered safe.
After Ed Romaine wins 15 points In the race for Suffolk County executive, Republicans have now flipped nearly every major office on Long Island since 2020. They also scored key victories in Long Beach and North Hempstead in Nassau County, areas traditionally Democrats included in the must-have districts of Republican representatives. Anthony D’Esposito and George Santos.
The results left Democrats, who have lost three straight election cycles in the region, in near panic.
“The conventional wisdom is that the path to a Democratic majority in the House is through New York,” said Rep. Steve Israel, a former New York congressman who once led the Democrats’ campaign arm. “But there’s nothing but yellow lights flashing for Democrats, especially on Long Island, suggesting they’re not getting the support they need.”
He said he has seen a “perception of crime, disorder and lawlessness that touches the concerns of suburban voters,” with little sign of abating.
However, the party performed much stronger north of New York, where voters in suburban towns along the Hudson River and in the western part of the state behaved much more like their counterparts in Virginia or the ‘Ohio.
Democrats won key local elections in Westchester and Rockland counties, where Rep. Mike Lawler, a Republican, faces one of the nation’s toughest re-election battles next year. They appeared to be on track to win three district attorney contests in Ulster, Dutchess and Columbia counties, hotly contested territory where Reps. Pat Ryan, a Democrat, and Marc Molinaro, a Republican, will defend cases key seats next year. .
And in Erie County, which includes Buffalo and its suburbs, Mark Poloncarz won a record fourth term as county executive. Republicans had criticized Mr. Poloncarz for his handling of the state’s migrant crisis, but voters paid no attention, giving the Democrat a nearly 20-point victory.
Jason Weingartner, executive director of the state Republican Party, agreed that upstate counties have lessons to learn from Long Island, particularly in convincing voters to go to the polls early.
Even though Ms. Velázquez won the June Democratic primary by nearly 50 percentage points, the fault lines in this election showed she was vulnerable both because of crime and her decision to support the rezoning of Bruckner Boulevard to bring affordable housing to the neighborhood, Mr. Rendino said. Ms. Velazquez had opposed the project for months before changing his mind.
Ms. Velázquez was elected as a progressive in 2021, but quickly joined more than a dozen other Democrats in leaving the progressive caucus after being asked to sign a policy statement calling for the “size and scope” of the police department from New York. reduce. During the Democratic primary, Ms. Velázquez emphasized that she was a moderate.
“I heard that you’re a socialist because you’re like AOC, and it’s no, I’m not,” Ms. Velázquez said in June, referring to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a democratic socialist.
Ms. Marmorato, an X-ray technician and married mother of a primary school-age daughter, said she was pushed to run for office because she opposed plans to build mid-rise housing in an area composed mainly of single-family homes as part of the project. of the Bruckner rezoning and a proposal for supportive housing for people released from prison in a former Jacobi Medical Center building near her home.
Speaking on NY1, she said people want change. She called for more police officers.
“They feel like there’s no local control in our community anymore,” she said. “They don’t have a say in what happens in their neighborhood and they’re just fed up. »
Neither Ms. Velázquez nor her campaign responded to multiple requests for comment Wednesday. Camille Rivera, a Democratic political consultant at New Deal Strategies, said concerns raised about Bruckner’s rezoning were based on “coded language” and racial fear mongering.
Joseph Savino Jr. was the last Republican member of the Bronx City Council. He served as general councilor from 1977 to 1983 before the position was abolished. In 1985 he was convicted of illegal possession of a machine gun then pleaded guilty to tax fraud for failing to report $300,000 in income.
Jamaal Bailey, a state senator and chairman of the Bronx Democratic Party, called Ms. Velázquez’s loss a local issue that would have little impact on next year.
“Taking a stand to ensure that more people have a place to live is a position of principle,” Mr. Bailey said, “and one that I believe she is proud of and that we should be proud of as Democrats, in particularly in the area of housing. crisis.”
On Wednesday morning, Mr. Torres, one of Ms. Velázquez’s closest allies, called her remark about “national embarrassment” hyperbole intended to motivate his supporters ahead of an important election.
“All politics is local, and nowhere are these words truer than in the East Bronx, where the racial and class politics of rezoning can be treacherous,” Mr. Torres said. “A perfect storm has put the siege in Republican hands.”