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Democrats in free-for-all for open New York City seat

Crowd of progressives leaves opening for wealthy impeachment lawyer

New York City Council Member Carlina Rivera, left, Democratic candidate for New York’s 10th District, campaigns in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn on Sunday.
New York City Council Member Carlina Rivera, left, Democratic candidate for New York’s 10th District, campaigns in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn on Sunday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Carlina Rivera rode the back of a flatbed truck as it cruised through the streets of the traditionally Puerto Rican neighborhood of Sunset Park in Brooklyn Sunday, music blaring, before stopping to greet churchgoers.

“You know, if you’re not out or you’re not talking to people to try to get as many people engaged as possible on Tuesday to really reflect what is a brand new district, and what could be their congressperson set for the next 10 years, then I think that you really don’t understand how New York City politics works,” said Rivera, a Manhattan-based City Council member.

Rivera is one of 13 candidates on the ballot in the free-for-all Democratic primary for New York’s new 10th District, which runs from lower Manhattan across the East River into Brooklyn. Most of the top candidates were running around Sunday, knocking on doors and shaking hands.

Canvassing with candidates and supporters, it becomes clear there are plenty of undecided voters, particularly among the district’s more liberal voters — and there are voters who don’t realize they have another primary on Tuesday, after state courts threw out the map drawn by the Democrat-controlled legislature and then split House primaries apart from contests held in June for Senate and governor.

“The first thing I ask people is are you … a Democratic voter, and the second thing I ask is, are you aware that there is a Democratic primary — congressional — on Tuesday, and a lot of people know but a lot of people don’t,” Cynthia Nixon, the actor who ran in the Democratic primary against then-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in 2018, said in an interview Sunday.

Nixon was outside a Carroll Gardens farmers market where she was distributing pamphlets for Yuh-Line Niou, a member of the State Assembly running for the 10th District seat.

“For so long, she was one of the very few progressive voices fighting for a Green New Deal, fighting for Medicare for All, standing up to Cuomo and [Assembly Speaker] Carl Hastie,” Nixon said of Niou.

Risk analyst Benine Hamdan is running unopposed in the Republican primary, but as redrawn, President Joe Biden would have gotten 85 percent of the vote in the 10th District in 2020, so the Democratic primary is the most important contest for the seat. Former Mayor Bill de Blasio was running for a while, but dropped out. Former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, who served four terms ending in 1981, is also running as is current Rep. Mondaire Jones.

Jones has relocated to Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens neighborhood from his current district. (His previous home in White Plains was drawn into the same district as Rep. Jamaal Bowman, and Democratic Congressional Committee Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney opted to run in the other seat that would’ve been an obvious landing spot for Jones.)

Making the pitch as he passed voters who were Sunday day-drinking outside the North Pole Pub blocks from the Barclays Center, Jones highlighted his recent vote to pass the tax, climate and health reconciliation package, with a particular emphasis on the sweeping investments in battling climate change.

Democratic Rep. Mondaire Jones, standing, campaigns in New York’s 10th District in Brooklyn on Sunday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

In an interview between door knocks, Jones said he believed those responsible for the final redistricting maps in New York state intentionally sought to reduce the number of Democrats, and particularly Democrats of color, in the delegation.

“The fallout is incalculable, I think, from the standpoint of damages, and I think looking back on this year the question will be how we responded to the threats to our democracy. To not send me — the guy who has been leading the legislative fight to defend our democracy and protect the right to vote — back to Congress would be a huge blow, I think,” Jones said, noting he has been the lead sponsor of voting rights legislation.

Niou is Taiwanese American who would be the first member of Congress known to be on the autism spectrum.

“It’s definitely going to be interesting to see what the results are because I know that … early voting turnout has been so low, and I’m just hoping that, you know, we’re turning our people out,” Niou said, between greetings with voters, also in Carroll Gardens.

Democratic Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez, who has endorsed Rivera, has represented nearly half of the new congressional district, and like both Niou and Nixon, she says she has encountered plenty of voters unaware they need to go back to the polls on Tuesday. The early voting window wrapped up on Sunday.

“I’m sorry you weren’t at the Greenmarket [Saturday] in the heart of Brooklyn Heights,” Velazquez told CQ Roll Call. “Every person approached me to say how sorry they were that I wasn’t running in the district, but because of that they voted for Carlina Rivera. I’m not talking about base, Latino, I’m talking about the heart of Brooklyn Heights. So that gave me some encouragement.”

The dynamic of the field is such that the candidates who put themselves in the race’s crowded progressive lane may have helped create an opening for Dan Goldman, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York who was a staff attorney for the House Judiciary Committee during the first impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

Goldman is a familiar face to many as an MSNBC political analyst and has the benefit of the endorsement of The New York Times and personal wealth. Through Aug. 3, Goldman had raised $1.5 million from contributors and loaned his campaign nearly $2 million, according to disclosures with the Federal Election Commission. He added another $1 million personal loan on Aug. 10.

“I have spent my entire career in public service, taking down gun traffickers, fighting against corrupt individuals … and then obviously being in the trenches being a strong advocate protecting and defending our democracy,” Goldman said in a NY1 debate earlier this month when pressed by Jones about his investments, including in a firearms manufacturer. “I was in a blind trust with all my money when I was a prosecutor. I will put my money in a blind trust as a congressperson.”

Actor Cynthia Nixon, left, and state Assemblymember and 10th District House candidate Yuh-Line Niou campaign in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn on Sunday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The progressive candidates were each casting themselves as the person most likely to get past Goldman, as New York does not use a run-off system or any kind of ranked-choice voting.

Jones, who was the top fundraiser in Aug. 3 disclosures with more than $3.5 million in receipts — and $3.1 million of it coming from donors giving amounts under $200 — said there should be lessons learned from the way the primary has played out, with Goldman ahead in public polling.

“It also speaks to the need for progressives to move in a more sophisticated way, and to rally behind candidates like myself, who can through grassroots fundraising and an understanding of electoral strategy put together a campaign that can win in the modern era,” Jones said.

Nixon was also making that a key part of her pitch for Niou when encountering undecided voters, especially those who had decided against voting for Goldman.

“I wish that it happened in a more definitive way,” Nixon said of the progressive wing of the field getting in line, but she highlighted that Niou was backed by the Working Families Party and the Sunrise Movement, among others, and that “so many people and organizations have coalesced around her.”

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