Key 2017 New York City Council primaries by district
(Photo by Carlo Deviti / ShutterStock)
Now that New York City’s primaries are a few weeks away, the matchups are set, fundraising is heating up and mud is being slung. Some races feature incumbents facing stiff competition, while others have multiple candidates facing off over open seats that are being vacated due to term limits (and, notably, a corruption conviction). To help readers make their decisions before the primaries on Sept. 12, here’s a rundown of the most notable New York City Council districts that will be competitive this fall.
Editor's note: This list was compiled based on press reports and data from the New York City Campaign Finance Board and the New York City Board of Elections updated as of the morning of Friday, Aug. 11.
New York City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez’s former legislative director, Carlina Rivera, seems to be the candidate to beat in this race, with support from several high-profile city and state officials. She has received endorsements from Mendez, Rep. Nydia Velázquez, state Sen. Brad Hoylman, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer. She also has the support of Village Independent Democrats, Make the Road Action and the Progressive Caucus Alliance, the campaign arm of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus. Despite the support of much of the city’s progressive establishment, Rivera is competing with several other Democrats, including Ronnie Cho, former associate director of the office of public engagement at the White House under former President Barack Obama; Mary Silver, an attorney focused on local schools issues; Jorge Vasquez, an attorney who previously worked for the New York City Commission on Human Rights; Jasmin Sanchez, an activist who was a community liaison for former state Sen. Daniel Squadron – although Squadron has endorsed Rivera; and Erin Hussein, whose website describes her as a lawyer and co-op president.
There is a pack of people looking to replace New York City Councilman Dan Garodnick. The Democratic side includes Marti Speranza, president of the Gramercy Stuyvesant Independent Democrats and a member of Manhattan Community Board 5 who runs a program aiding female entrepreneurs; Bessie Schachter, a former staffer to state Sen. Liz Krueger; and Keith Powers, a former lobbyist at Constantinople & Vallone Consulting LLC, who previously worked as chief of staff to former Assemblyman Jonathan Bing. Jeff Mailman, the legislative director to New York City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, is also vying for the Democratic line, as are Vanessa Aronson, a teacher and former diplomat, and Alec Hartman, founder of TechDay. Rounding off the list are public relations executive Rachel Honig and local residents Barry Shapiro and Maria Castro.
The eventual Democratic candidate will face the sole remaining Republican in the race, Rebecca Harary, an entrepreneur who unsuccessfully challenged Assemblyman Dan Quart on the Stop de Blasio line in 2016.
New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s deputy chief of staff, Diana Ayala, snatched up early endorsements from Mark-Viverito, Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr., Make the Road Action and the Progressive Caucus Alliance. But Ayala’s path to City Hall became bumpier when Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez entered the race, with the backing of the Bronx Democratic County Committee. A third Democratic candidate is entrepreneur Tamika Mapp and Israel Martinez.The eventual Democratic candidate will face off against Republican Daby Carreras in November.
Marjorie Velázquez, Mark Gjonaj.
The race to replace City Councilman James Vacca in the East Bronx is a crowded contest. Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj has a big lead in contributions, having raised more than $500,000 as of the last filing – five times more than any of his competitors for the race. He also has the lead in political endorsements, boasting the backing of the Bronx Democratic Party, state Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, and U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley. Gjonaj’s front-runner status has made him the target of his fellow candidates, who have slammed him for a misleading flyer about his support for the Women’s Equality Act, his endorsement from same-sex marriage opponent and state Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. and having spent campaign money at his brother’s restaurant.
Democratic district leader Marjorie Velázquez, who has a background in corporate finance, has the backing of Vacca, City Councilman Ritchie Torres and outgoing City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito as well as the Working Families Party, Planned Parenthood, and Make the Road Action. Others vying for the Democratic line include John Doyle, who has worked for Klein and works in public affairs at Jacobi Medical Center; and Egidio Sementilli, a restaurant owner. John Cerini, owner of Bronx Tax Man accounting, is running unopposed on the Republican line. Democratic contenders Alex Gomez, a member of City Councilman Fernando Cabrera’s New Life Outreach International church and who has a background in the nonprofit human services sector, and Victor Ortiz, a Spanish teacher and BMX rider, didn’t make the ballot. Former candidates Muhammad Abuhaikal, Lucia Giraldi and John Marano have dropped out of the race.
Everyone’s chasing state Sen. Rubén Díaz Sr. in the race to replace term-limited City Councilwoman Annabel Palma in this Bronx district. The cowboy hat-wearing reverend held the seat for a year, in 2002, before being elected to the state Senate. Diaz, the father of Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr., has a strong lead in fundraising, and won the endorsement of the Bronx Democratic Party. Diaz’s Democratic rivals include Amanda Farias, a City Council staffer who boasts endorsements from City Council members Elizabeth Crowley and Helen Rosenthal, as well as municipal union District Council 37; Elvin Garcia, who was Bronx borough director for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Community Affairs Unit and a 2016 City & State 40 Under 40 honoree; Michael Beltzer, a Bronx Democratic County Committee member who worked on former City Comptroller John Liu’s campaigns; and William Moore, who served as chief of staff to former Councilwoman Una Clarke. Carl Lundgren is running on the Green Party line and Eisley Constantine is running as a Republican.
Julissa Ferreras-Copeland. (William Alatriste / New York City Council)
Once considered a front-runner to be the next City Council speaker, Julissa Ferreras-Copeland announced in June that she won’t seek re-election, making her Queens district an open seat. Assemblyman Francisco Moya, who was considering a challenge to Ferreras-Copeland, is now running for the seat, but he faces a challenge from Hiram Monserrate. The former state Senator and City Councilman’s run has faced skepticism, given that he was expelled from the state Senate when he was convicted of assaulting his then-girlfriend, and was also convicted on federal corruption charges and pled guilty to committing mail fraud. Insiders say Monserrate has a shot, but Moya has a strong lead in fundraising and endorsements from union groups like 1199SEIU, 32BJ SEIU and the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, the Working Families Party and a close relationship with de Blasio. Other Democratic candidates failed to make the ballot, including community activist Cristina Furlong, City Council staffer Erycka Montoya and Yonel Letellier Sosa, former chief of staff to state Sen. Jose Peralta.
After being convicted of fraud and grand larceny, Ruben Wills was expelled from the City Council under state law. Now that Wills is out of the picture, a few Democrats have entered the fight over the newly vacant council seat. Prior to Wills’ departure, Democratic contenders included Hettie V. Powell, an attorney who secured 33 percent of the vote in the 2013 primary, and Richard David, who has worked in the leadership of the city’s Economic Development Corp. Adrienne Adams, chairwoman of Queens Community Board 12, joined the race with an endorsement from Rep. Joe Crowley, who also serves as the Queens County Democratic Party chairman. Jahi A. Rose, Wills’ former director of constituent affairs, is listed by the New York City Campaign Finance Board as a candidate, but did not make the ballot. The Queens Democratic machine had previously put its weight behind Wills, so his departure opens up a free-for-all for the seat.
The Republican race features accountant Ivan Mossop, who was endorsed by the Queens County Republican Party.
A slew of Brooklynites have jumped in the race to replace term-limited City Councilwoman Darlene Mealy. Despite the huge list of candidates, two candidates stand out in terms of fundraising and endorsements: Alicka Ampry-Samuel, who previously worked as chief of staff for Assemblywoman Latrice Walker and has been endorsed by 1199SEIU, 32BJ SEIU, the Working Families Party and others; and Henry Butler, a retired transit worker and president of the Vanguard Independent Democratic Association, who’s earned the endorsement of many of the area’s elected officials, including state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery and City Councilman Robert Cornegy Jr., as well as Transport Workers Union Local 100. Out of the 12 candidates running, also of note are Kathleen Daniel, who works for Borough President Eric Adams and unsuccessfully sought the City Council seat in 2013; Moreen King, who owns day care centers in the neighborhood; Deidre Olivera, a member of the Laborers' International Union of North America, who also edits a community newspaper in Brownsville; Cory Provost, a district leader who was the youngest member of the CUNY board of trustees; municipal worker Leopold Cox; David Miller; Victor Jordan; and Royston Antoine.
In the race to succeed City Councilman Vincent Gentile, the pool of potential Democratic nominees includes: Justin Brannan, who was Gentile’s chief of staff and worked in intergovernmental affairs for the city Department of Education; Kevin Peter Carroll, a district leader who works for City Councilman Stephen Levin; the Rev. Khader el-Yateem, an influential pastor endorsed by civil rights activist Linda Sarsour; Vince Chirico, a member of Community Board 11 and a former chief of staff to Assemblyman Peter Abbate; and Nancy Tong, a district leader who works for Assemblyman William Colton and who the New York City Campaign Finance Board named as one of the top three candidates ranked by small dollar donations.
On the other side of the political spectrum, Republican candidates include Robert Capano, a professor who has worked for Democratic and Republican officials; Liam McCabe, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan; John Quaglione, who handles press for state Sen. Martin Golden and unsuccessfully tried to unseat Gentile in 2013, and Lucretia Regina-Potter, the Republican district leader of the 46th Assembly District.
David Greenfield, chairman of the powerful City Council Land Use Committee who was still able to run for two more terms, made a late, surprise announcement that he would not be seeking re-election. A committee then chose Greenfield’s former adviser and fundraiser Kalman Yeger to fill his spot on the ballot. Yeger, who was previously running for Chaim Deutsch’s District 48 seat, now faces some competition – Yoni Hikind, son of Greenfield’s political rival Assemblyman Dov Hikind, announced his bid for the seat as an independent candidate at the beginning of August.
PRIMARY CHALLENGES THAT COULD BE COMPETITIVE
The last time she was challenged, City Councilwoman Margaret Chin posted a 17-point lead over her then-opponent, Jenifer Rajkumar, in the Democratic primary. This primary cycle, Chin is facing off against three challengers: attorney Aaron Foldenauer, artist and activist Dashia Imperiale and Christopher Marte, a member of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and Lower East Side who previously worked for a securities business and has been putting up impressive fundraising numbers.
City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal eked out a win in the seven-way Democratic primary in 2013 with about 27 percent of the vote, but the field is looking much smaller this cycle. That may benefit Mel Wymore, the former executive director of a political action committee advancing transgender rights, who came in a close second in 2013 with 22 percent of the vote. If successful, Wymore, who has long been active on a local community board, would be the first transgender member of the City Council. A third Democratic candidate, Cary Goodman, appears to be mostly focused on fighting the American Museum of Natural History’s planned expansion.
Bill Perkins, Marvin Holland.
City Councilman Bill Perkins captured 34 percent of the vote and emerged victorious in February’s nine-way special election for the seat previously held by Inez Dickens, who was elected to the Assembly. Although Perkins has some prominent supporters, including the United Federation of Teachers, he could face a fierce re-election fight. Marvin Holland, political director of Transport Workers Union Local 100, captured 18 percent of the vote in February and may benefit from a thinner field of candidates. Also running in the Democratic primary is Cordell Cleare, who has experience as a staffer in the state Senate and City Council. Rounding out the field are local activist Tyson-Lord Gray, Harlem resident Marvin Spruill, and music industry executive Julius Tajiddin. Pierre Gooding, Dianne Mack and Jack Royster Jr. have also reported raising funds for the race, but will not appear on the primary ballot.
When New York City Councilman Fernando Cabrera failed to unseat a state senator in 2014, he blamed his loss on the “liberal media” reporting on a video in which he praised the Ugandan government after it enacted severe anti-LGBT laws. Now, Cabrera’s socially conservative views could come back to haunt him. After giving a sermon in which he said that it was harder to be rich than to be poor, Cabrera, who is also a pastor, faced criticism from his rivals. He responded by comparing his struggles to those of Jesus Christ on NY1. Cabrera faces two candidates in the Democratic primary with strong fundraising numbers: Randy Abreu, who worked in the U.S. Department of Energy during the Obama administration, Felix Perdomo, a Dominican-American teacher. Former candidate Justin Sanchez suspended his campaign in July.
City Councilman Peter Koo is facing a primary challenge from Alison Tan, a member of Queens Community Board 7 and managing director at an institutional real estate capital advisory firm. Tan, the wife of Assemblyman Ron Kim, is hoping to unseat Koo by criticizing his socially conservative positions. Koo was elected as a Republican in 2009, but switched to the Democratic Party in 2012. In an open letter to him dated July 16, Tan criticized the councilman for what she called his “anti-choice, anti-woman positions,” after it was revealed that Koo has donated over $24,000 in City Council member item funds to Bridge to Life, a nonprofit that promotes alternatives to abortion, since 2012.
City Councilman Antonio Reynoso, another Progressive Caucus member, is facing Tommy Torres, a Brooklyn Democratic Party district leader and educator. Torres has stayed quite quiet in the press, but has put up decent contribution numbers, raising nearly $60,000 to Reynoso’s $112,000.
Laurie Cumbo with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams in background. (William Alatriste / New York City Council)
City Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo fought her way through a five-way primary in 2013, and landed the Democratic line with 35 percent of the vote, but Ede Fox, who secured 26 percent of the vote in 2013 is seeking the Democratic Party’s nod for the City Council seat again this cycle. Fox, who has worked for City Councilman Jumaane Williams and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, has raised a fair amount of money and could complicate Cumbo’s election season. Christine Parker, the cousin of Democratic state Sen. Kevin Parker, is running as a Republican. Also in the race is Jabari Brisport, who is running on the Green Party line.
City Councilman Carlos Menchaca has the backing of many in the New York political establishment, with endorsements from Reps. Nydia Velazquez and Jerrold Nadler, City Councilman Brad Lander and District Council 37. But he may find himself in a political brawl, with prominent pols taking aim. Former Councilwoman Sara Gonzalez, whom Menchaca defeated in 2013, is seeking to reclaim her seat. And Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, a progressive Democrat and assistant speaker of the Assembly, entered the race late, but has strong fundraising numbers and name recognition. Also in the Democratic primary are lawyer Chris Miao and Delvis Valdes, an attorney who has been involved with local business improvement districts and other organizations. Former Assemblyman Javier Nieves has raised money, but will not appear on the ballot. Green Party candidate Carmen Hulbert is also seeking the seat.
Last primary season, City Councilman Mathieu Eugene won with 48 percent of the vote while facing a challenge from Saundra Thomas, who was relatively new to politics but pulled in nearly 38 percent of the vote. So Eugene could be in for a rougher re-election cycle, given that more prominent Democrats have announced their intentions to challenge him. The contenders include Pia Raymond, who started a nonprofit that runs multicultural and multigenerational activities and is the vice president of the Nostrand Avenue Merchants Association; Brian Cunningham, who has worked for state Sen. Kevin Parker, City Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo and in the affordable housing sector; and Jen Berkley, a housing advocate and former communications director for Assemblyman David Weprin.
City Councilwoman Inez Barron succeeded her husband, Charles Barron, in the 42nd Council District in 2013, defeating five other Democrats in the primary. This year, Barron – who, like her husband, is known for her controversial politics – is facing another primary challenge. Her lone Democratic rival this year is Mawuli Hormeku, a community activist and executive director of the nonprofit Nehemiah Economic Development, whose campaign website calls him “a leader, not a politician.” Another candidate, Nikki Lucas, has dropped out, and Prince Lewis, who has previously run for the seat, will not appear on the primary ballot.
City Councilwoman Debi Rose walked into her second term without a primary challenge, but she won’t fall into a third term so easily. She’ll be on the Democratic primary ballot with the well-funded Kamillah Payne-Hanks, the president and CEO of the Historic Tappen Park Community Partnership.
The winner of the primary will face the Staten Island Republican Party’s nominee, businessman Michael Penrose, in the November general election. Another Democrat, Philippe-Edner Apostol-Marius, who has worked for Bill Perkins in the state Senate, will not appear on the ballot.
This list was originally compiled by Sarina Trangle and was updated by Jeff Coltin and Grace Segers.