Key 2017 New York City Council
primaries by district
Photo by Carlo Deviti / ShutterStock
New York City’s primaries won’t be held until September, but a number of candidates are already gearing up for Election Day. Here’s a rundown of the most notable New York City Council districts that could be competitive this fall, including seats that will be vacated due to term limits, others where the incumbent is already facing a challenge, and still others where big-name challengers could jump in.
New York City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez’s former legislative director, Carlina Rivera, has stormed into this race with endorsements from her old boss, Make the Road Action and the Progressive Caucus Alliance, the campaign arm of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus. She 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; Jasmin Sanchez, who was a community liaison for state Sen. Daniel Squadron; and Erin Hussein, whose website describes her as a lawyer and co-op president. Tyler Kline, a registered Democrat, has also created a campaign committee.
The pack of people looking to replace New York City Councilman Daniel Garodnick will be thinned by two primaries. On the Democratic side, Marti Speranza, the co-president of the Gramercy Stuyvesant Independent Democrats who runs a program aiding female entrepreneurs, will face off against Bessie Schachter, a former staffer for state Sen. Liz Krueger, and Keith Powers, a lobbyist at Constantinople & Vallone Consulting LLC who previously worked for local elected officials. Jeff Mailman, the legislative director to City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, is also vying for the Democratic line. Meanwhile, Diane Grayson, a registered Democrat who works as associate editor for a test preparation company, told Town & Village she may run as an independent.
On the Republican side, Melissa Jane Kronfeld, a former New York Post reporter and registered Republican, told Town & Village she would not seek the Democratic nomination, but was unsure which party’s banner she aspired to run under. If Kronfeld seeks the Republican line, she would be competing with the candidate endorsed by the Manhattan Republican Party, 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, has snatched up early endorsements from Mark-Viverito, Make the Road Action and the Progressive Caucus Alliance. But Ayala’s path to City Hall would get a lot bumpier if Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez (left) enters the race, as he told City & State he is considering doing. Whether Rodriguez is in or out, Ayala will face Edward Gibbs, who claimed that he would have been the first ex-criminal offender in the Assembly had he won a 2010 bid for Rodriguez’s seat. Other registered Democrats who have launched campaign committees include entrepreneur Tamika Mapp and educator Edward Santos, who unsuccessfully sought the seat in 2013. It’s also unclear whether the Bronx Democratic Party will get involved in a East Harlem-based seat that extends into the Bronx.
Marjorie Velázquez, Mark Gjonaj.
The race to replace City Councilman James Vacca is shaping up to be a crowded contest. Democratic district leader Marjorie Velázquez, who has a background in corporate finance, has the backing of Vacca, Make the Road Action and the Progressive Caucus Alliance. Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj has the support of state Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, Assemblyman Michael Benedetto and U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley. The Bronx Democratic Party will likely throw its weight behind Gjonaj or Velázquez, according to its executive director, Anthony Perez. After this story was published, Perez called to say that the organization has not formally narrowed down the field to those two contenders, and will be meeting with more candidates before making a final decision. A handful of other registered Democrats have thrown their hats in the ring, including: John Doyle, who has worked for Klein and works in public affairs at Jacobi Medical Center; Alex Gomez, a member of City Councilman Fernando Cabrera’s New Life Outreach International church who has a background in the nonprofit human services sector; John Marano, a retired police and fireman now active in his community board; and Muhammad Abuhaikal, who founded a small business consulting firm.
The big question shaping the showdown for City Councilwoman Annabel Palma’s district is whether state Sen. Rubén Díaz Sr. (left) will jump in. Díaz did not return City & State’s call, but he has been openly mulling a run. Competing with the Díaz brand would be difficult, according to Perez, who said the Bronx Democratic Party is waiting for the field to shape up before endorsing a candidate. Other declared Democratic candidates include: Amanda Farias, who works for City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley and managed the City Council’s Women’s Caucus; Elvin Garcia, who was Bronx borough director for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Community Affairs Unit; Michael Beltzer, a Bronx Democratic County Committee member who worked on former City Comptroller John Liu’s campaigns; and William Moore, who has criticized the Bronx Democratic Party as inept and unsuccessfully challenged Palma and other incumbents.
A slew of Brooklynites have started campaign committees to compete for City Councilwoman Darlene Mealy’s seat. Alicka Ampry-Samuel previously worked as chief of staff for Assemblywoman Latrice Walker and has been endorsed by Make the Road Action. Also in the running are Henry Butler, a retired transit worker and president of the Vanguard Independent Democratic Association; Cory Provost, a district leader who was the youngest member of the CUNY board of trustees; Kathleen Daniel, who works for Borough President Eric Adams and unsuccessfully sought the City Council seat in 2013; and Deidre Olivera, a member of the Laborers' International Union of North America, who also edits a community newspaper in Brownsville. At least two other registered Democrats have started campaign committees for the seat: Moreen King and Jamell Henderson.
In the race to succeed City Councilman Vincent Gentile, Assemblyman Peter Abbate (left) said he will not formally decide whether to run until after the state budget season. But the state lawmaker sounded bullish while telling City & State that, thanks to redistricting, he has represented most of this City Council district and that he has been disappointed with the “caliber” of the other Democratic candidates. So far, 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; and Nancy Tong, a district leader who works for Assemblyman William Colton. 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; and John Quaglione, who handles press for state Sen. Martin Golden and unsuccessfully tried to unseat Gentile in 2013.
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 will likely have to face off against two challengers: attorney Aaron Foldenauer and Christopher Marte, a member of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and Lower East Side who previously worked for a securities business.
City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal (left) eked out a win in the seven-way Democratic primary in 2013 with about 27 percent of the vote, but the field is shaping up to be much smaller this cycle. That may benefit Mel Wymore, the former executive director of a PAC 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 the 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. But Perkins 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. So far, Pierre Gooding, who recently worked as an attorney for Success Academy Charter Schools, is seeking to run on the Democratic line, according to an online fundraising site his team set up. And two other registered Democrats, Shannette Gray and Marvin Spruill, have launched campaign committees for the seat.
When New York City Councilman Fernando Cabrera (left) 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. One Democratic challenger, Justin Sanchez, argues on his campaign website that Cabrera has failed to represent the district’s values and that the area needs someone who works to provide equal opportunity for all. The other Democratic contender, Randy Abreu, worked in the U.S. Department of Energy during the Obama administration.
Ruben Wills fended off four primary challengers in 2013 and secured about 49 percent of the vote, but his 2014 indictment on charges of stealing public funds could hurt him. Wills, who has denied any wrongdoing, is poised to again go up against Hettie V. Powell, an attorney who secured 33 percent of the vote in the 2013 primary. Other contenders include Richard David, who has worked in the leadership of the city’s Economic Development Corp. The race also appears to feature a comeback bid by Allan Jennings, who previously held the seat but was censured by the City Council when two female subordinates accused him of sexual harassment. Calls to the campaign seeking confirmation that the candidate is the same Jennings were not returned.
Last primary season, City Councilman Mathieu Eugene (left) 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, as well as Brian Cunningham, who has worked for state Sen. Kevin Parker, City Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo and in the affordable housing sector.
City Councilwoman Debi Rose (left) walked into her second term without a primary challenge, but she won’t fall into a third term so easily. Two fellow Democrats have announced their candidacy, including Kamillah Payne-Hanks, the president and CEO of the Historic Tappen Park Community Partnership, and Philippe-Edner Apostol-Marius, who has worked for Bill Perkins in the state Senate.
POTENTIAL PRIMARIES THAT COULD BE COMPETITIVE
Francisco Moya, Julissa Ferreras-Copeland.
City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland has seemed so secure in her re-election that she often comes up in conversation about the 2017 election cycle because of her reported interest in seeking the City Council’s speakership. But Ferreras-Copeland could be in for a tough primary battle if Assemblyman Francisco Moya challenges her. Moya told City & State he would not make a decision until after the state budget, which is due before April 1. The assemblyman has long been loyal to the Queens Democratic Party, while Ferreras-Copeland split from the organization and allied herself with the Progressive Caucus during the 2013 speakership vote. Another factor could be former state senator and City Councilman Hiram Monserrate, who has told reporters he is considering challenging his former chief of staff, Ferreras-Copeland. Monserrat would surely encounter some 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.
City Councilman Antonio Reynoso (left), another Progressive Caucus member, may face a challenge from Tommy Torres, a Brooklyn Democratic Party district leader and educator. Torres did not return a call for comment, but has told other outlets he is weighing a bid.
Ede Fox, Laurie Cumbo.
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. Ede Fox, who secured 26 percent of the vote in 2013, says she is thinking of seeking the Democratic Party’s nod for the City Council seat this cycle. Fox, who has worked for City Councilman Jumaane Williams and Speaker Mark-Viverito, could complicate Cumbo’s election season.
City Councilman Carlos Menchaca (left) may find himself in a political brawl if longtime Assemblyman Félix Ortiz opts to seek his seat. Ortiz did not respond to a request for comment, but according to Kings County Politics, several people are under the impression that Ortiz may make a move for Menchaca’s seat. Even if he passes, Menchaca is still slated to compete in a Democratic primary with Delvis Valdes, an attorney who has been involved with local business improvement districts and other organizations.
Read a preview of the candidates political organizations are staking out for the 2017 New York City Council election cycle.