Primed for the primaries: Political organizations stake out their candidates for the 2017 New York City Council election
With six months until the primaries, a number of New York City Council members may well be wondering if they will have to fight for their party’s line. And while most of the city’s county organizations and other key political players are staying out of the fray for now, at least publicly, some are carefully assessing the candidates in contested races and even starting to make early endorsements.
For at least one of these political heavyweights, endorsements will be tied to a candidate’s policy positions. The Working Families Party, a progressive organization that has traditionally enjoyed support from labor unions, is searching for candidates that will promote its policy priorities, according to its New York City political director Juan Antigua. He said the party is focused on finding people in favor of allowing non-citizen, permanent residents to vote in municipal elections, creating a jobs program around retrofitting inefficient buildings and closing the jail facilities on Rikers Island, among other goals. Unlike several other political groups, the Working Families Party will weigh whether it seems viable to challenge incumbents. By contrast, representatives for the Bronx Democratic Party and the Progressive Caucus Alliance, the campaign arm of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus, all suggested they were likely to either back incumbents or steer clear of such races.
“The open seats are more of a priority because that’s where there’s an ability to get good people in office, so we’re paying extra attention there, but in non-open seats, we’ll see how things play out,” said Antigua, noting that the party hopes to decide who it supports in open seats by the end of March, and in other districts around mid-May. “There might be some incumbents that we challenge.”
As expected, the seven seats where term limits are creating vacancies have attracted the most attention. On March 8, the Progressive Caucus Alliance issued some of the earliest endorsements this cycle, throwing its weight behind Carlina Rivera, who worked as the legislative director for City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez and is now seeking to succeed the outgoing councilwoman; Diana Ayala, the deputy chief of staff for City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, is now vying to fill her former boss’s seat; and Marjorie Velázquez, a Democratic district leader running for the seat soon to be vacated by City Councilman James Vacca.
"We’ll see how things play out ... there might be some incumbents that we challenge."
The alliance unveiled its support for the trio on International Women’s Day, joining others who have vowed to promote female candidates because several women are slated to leave the City Council in 2017. City Councilman Brad Lander, a founding member of the Progressive Caucus, said the alliance would only get involved in open seats and in defending any of its members who face tough re-election fights.
The Bronx Democratic Party appears to have adopted a similar outlook. Anthony Perez, the party’s executive director, said the organization has spent years cultivating relationships with elected officials, and wants to build on those alliances by backing incumbents. As for the open seats, Perez said the party has been meeting with candidates, but has not yet decided who to support for a variety of reasons. The party is also waiting to see if state Sen. Rubén Díaz Sr. contends for the seat slated to be vacated by City Councilwoman Annabel Palma. Perez added that the organization has not decided whether it should play a role in Mark-Viverito’s district race, an East Harlem-based seat that includes part of the Bronx. Similarly, the Staten Island Democratic Party Chairman John Gulino released a statement suggesting the organization would likely support City Councilwoman Debi Rose for re-election because it backs those who engage in party affairs and are recognized by the community. Rose “embodies our ideals,” Gulino added, before saying there will not be a formal endorsement until after the county convention.
Neither the Queens or Brooklyn Democratic parties returned calls for comment. Both organizations are likely looking at open seats, but there may be room for them to make a play in other primaries too. Some of the county parties’ more loyal state lawmakers, including Assemblymen Félix Ortiz and Francisco Moya, have reportedly suggested they are considering mounting challenges to City Council members who are more closely aligned with the council’s Progressive Caucus. In most districts in the city, whoever wins the Democratic primary goes on to win in the general election.
You can see a complete rundown of the key 2017 City Council races here. This includes open City Council seats, where a slew of candidates are poised to compete, and others are still mulling mounting a primary challenge. We looked at the voting registration database, campaign committee filings, candidate websites and news articles to gauge who is running – or may run – for what seats. Whenever candidates could not be reached or identified, City & State excluded them.