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Here Are the Races to Watch This Primary Day

By Jeff Mays | September 9, 2014 12:19pm
 Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, waves to parade-watchers during the 47th annual West Indian-American Day Parade on Sept. 1, 2014. The governor and his running mate for lietenant governor, former Rep. Kathy Hochul, are facing a challenge from Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, waves to parade-watchers during the 47th annual West Indian-American Day Parade on Sept. 1, 2014. The governor and his running mate for lietenant governor, former Rep. Kathy Hochul, are facing a challenge from Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu.
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DNAinfo/Lisha Arino

CIVIC CENTER — From politicians such as former Comptroller John Liu trying to make a political comeback to Sen. Malcolm Smith, running for re-election while awaiting retrial on federal corruption charges, voters have tough choices to make Tuesday.

But despite some hot races, turnout at the Democratic primaries is expected to be similar to last year's Democratic mayoral race — at only at 20 percent.

Still, here are a few races to watch.

Governor and Lieutenant Governor

At the top of the ticket are the races for governor and lieutenant governor. Incumbent Andrew Cuomo has acquired a new running mate in former Rep. Kathy Hochul, but that hasn't stopped Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout from challenging him.

Cuomo has barely acknowledged Teachout's presence and even refused to debate the long-shot candidate who has said the governor has not cleaned up Albany as promised but instead contributed to the corruption problem there by disbanding the Moreland Commission.

While Cuomo has ignored Teachout in many ways, her running mate for lieutenant governor, Columbia University law professor Tim Wu, has gotten a lot of attention.

With the system allowing for voters to select a running mate while not choosing that gubernatorial candidate, there has been concern among the Democratic establishment that Wu could pull a major upset.

Cuomo pulled in many Democrat friends, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, to stump for Hochul after Wu received an endorsement from the New York Times.

"These primary races often come down to turnout and get out the vote and that hinges on endorsements and funding," said Steven Romalewski, mapping director at CUNY's Graduate Center. "Cuomo has the edge but it will be interesting to see if enough registered Democrats come out who want to buck what the party says and pull the lever for someone else to send a message."

A Wu victory would be a huge loss for Cuomo and a likely thorn in his side during a probable second term.

State Senate District 11: Tony Avella vs. John Liu

Liu, the former comptroller whose mayoral aspirations last year were hobbled by a federal investigation into his campaign's finances, is facing off against Avella, who has been criticized for joining a group of breakaway Democrats.

"I made a commitment to public life that I intend to maintain," Liu told the Wall Street Journal.

Avella is running as an outsider in spite of the fact that he's the incumbent and has received major endorsements from the likes of de Blasio. Cuomo has declined to endorse a candidate in this race, which shows how close the election is likely to be.

Romalewski said he saw a couple of negative signs for Liu, who did well in the mayoral primary in areas that are just outside the 11th district.

De Blasio did very well in the 11th district and has endorsed Avella, which could make the difference in a low-turnout race.

State Senate District 14

Being indicted hasn't stopped politicians from making a bid to retain their seats this election cycle. Brooklyn Sen. John Sampson is on that list as is state Sen. Malcolm Smith of Queens.

Smith is currently awaiting retrial on federal corruption charges that he tried to rig the mayoral election. But that hasn't scared off people, including rapper and actor LL Cool J, from sticking by him.

“I see no reason to abandon him when he’s in a tight spot,” the entertainer, whose real name is James Todd Smith, told the New York Times recently. “I think loyalty is important.”

Smith is facing a challenge from former Jamaica City Councilman Leroy Comrie and lawyer Munir Avery.

Both Smith and Comrie have racked up endorsements. Smith from a former congressman, the Rev. Floyd Flake, and Comrie from de Blasio and Rep. Gregory Meeks.

Some voters may choose to stay home with incumbent candidates under investigation or indictment.

"To vote for that candidate and in a month they might be convicted is like throwing away a vote," Romalewski said. "But the power of incumbency is very strong."

Vacant Seats

There are six state Assembly seats in Brooklyn and the Bronx that are currently vacant. Five of the vacant seats have left a large portion of Brooklyn without representation for almost a year, despite calls for Cuomo to order a special election.

Romalewski said there are pluses and minuses that no special election was called. On the one hand, the usual power of incumbency isn't in play.

"But constituents are still without representation for months to come until the winners take office in January," he said.

In Assembly District 60, Charles Barron is running to fill the East New York seat vacated by his wife, who won election to her husband's term-limited council seat. He faces off against Christopher Banks, co-founder of nonprofit East New York United Concerned Citizens and a former member of Brooklyn's Community Board 5, and James Tillman.

Read more about candidates for the five vacant Brooklyn Assembly seats here.

Adriano Espaillat vs. Robert Jackson

Fresh off of his second unsuccessful bid to unseat Harlem stalwart Rep. Charles Rangel and become the first Dominican-born member of Congress, Adriano Espaillat once again finds his former foe backing the person challenging his state Senate re-election bid.

This time around, term-limited Councilman Robert Jackson is challenging Espaillat for the Washington Heights seat and has raised money well in a campaign where he accused Espaillat of using the seat as a placeholder until he can run for Congress again in 2016.

"It's obvious he doesn't want to be up in Albany. It's obvious he wants to be in Congress," Jackson told Gotham Gazette.

The race will be interesting for observers tracking whether Espaillat's back-to-back runs for Congress have hurt him at all. Espaillat continued to score well with voters in his Senate district during his showdown with Rangel.

Rangel has said this will be his last term. Espaillat's ability to shore up his base could give him a head start for the 2016 congressional primary. The race is expected to be wide open if Rangel follows through with retirement plans to take his wife to Paris.

In Jackson's favor, said Romalewski, is the great overlap between Jackson's old 7th City Council district and the 31st Assembly district.

"Jackson likely has good name recognition in this district, so you'll have two long-time candidates with solid name recognition," said Romalewski. "That means it could also come down to last-minute get out the vote efforts."