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4 Things We Learned From Tuesday's Primaries

By Jeff Mays | September 14, 2016 3:16pm
 State Assembly Candidate Yuh-Line Niou joined union reps in urging the DOT to take action.
State Assembly Candidate Yuh-Line Niou joined union reps in urging the DOT to take action.
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DNAinfo/Allegra Hobbs

NEW YORK CITY — Tuesday's mostly low-key state primary races will pale in comparison to the bright lights of this November's presidential election where two New Yorkers, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, will lead the tickets of the country's major political parties.

But the primaries for state Senate and Assembly seats around the city were not inconsequential.

In Manhattan we saw soon-to-be-elected Rep. Adriano Espaillat take steps toward building a political empire based on the newfound power of his Dominican base.

On the Lower East Side, it looked like the 40-year political dynasty of disgraced ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver came to an end with the convincing defeat of his ally, and incumbent, Alice Cancel at the hands of Yuh-Line Niou, former chief of staff to Queens Assemblyman Ron Kim.

And out in Southeast Queens, incumbent James Sanders Jr. pulled out a victory against Adrienne Adams, chairwoman of Community Board 12, even though the Queens County Democratic Party backed Adams.

Here are four takeaways from yesterday's election.

1. You can buck the machine — but it won't be easy.

The Queens County Democratic Party was displeased with longtime party member James Sanders Jr. for announcing he planned to challenge Queens Rep. Gregory Meeks this fall. Even though he backed out of that race, the party still sought to take out Sanders, a former city councilman.

Evan Thies, co-founder of Pythia Public Affairs, said the party was hoping to send a message before next year's City Council races.

"They were trying to convey to people that you don't step out of line in Queens because Queens remains one of the most powerful Democratic organizations in the city," Thies said.

But due to Sanders's high name recognition and union endorsements, it didn't work out well for the party. Sanders won 57 percent of the vote over Adrienne Adams, chairwoman of Community Board 12, in Southeast Queens' 10th Senate District.

Jeanne Zaino, a political science professor at Iona College, said Sanders is the exception to the rule.

"His victory does speak to the fact that if you have an individual with name recognition who can get people to the polls you do have an opportunity to buck the establishment and buck the party but it's not easy to do," said Zaino. "It does embolden people to feel it's possible, but people have to be realistic. You are going to need the party's help."

And it doesn't mean Sanders and the county party won't ever kiss and make up.

"This was fairly bitter fight but circumstances on the ground tend to dictate who your political allies are," said Thies.

2. Adriano Espaillat is a Queen Maker. 

Espaillat said his support of Marisol Alcantara for his Senate seat and Carmen De La Rosa for the Assembly seat represented the "year of the woman" but he might have meant "year of the Dominican woman."

Riding the strong base of Dominican support that finally helped Espaillat to likely become the first Dominican born representative in Congress, he was able to add two Dominican women to the state legislature and start to solidify his power in the district.

"It is a smart move on his part and represents that old style Tammany Hall politics," said Zaino. "You have to get these groups together and build support to develop power."

3. Ethnic politics is alive and well in Manhattan.

The same dynamic was in play in Silver's old district where Niou became the first Asian to represent Chinatown in the state Legislature.

"We have seen the Chinese community make inroads in other areas but we haven't seen that there," said Zaino.

Silver's long grip on the district was likely to blame.

"When you have the consolidation of power and it is held by political parties, it takes a bit longer to get your foot in there. You see this time lapse where people gain momentum but you have to develop a constituency," said Zaino.

And that's especially true in Silver's old district, which spans the Lower East Side, Chinatown and much of Lower Manhattan.

Niou gave a nod to her heritage and the diversity of the district in her victory speech.

"This win tonight is a great honor for me, my family who came here as immigrants, and everyone who has fought to break a barrier in an effort to, as our president likes to say, make our union a little more perfect," said Niou.

"I am humbled to be the first Asian-American to represent Chinatown or any part of Manhattan in the state legislature," she added.

Now Niou, De La Rosa and Alcantara need to deliver for those communities, said Zaino.

"From a policy perspective you have to succeed in getting those key issues on the agenda and give these voters a reason to go out, particularly during low-turnout primary season," she said.

4. The Independent Democratic Conference are survivors

In making the decision to support Alcantara, who will conference with the IDC, the group, which has joined with Republicans to maintain control of the Senate, has its first minority member.

"This victory gives the IDC more clout and is, at the very least, a hedge to put themselves in a comfortable position following the general when we'll know what sort of coalition will have to be put together for them to remain in power," Thies said.

"They see this as their opportunity to put themselves in the best position possible heading into that general election when they might hope to join a majority or decide to who is the majority," he added.

The IDC, founded in 2012, heavily bankrolled Alcantara's campaign through its party campaign committee, the Independence Campaign Committee. The committee came under fire from Alcantara opponent Robert Jackson for taking a $100,000 donation from conservative Republican Thomas McInerney.

Alcantara, a labor organizer, has said she will "continue to be a fierce advocate for the progressive policies" she has always worked for even as member of the IDC.

In spite of working with Republicans, the IDC has supported the $15 minimum wage and universal pre-K, both regarded as progressive policy initiatives

IDC Leader state Sen. Jeff Klein, took pride in the fact that Alcantara "openly ran as an IDC candidate."

Klein added that his conference's support of Alcantara and her victory was a "major validation of what the IDC stands for."

Zaino said the IDC has a great ability to pick winning candidates and that has given them a certain freedom.

"Their success speaks to how weak the major parties are but the IDC has made themselves the Working Families Party of the state legislature," Zaino said of the party that helped elect Mayor Bill de Blasio. "They have been able to consolidate this power with minimal support and make themselves a prize but I can't imagine that will last too long."

DNAinfo NY reporters Irene Plagianos and Allegra Hobbs contributed reporting.