Courthouse News Voter Guide: New York State Primaries

MANHATTAN (CN) – Three months after picking party nominees for federal office, New Yorkers return to the polls Thursday for an important round  of state primary elections. Here’s a rundown of candidates vying for governor, attorney general and other big races in the state Legislature.

 

GOVERNOR
A Siena College poll of likely Democratic voters released Monday showed incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo with a hugely comfortable 41-point lead over primary challenger Cynthia Nixon, 63 percent to 22 percent.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, left, shakes hands with Democratic New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon before their debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., on Aug. 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle, Pool)

Cuomo’s favorability rating is 68 percent, according to the Siena poll, while actress and activist Nixon is at 41 percent. But Cuomo’s taking his opponent seriously: the governor spent well over $8 million in the last weeks before the campaign.

Addressing rumors of a possible 2020 presidential run, Cuomo said in his debate with Nixon last month that he would serve all four years if re-elected governor. He has already served two terms; the office has no term limits.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio still has not endorsed either candidate, though he has famously feuded with Cuomo for years and is an old friend of Nixon’s.

New York is considered a safely Democratic seat for governor and for statewide races generally. Whoever wins in September’s primaries will face GOP Duchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro on the ballot in November.

Because New York holds closed primaries, voters must be registered within the party to cast ballots for the Democrats today.

 

ATTORNEY GENERAL
Democrats running for state attorney general are Verizon lobbyist Leecia Eve, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, current U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney and Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout.

As of Monday’s Siena poll, the race is too close to call, with Maloney at 25 percent, James at 24 and Teachout at 18 percent. Eve trails far behind at 3 percent. The other three candidates spent much of their debate last week attacking Teachout, suggesting they think she is a threat.

The candidates are vying to replace Barbara Underwood, a former deputy attorney general who rose into the top office in May after Eric Schneiderman resigned — driven out of Albany following reports that he had physically abused four female romantic partners.

One unusual feature of the race is that candidate Maloney is simultaneously running for re-election to U.S. Congress. Maloney promises that he has “a plan” to keep his congressional seat with Democrats in his right-leaning district, should he win Thursday.

If James wins, there’s likely to be a citywide special election to replace her as public advocate.

“[The attorney general race] comes down to two issues: who can bring undecided voters into their column and which campaign does a better job of turning out its supporters,” said Siena pollster Steven Greenberg in a statement.

Whoever wins the Democratic nomination will face Republican Keith Wofford in the November general election.

 

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR
New York’s lieutenant governor, who acts as president of the state senate, runs alone in primaries and then is linked to the party’s gubernatorial candidate on a ticket in the general election.

Continuing the trend of lefty outsiders challenging Democratic Party establishment candidates, New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams, who’s backed by Nixon, launched a campaign against incumbent Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. Williams polled at 21 percent to Hochul’s 43 in Siena’s Monday poll, but 35 percent of voters are undecided.

Hochul, Cuomo and Attorney General candidate Letitia James all have the backing of the Democratic Party establishment.

 

COMPTROLLER
First elected in 2007, New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli faces no Democratic challengers in Thursday’s closed primary. The Republican candidate is Jonathan Trichter, and Mark Dunlea is running on the Green Party ticket.

 

STATE LEGISLATURE
New York Democrats hope to use the 2018 elections to flip control of the state Legislature, which includes the Assembly, with 150 seats, and the Senate, with 63, all of which are up for election this year. Democrats want to take control of the Senate in November, but first come the primaries.

Reporting on a Legislature wracked by corruption, news outlets have logged over 30 cases in the past 10 years.

 

NEW YORK STATE SENATE: UPPER HOUSE 
All 63 State Senate seats are up for election this year.

The controversial eight-member Independent Democratic Conference —made up of Jeffrey D. Klein, Marisol Alcantara, Tony Avella, David Carlucci, Jesse Hamilton, Jose Peralta, Diane Savino and David J. Valesky — had been aligned with Republicans since 2013. The eight came back to the Democratic side this spring, but Republicans maintain a one-vote majority in the chamber thanks to an alliance with 17th District Democrat Simcha Felder, who caucuses with them.

The former IDC members all face Democratic challengers this week.

In Alcantara’s 31st District, former New York City Council member Robert Jackson as well as Thomas Leon and Tirso Santiago Pina are all running as Democrats. Staten Island’s Savino (District 23) faces fellow Democrats Jasmine Robinson and Brandon Stradford.

Some of the challengers have chops: In the 20th District, 31-year-old former City Council legislative director Zellnor Myrie, endorsed by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, takes on Hamilton.

Former New York City Comptroller John Liu (11th District) is running opposite Avella, and 32-year-old Alessandra Biaggi (34th District), who worked on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, opposes Klein.

Jessica Ramos, endorsed by gubernatorial candidate Nixon and by de Blasio, is challenging former IDC member Peralta in District 13.

Felder, first elected to the 17th District in 2012, has a challenger on his left as well: Brooklyn lawyer Blake Morris, who calls himself a “real Democrat” and claims to be something of a silver bullet for Democratic control of the Senate.

There are no term limits in the New York state Senate. In north Brooklyn’s 18th District, incumbent Senator Martin Malave Dilan, who has served since 2002, confronts 27-year-old Julia Salazar, a community organizer and member of the Democratic Socialists of America who portrays her opponent as a pawn of the real estate industry. According to a Gothamist analysis of campaign donations since 1999, Dilan has taken $325,400 from real estate interests.

Salazar has stirred up controversy of her own over her immigration and financial status, as well as a confusing legal tangle with former Mets star Keith Hernandez and his ex-wife. The 18th District went heavily for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential primaries, energy she’s hoping to channel.

Most Republican Senate candidates are running without primary challengers this week. There are Republican primary elections in only two districts: the 11th and the 15th.

On the red side of the 11th District, attempting to flip the seat, Simon Minching and Vickie Paladino compete for the Republican nomination.

Slawomir Platta and Thomas Sullivan are fighting for the Republicans to flip the seat in the 15th District held by Democrat Joseph Addabbo.

Echoing a national trend by both parties, five Republican incumbents announced this spring that they would not run for re-election in the state Senate.

Seats for Tom Croci (District 3), John DeFrancisco (District 50), William Larkin (District 39), Kathleen A. Marchione (District 43), and John Bonacic (District 42) are all up for grabs, but won’t be exciting until November — according to Ballotpedia, none of the Republicans vying for the open seat in each district face any challengers from their own party.

 

NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY: LOWER HOUSE
With a 107-42 majority, Democrats have comfortable control of the lower house of the state Legislature. Incumbents in all but 32 districts will skip major primary challengers, and the vast majority of primary races are on the Democratic side.

One to watch includes the 20th District on coastal Long Island, where Democrats John Vobis Jr. and Juan Vides are vying to flip that seat held by Republican Melissa L. Miller.

In the 33rd District in Queens, Democratic incumbent Clyde Vanel faces teacher and community leader Oster Bryan.

The 39th Distict, also in Queens, has no Republican candidate. Incumbent Democrat Ari Espinal takes on Catalina Cruz, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient who has worked for Governor Cuomo, and Yonel Letellier Sosa.

In Staten Island’s 62nd District, which has no Democratic candidate, Assemblyman Ron Castorina Jr. will not run for re-election, choosing to run instead for judge on Staten Island Surrogate’s Court. Three Republicans face off in Thursday’s primary to replace him: Michael Reilly; 27-year-old health care advocate Ashley Zanatta; and Glenn Yost, who has the endorsement of Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis.

In the 142nd District, mostly southeast of Buffalo, incumbent Erik Bohen, a lifelong Democrat who was elected as a Republican in an April special election, has announced he’ll run again as a Republican, citing corruption in Albany as a reason he doesn’t want to rejoin the Democrats. Bohen faces a primary challenge from Timothy Nolan.

 

LOOKING AHEAD
Federal primaries in June saw political newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the Bronx upset Democratic Congressional incumbent Joe Crowley in a win heard ‘round the country. Several other New York districts are considered swing districts that could flip in November. Currently, Democrats hold 17 of New York’s 27 congressional seats.

A key focus of Democrats in the 2018 federal elections has been to flip the House and Senate, which are both currently controlled by Republicans.

 

Check back for updates on winners of Thursday’s primaries, and for November election coverage.

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