By Sabina Mollot
On Tuesday, residents of the 74th Assembly District trickled into polling places, almost exclusively to make Harvey Epstein the next Assembly Member.
Epstein, the Democrat nominee who was also running on the Working Families line, obliterated three other candidates with 90.59 percent of the vote, according to unofficial poll results released by the New York City Board of Elections.
Republican Bryan Cooper got 4.69 percent, the Green Party’s Adrienne Craig-Williams got 2.16 percent and Juan Pagan, a Democrat running on the Reform Party line, got 2.25 percent. Thirteen people (.3 percent of the voters) opted for write-in candidates.
All the now-former candidates are residents of the East Village and had run on platforms that included affordable housing and tenant protections. Pagan is a retired entrepreneur and former corrections employee who’s run for office several times. Cooper is an event planner and the vice president of the Albano Republican Club who’s also run for office before. Craig-Williams is a graduate student and longtime Green Party activist who was running for the first time.
While Epstein, a social justice attorney and former tenant member of the Rent Guidelines Board, had been expected to win due to strong backing from the party, special elections tend to have very low turnout and this one was no exception. According to the poll results with 95 percent of scanners counted, only 4,305 voters in the district participated.
What likely contributed to this was that the Board of Elections hadn’t sent out any notices about the special election to voters.
Epstein, who was in Stuyvesant Town for the flea market on Saturday, mentioned this to a Town & Village reporter while also noting he was encountering residents who were unaware that Tuesday was a voting day.
“Even if you want to write in something, it’s your right to vote,” he said.
Town & Village called a spokesperson for the BOE twice to ask the reason for the lack of mailers, but did not hear back. Polling site workers seemed unaware of the situation on Tuesday.
In recent previous voting years in the district voters have also complained after receiving no notice that there wouldn’t be elections for races that were uncontested.
As for the Assembly race, T&V stopped by a couple of polling places afternoon on Tuesday where voters said they did get mailers although they came from individual candidates as well as robo-calls from former Council Members Dan Garodnick and Rosie Mendez, who were pitching Epstein.
At a polling site at The American Sign Language and English School on East 23rd Street, workers said at 12:30 p.m. they’d seen a collective 50 people.
At 1 p.m., outside a Peter Cooper Village polling site, First Avenue residents Elliot and Marianne Carlin said they already cast their ballots.
“We were numbers 20 and 21” to sign up at a table to vote, Elliot said.
“That’s pretty low.”
Marianne said, “We’re Democrats, so you can guess who we voted for.”
Elliot added that they decided on Epstein after reading election coverage in T&V as well as talking with a friend about who to pick.
“I like who he was endorsed by,” Elliot said. “I know he’s got the machine behind him but that (the endorsements) made a difference.”
Stuyvesant Town resident Ken Chanko also reported a low turnout at his polling place. His wife had gone to vote early and was the tenth person.
“I was there a good two and half hours later and I was 15th,” he said. “That’s not a heck of a lot of people.” Chanko, meanwhile, had been bombarded with reminders about the election.
“I got emails from everyone from Emily’s List (a pro-choice organization) to Our Revolution (a Bernie Sanders-inspired progressive group),” he said, plus robocalls for Epstein. “I got no robo-calls for Republicans,” added Chanko. “I guess they’re kind of giving up.”
One former resident of Peter Cooper Village told T&V she no longer lives in the city but her daughter still lives in the community, so she advised her to vote, which she did. The mother, who didn’t want her name published, said she still reads T&V and got a lot of information about the race from the paper.
“When my mother was alive, she used to tell me who to vote for, so now I do the same for my daughter,” she said. “I’m very interested in politics.”
A resident for 25 years who lives in the building housing Peter Cooper’s polling site admitted he was unaware that there was a race, but after hearing about it, vowed to vote.
“I vote party line,” added John Huegel, a Republican, though he wasn’t familiar with the candidate. “The squirrels are probably better updated than I am,” he said. “They keep their ear to the ground.”
After the race, Epstein told T&V he now wants to work.
“We have a lot of work to do in Albany and I look forward to getting it done as soon as possible,” he said.
Exactly when he starts is up to the Assembly speaker.
“It may be next week. It may be after the election is certified, but hopefully in the near future.”
Epstein also said he was “overjoyed and overwhelmed” by the results of the special election, adding that despite the low turnout, it was still higher than the last special election in the district (in 2006) and higher than other special elections for Assembly seats in the city.
“Four thousand three hundred isn’t ideal,” even with absentee ballots bring the actual number higher, Epstein said. But, he added, “Even without information provided by the Board of Elections, people were engaged and enthusiastic and it motivated people to come out and it validated that I was the candidate the party wanted and the district wanted.”
In November, Epstein will again be running in a general election. Cooper has already said he intends to stay in the race.