By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Governor Andrew Cuomo defeated activist and challenger Cynthia Nixon by a significant margin in the Democratic primary election on Thursday evening, with the election called for the current governor less than an hour after the polls closed at 9 p.m., although the victory was much narrower among Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village residents than it was for all five boroughs.
Citywide, Cuomo received 66.45 percent of the vote and Nixon got 33.24 percent, but of the almost 4,000 Democratic voters in Stuy Town and Peter Cooper, the governor only received 51.1 percent to Nixon’s 48.9 percent.
Incumbent Assemblymember Harvey Epstein also won his race by a large margin in the 74th District, getting 62.4 percent of the vote over newcomer Akshay Vaishampayan, who received 19.2 percent and multiple-time candidate Juan Pagan, who got 17.9 percent.
Former Councilmember Dan Garodnick, sporting a new beard as he went to vote on Thursday evening at the 360 First Avenue polling place with his wife Zoe Segal-Reichlin, wouldn’t reveal who he voted for in the statewide races.
“I’m a private citizen now!” he said jokingly. But Garodnick did previously endorse Epstein for the seat in the 74th District and said that he was “very happy” to support him in the election.
“Harvey is a great candidate,” he said. “He’s smart, passionate, progressive and understands the needs of tenants in this community.”
Despite Epstein’s comfortable win, Town & Village spoke with a number of voters who voted for Vaishampayan, citing a need for change and a challenge to the status quo.
Peter Cooper Village resident Marcos Perez said this was the main reason he voted for Nixon, Jumaane Williams for Lieutenant Governor, Zephyr Teachout for Attorney General and Vaishampayan.
“It’s always about party politics,” he said. “It’s time to mix it up.”
Another Peter Cooper resident who cast her vote for Vaishampayan said she’s interested in seeing more newcomers get involved in local politics.
“I liked his background and liked the idea of someone a little bit younger,” she said. “So many lawyers run our legal system, and I liked that he has a business background.”
The Lieutenant Governor’s race was tight throughout the entire state, with City Councilmember Jumaane Williams taking over the lead over incumbent Kathy Hochul briefly, but Hochul ultimately won with 53.3 percent of the vote. Williams managed to beat Hochul in Brooklyn and Manhattan, though, with 53.7 percent of Stuy Town voters picking Williams over the incumbent.
Public Advocate Letitia James won in the primary for Attorney General in a four-way race against former Cuomo challenger and law professor Zephyr Teachout, Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney and attorney Leecia Eve. Although Teachout won Manhattan with 44.3 percent of the vote, James won in Westchester and Rockland counties as well as Long Island and the other four boroughs, which was enough to win the election.
A number of Nixon voters that Town & Village spoke with in the neighborhood said that their other votes, specifically for the Lieutenant Governor’s seat and the Attorney General, were cast under the assumption that Cuomo would win the primary and they picked the other candidates to serve as a check on Cuomo and hold him accountable.
“We need an Attorney General who will keep the corrupt likely-governor in check,” Stuy Town resident Stewart McDonald said, explaining his vote for Teachout and referring to the fact that Cuomo seemed likely to win the primary over Nixon. “He opened an ethics investigation and then shut it down when it got to close to him and (Public Advocate Letitia) James is very close to the Cuomo campaign.”
Other Nixon supporters said that they cast “protest votes” for the activist, despite her lack of experience but partially due to a vehement lack of support for the current governor.
“I guardedly voted for Nixon,” said 20-year Stuy Town resident Richard Condon. “I really don’t like Cuomo and found it hard to vote for him. It feels a little irresponsible because I don’t think she has a lot of experience but I just couldn’t vote for him.”
One resident who’s been living in Peter Cooper Village for more than 10 years said that she would’ve voted Cuomo if not for the recent campaign shake-ups in the last few days before the election.
“He had to have known about the flyers (attacking Nixon as anti-Semitic), and the rushing of the naming of the new bridge (after Governor Cuomo’s father) is all a lot of political bulls—t,” she said. “I was going to vote for him because I would rather have someone with experience and not just a celebrity but I think we really need change.”
Other residents cited a need for political newcomers as a reason for their vote.
PCV resident Mark Pollard said that he voted for Nixon, Teachout and Williams, and while he relied on the New York Times endorsements for the Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor races, he voted for Nixon and not the New York Times-endorsed Cuomo because he felt that she had a more progressive platform.
“It’s time for a change in Albany,” Pollard said.
Daniel, a 10-year resident of Peter Cooper Village, said that he voted for Nixon, Teachout, Hochul and Epstein because he was generally looking for progressive candidates.
Another Peter Cooper Village resident who has been living in the neighborhood since the early ‘90s said she felt the legislature could use a fresh perspective.
“I don’t think (Nixon) has a snowball’s chance in hell but it’s important that she get some votes,” said the resident, who didn’t want to give her name. “I think change is in order. All things considered, (Cuomo) has been pretty good but what goes on in Albany and how the whole process is an ‘old boys’ network, it’s certainly dysfunctional.”
Voters in the neighborhood supporting the incumbent governor said that Nixon’s lack of experience was one of the main reasons they didn’t vote for her. One Stuyvesant Town voter who supported Cuomo and Hochul in the election said that she generally has a policy of not voting for celebrities, and another voter in Stuy Town felt that Nixon should have started smaller.
“I thought Cynthia Nixon should’ve run against de Blasio instead,” she said. “Her issues seem to be New York City issues.”
One voter at the 283 Avenue C polling place said that she voted for Nixon despite her lack of experience.
“She’s got to be better than what’s in the Oval Office,” she said, referring to Donald Trump’s lack of experience when he was elected president. “If it weren’t for Nixon, I would’ve voted for Cuomo.”
Although none of the local State Senators had any challenges in this primary, other districts throughout the state were in contentious races with former members of the Independent Democratic Conference, many of whom ultimately lost their bids for re-election.
State Senator Brad Hoylman was optimistic about the outcome of the primary and was hopeful that Democrats can maintain momentum, but noted that there are still challenges for the general election in November, especially if Democrats want to claim a majority and strengthen the rent laws.
“We have consolidated our ideological support for rent regulation, for example, but still have a lot of work to do,” he said. “We’re still in the minority. We’ve basically just shuffled the deck chairs but it was an important shuffling because we have much stronger conference. We’re in a better position now to deliver the rent laws but we’re not there yet.”
Hoylman also pointed to the grass roots activism as a factor in the ouster of former IDC members.
“The challengers were all very high-quality, with deep roots in the community and with professional and political qualifications that made them suitable alternatives (to the former IDC members),” Hoylman said, noting that the candidates included a former Hillary Clinton staffer, an attorney who used to work for Governor Andrew Cuomo and former citywide officials. “That’s not your usual crop of challengers in a Democratic primary.”
Senator Jeff Klein, the former head of the Independent Democratic Conference, lost to Alessandra Biaggi, an attorney and a former aide to Governor Cuomo, and five other former IDC members were defeated.
Queens Senators Tony Avella and Jose Peralta lost to John Liu and Jessica Ramos, respectively. Senator Jesse Hamilton in Brooklyn lost to Zellnor Myrie, Manhattan Senator Marisol Alcantara fell to Robert Jackson and Syracuse Senator David Valesky lost to Rachel May.
The only two former IDC members that made it beyond the primary were Senator Diane Savino from Staten Island and Senator David Carlucci from Rockland County.