High voter turnout at Democratic Primaries, voters choose Hoylman, Mella and Kavanagh

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Brad Hoylman

Voters in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village had three decisions on their ballots for the Democratic Primaries yesterday: the spot for Tom Duane’s Senate seat, Surrogate’s Court judge for Manhattan and the seat for the Assembly, 74th District.

Brad Hoylman, a Greenwich Village resident, came out on top in the State Senate race with 67.4 percent of the vote. Opponents Tom Greco received 23.9 percent of the vote and Tanika Inlaw received 8.7 percent.

Rita Mella

Rita Mella, a Stuyvesant Town resident, won the primary with 59.7 percent of the vote over Barbara Jaffe’s 40.3 percent for the Surrogate’s Court judge position, and incumbent Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh won with 63 percent. Challenger Juan Pagan received 37 percent of the vote.

The polls at the Asser Levy Recreation Center were quiet with only about 10 percent of registered voters coming by 4 p.m., according to voting coordinator and Peter Cooper Village resident Kathleen Kalmes, but many of the other sites for Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village residents reported being busier than usual, especially for a primary election.

“Primaries usually have a small turnout because I think some people might feel like there’s no point since this is a Democratic area in general,” said the site coordinator at 272 First Avenue who didn’t want to be named. “But this has been a busy day, especially compared to the Republican Primary a few months ago.”

Brian Kavanagh

Clarieel Reyes, who was working the polls at 360 First Avenue and who has worked in primary elections in the past, said that over a hundred people had voted at her table alone and the other tables at that site had similar numbers. “This one has had a pretty good turnout, more than past Democratic primaries, from what I’ve seen in previous elections,” she said.

Due to redistricting, there was some confusion among voters about where their poll sites would be. The most notable change for some, according to the coordinator at 272 First Ave., was that a handful of voters in Stuyvesant Town were now supposed to vote at the location in Peter Cooper Village. One irate voter came into 360 First Avenue and was frustrated about where he was supposed to vote, but poll workers said that while there was some confusion about where to go, most were not too put out by the changes, even if they had to go to a different poll site.

Arnie Latterman, a Stuyvesant Town resident who was working as a scanner inspector at the 525 East 14th Street poll site, said that there were a number of referrals throughout the day at his location. “We made at least 40 referrals because there were people who came in (to this location) and didn’t vote here,” he said.

Despite the lower turnout expected at the primaries compared to the general election, voters felt strongly about the decisions they had to make. “Even though they’re all Democrats, there’s a wide variance in the candidates,” Latterman said. “One is maybe a bit more progressive than the others and depending on personal preference, that can be important.”

Others who came out said they felt obligated to vote to have their voice heard.

“Primaries are just as important as the final election,” said Stuyvesant Town resident Gary Wiss after voting. “Putting a ballot in the box is a special kind of thing. It’s democracy in action.”

Stuy Town resident running for Surrogate Court judge position

Rita Mella, with her husband, talks with a neighbor in Peter Cooper Village.

Primary Day is Thursday, September 13. Town & Village is running bios of Democrat candidates for the positions of Manhattan Surrogate’s Court judge and the State Senate seat to be vacated by Tom Duane.

This article was originally published on August 23.


By Sabina Mollot

While this summer, much of the focus of the local political world has been on the race to fill the State Senate seat that will be vacated by Tom Duane at the end of the year, another race has quietly been running for the position of Manhattan Surrogate’s Court judge.

Along with State Supreme Court Judge Barbara Jaffe, another hopeful for the position is Judge Rita Mella of Manhattan Criminal Court, who’s also a longtime resident of Stuyvesant Town. Like Jaffe, Mella is a Democrat, and the two will face off in the September 13 Primary.

During a recent chat on a bench in Peter Cooper, Mella spoke with Town & Village about how the court system is more a part of people’s lives than they think “even if you’re not in trouble with the law,” and that if elected, she’d do outreach to make Surrogate’s Court more accessible and inclusive.

“Most New Yorkers have never set foot in this beautiful building on Chambers Street,” Mella said. “This is a court that works as an agency. You need to go there if you want to adopt a child or if you need guardianship of a mentally disabled young adult. You need to go there for your probate. You could stay out of court if you have no assets, but if you do, you have to go to court to administer your assets. This is a court of administration rather than litigation.”

Mella, who was born in the Dominican Republic, said she’s always wanted to do public work. She came to the United States at 22, barely knowing how to speak English, and studied and graduated from the CUNY Law School in 1991. On a scholarship, she got her master’s in Latin American history from the University of Florida and her undergraduate degree in the Dominican Republic.

After completing her education, she began her career in law working for a small firm with a focus on criminal defense and for the next 13 years, worked as an attorney in several courts: Surrogate’s, Supreme Court, Civil Court, Family Court and Criminal Court, according to her official bio.

For Mella, the switch to Surrogate’s Court from the Criminal Court, where she’s been assigned since 2007, would be a return to her roots. Previously, she worked as principal law clerk for Surrogate’s Court Judge Margarita Lopez Torres in Brooklyn. Lopez Torres, who Mella calls a reformer, had come in following a period of corruption in the court and it was part of Mella’s job to help her implement “systems of accountability” and make the operations more transparent.

In her current role, Mella chairs the Gender Fairness Committee of the Manhattan Criminal Court, which has organized programs aimed at addressing issues such as sex trafficking of young women, domestic violence among teenagers and relations between the Criminal Courts and the transgender population.

The judge position Mella is running for now would represent all of Manhattan as well as Roosevelt Island and the term would be for 14 years.

Reflecting on the length of the term, which is unusually long by political standards, Mella seemed undaunted.

“Serving the public from a bench is such an honor you don’t ever want to leave it,” she said.

Mella has lived in Stuyvesant Town since 1999 with husband Robert Rosenthal.