The last time Bronx voters were represented by a Republican on the City Council, Mayor Ed Koch still asked voters “How’m I doin’,” Ronald Reagan was president, and hip-hop music was mostly a local phenomenon.
The idea that voters in the Bronx, one of the nation’s most Democratic counties, could send a Republican representative to the City Council would be nothing short of a “national embarrassment,” Rep. Ritchie Torres said at a recent Democratic rally. seated, Marjorie Velázquez.
On Wednesday, the political disgrace came to life.
With less than a thousand votes to spare, Kristy Marmorato, a conservative Republican candidate, was declared the winner by the Associated Press of the tightest city council race, about 15 hours after the polls closed.
Mrs. Marmorato had sparred with Ms. Velázquez on crime and her support for a rezoning that would bring affordable housing to the District 13 neighborhood in the northeast Bronx. The area had shown signs of tipping to the right: In 2021, Republican mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa won more votes in the district than Democrat Eric Adams.
Sensing a rare opportunity to flip a seat, the Bronx Republican Party went all in on the contest. The party sent 20,000 text messages to their base; made 40,000 robocalls in English, Albanian and Arabic; and made 10,000 live calls.
“We threw everything and the kitchen sink at her,” said Michael Rendino, the chairman of the Bronx Republican Party, who is also Ms. Marmorato’s brother. “It’s a wake up call to the Democratic Party.”
Mrs. Velázquez’s defeat still sends chills through the city’s Democratic establishment and gives hope to Republicans. Both parties are closely watching a flurry of off-year suburban contests across New York as the bell rings for 2024, when a half-dozen key congressional races in the state could tip the balance of power in the House of Representatives.
But for the most part, the potential shift to the right driven by changing ethnic demographics did not materialize in New York City, where all 51 City Council seats were up for election due to a once-in-a-decade redistricting process.
In South Brooklyn, Justin Brannan, the chairman of the Finance Committee and one of the most powerful members of the council, scored a landslide victory against Ari Kagan, a Democrat-turned-Republican who quickly adopted his party’s views on issues such as crime and abortion. .
In a neighboring district, Susan Zhuang, a moderate Democrat, defeated Ying Tan, a Republican, in a district created to recognize the growth of the city’s Asian American population.
The story was different on Long Island, where Republicans routed Democrats. Their dominance dated back to the 1970s, when its suburbs were a Republican stronghold, and suggested that concerns about crime, the cost of living and the state’s unfolding migrant crisis might hurt Democrats’ image in an otherwise hospitable state. , where abortion rights are generally seen as secure.
After Ed Romaine’s 15-point victory in the Suffolk County executive race, Republicans have now flipped nearly every major office on Long Island since 2020. They also scored key wins in Long Beach and North Hempstead in Nassau County, which are traditionally Democratic areas that are included in the must-win districts of Republican Reps. Anthony D’Esposito and George Santos.
The results left Democrats, who have lost three straight election cycles in the area, in near panic.
“The conventional wisdom is that the path to a Democratic majority in the House goes through New York,” said Representative Steve Israel, a former New York congressman who once led the Democrats’ campaign arm. “But there’s nothing but yellow lights flashing for Democrats, especially on Long Island, that suggest they’re not getting the traction they need.”
He said he had seen a “perception of crime and disorder and lawlessness hitting the concerns of suburban voters,” with little sign of abating.
However, the party had much stronger performances north of New York City, where voters in the suburban towns surrounding the Hudson River and in the state’s western fringes behaved much more like their counterparts in Virginia or Ohio.
Democrats won key local races in Westchester and Rockland Counties, where Representative Mike Lawler, a Republican, faces one of the toughest re-election battles in the country next year. They appeared on course to win a trio of competitive district attorney races in Ulster, Dutchess and Columbia Counties, hotly contested territory where Reps. Pat Ryan, a Democrat, and Marc Molinaro, a Republican, will defend key seats next year.
And in Erie County, which includes Buffalo and its suburbs, Mark Poloncarz won a record fourth term as county executive. Republicans had hammered Mr. Poloncarz over his handling of the state’s migrant crisis, but voters took little notice, handing the Democrat a nearly 20-point victory.
Jason Weingartner, the executive director of the state Republican Party, conceded that upstate counties had lessons to learn from Long Island, which in particular convinced voters to go to the polls early.
Although Ms. Velázquez won the Democratic primary in June by nearly 50 percentage points, the fault lines in that election showed her vulnerability over both crime and her decision to support the rezoning of Bruckner Boulevard to bring affordable housing to the neighborhood, Mr. Rendino said. Mrs. Velazquez had opposed the project for months before changing her mind.
Mrs. Velázquez was elected as a progressive in 2021, but soon joined more than a dozen other Democrats in leaving the progressive caucus after they were asked to sign a policy statement calling for the “size and scope” of the New York Police Department . be reduced. During the Democratic primary, Ms. Velázquez emphasized that she was a moderate.
“I heard you’re a socialist because you’re like AOC, and it’s like, no, I’m not,” Ms. Velázquez in June, referring to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic Socialist.
Mrs. Marmorato, an X-ray technician and a married mother of an elementary-age daughter, has said she was driven to run because she opposed plans to build mid-rise housing in an area of mostly single-family homes as part of the Bruckner- the rezoning and a proposal for supportive housing for people released from prison in a former Jacobi Medical Center building near her home.
Speaking on NY1, she said people wanted change. She called for more police officers.
“They feel like there’s no more local control in our community,” she said. “They don’t have a say in what’s going on in their neighborhood, and they’re just sick of it.”
Neither Ms. Velázquez or her campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment Wednesday. Camille Rivera, a Democratic political consultant at New Deal Strategies, said the concerns raised about the Bruckner reshuffle relied on “coded language” and rampant fear.
Joseph Savino Jr. was the last Republican member of the City Council from the Bronx. He served as alderman at large from 1977 to 1983 before the position was abolished. In 1985, he was convicted of illegally possessing a machine gun and then pleaded guilty to tax evasion for failing to report $300,000 in income.
Jamaal Bailey, a state senator who chairs the Bronx Democratic Party, called Ms. Velázquez’s loss for a local issue that would have little bearing on the next year.
“Taking a stand to ensure more people have somewhere to live is a principled position,” Mr Bailey said, “and one that I think she’s proud of and one that we should be proud of of as Democrats, especially in a residence. crisis.”
On Wednesday morning, Mr. Torres, one of Ms. Velázquez’s closest allies, dismissed her “national embarrassment” remark as hyperbole to motivate supporters ahead of an important election.
“All politics is local, and nowhere are those words truer than in the East Bronx, where the race and class politics of redistricting can be treacherous,” said Mr. Torres. “A perfect storm put the seat in Republican hands.”