Two Wins, One Big Loss for Dems in Low Voter Turnout Primary

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Tuesday’s primary election was remarkable for a low turnout that decided a new congressional representative for NY-9, a new Assemblyman in the 54th AD, and the newly-elected Civil Court judge. Republican businessman Bob Turner is the new 9th Congressional District representative. Raphael Espinal will complete Darryl Town’s term in the 54th Assembly District. Pro se attorney Sharon Hudson has been elected to Brooklyn’s Civil Court.
The 9th Congressional District, a seat represented by Democrats for 40 years, is now represented by a Republican. The race had national implications, adding one to a Republican-dominated United States House of Representatives which relishes in blocking President Barack Obama’s initiatives at every turn. The New York Times and Washington Post have framed Turner’s win as a repudiation of President Obama economic policies. They are wrong.
The 9th Congressional District covering parts of Brooklyn and Queens (Midwood, Flatbush, Kensington, Marine Park, Manhattan Beach, Mill Basin, Kew Gardens Hills, Kew Gardens, Forest Hills, they’ll Harbor, and Hillcrest) is home to a significant population of Orthodox Jews and Russian Jews.  When former Congressman Anthony Wiener’s indescretions forced him to step down, Democratic county leadership chose Assemblyman David Weprin to run on the Democratic line. When Weprin was chosen to run for the open seat (an accepted practice), this decision raised the ire of the Orthodox Jewish community. The preferred candidate for that community was Noach Dear, a conservative Democrat. As a result, that community chose to vote Republican because of social, not bread and butter issues.
In the weeks leading up to the NY-9 election, 40 rabbis jointly issued a public service announcement stating it is forbidden according to Torah law “to vote for, campaign for, publicly honor, fund, or otherwise support the campaign of New York assemblyman David Weprin” because he “has been publicly advocating for and advancing a radical LGBT agenda, including the very redefinition of marriage itself.” According to the statement sponsored by Jews for Morality, Weprin’s sin was voting for same-gender marriages in the Assembly even though he is an “observant” Jew. Weprin also voted to legalize adoptions by same-gender parents, and “voted for the so-called ‘Dignity for All Students Act’ (DASA),” which would “require that children as young as kindergarten age be taught respect and tolerance for homosexuals.” According to the rabbinical signatories to the document, Weprin added “further insult” by marching in the “wicked ones’ ‘Pride Parades'”. The Jews for Morality statement said “some people will be led to believe that the Torah itself permits or supports this agenda.”
Weprin’s argued that as an Orthodox Jew, during his tenure in the NYC Council and the Assembly he saved millions in vital funding for programs dear to the community, including partial restoration for autism early intervention education programs, and after school and summer programs. Yet, that funding was not enough to overcome Weprin’s Marriage Equality vote among the district’s committed voters.
Weprin’s campaign was over weeks before the primary occurred. Going forward, Democrats will continue to confront the feeling in Orthodox Jewish communities that they are being pushed to vote Republican although they really consider themselves Blue Dog Democrats on economic issues. The Washington Post and NY Times are unable or unwilling to explain this subtlety to their national audiences.
The 54th AD race gave a big win to Democratic County Leader Vito Lopez who supported Councilman Eric Dilan’s Chief of Staff Raphael Espinal to fill the open seat vacated by Darryl Towns. With a total of 2,620 votes, Espinal trounced Working Family Party candidate Jesus Gonzales (1,913 votes) and Community First candidate Deidre Towns (1,367 votes). This is the second loss for Congressman Towns, who earlier this year lost the 54th AD District Leader seat to Councilman Dilan. Espinal’s win is also a loss for Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, who publicly-endorsed Gonzales early in the campaign. Espinal’s win is big for the Hispanic community. The 54th AD was created in 1982 as a Latino-leaning seat. Almost 30 years later, the district has Hispanic representation.
The Brooklyn Civil Court race was a blowout. Pro Se attorney Sharen Hudson defeated sitting Housing Court Judge Cheryl Gonzales by 8,000 votes (21,624 to 13,209). The co-equal third branch of government judicial races should capture the attention of voters, considering how often we find ourselves in civil and criminal court for a variety of issues. All too often, judicial races are sleepy affairs, but in the weeks leading up to the election, the battle of endorsements was hot. While trying to create an accurate scorecard, Our Time Press erroneously attributed Senator Eric Adams’ endorsement to Hudson.
There was behind-the-scenes skepticism of Judge-elect Hudson’s candidacy, since she was supported by County Leader Vito Lopez. Hudson’s candidacy was seen as another opportunity to maintain Lopez’s base of power. Despite endorsement for Judge Gonzales from the NY Times and the Daily News, as well as numerous political clubs and elected officials, Hudson’s win solidified the reputation of Rev. Taharka Robinson, her campaign manager. Prior to his ‘retirement’ as a political consultant 5 years ago, Robinson played a key role in the elections of judges Evelyn Laporte, Shawndya Simpson, Geraldine Pinkett, Johnnie Baines, Genine Edwards, and Robin Sheares. When Hudson asked for Robinson’s assistance, he only consented because “she is a woman from the community.” Robinson had Hudson campaign not just in Black Brooklyn, but in far flung corners of the borough. In doing so, Robinson obtained diverse support for Hudson, “even among the Russians,” he said.
Sitting in her campaign office on primary night, Judge Gonzales was gracious. “I thank everyone,” said Judge Gonzalez. “I don’t regret the experience, at all.”
“I want to thank the voters and the people who came out and did things I didn’t even know to support me,” said Judge-elect Hudson. “I plan to do what I said, being impartial and fair and doing a good job. I hope to make everyone proud.”